Singapore 1942: End of Empire (2012– )

TV Series   |    |  Documentary


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Singapore 1942: End of Empire (2012) Poster

A 70th anniversary television event, Singapore 1942- End of Empire tells the story of those early shocking days of the Pacific War when belief in security and comfort from empire collapsed.... See full summary »


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6 September 2013 | burkemr1
1
| Singapore 1942.
The piece is generally a revisit of previous work on the subject, so you will not find anything new here. It is saved to a degree, by some witness accounts like the Japanese veteran brave enough and troubled enough to speak up for the western film crew, about crimes he had witnessed during Sook Ching. This is as rare as a black rhino sighting.

The Fall of Singapore was kaleidoscopic bedlam. Any attempt at presenting one neatly tailored overview or judgment of the event (as this documentary frequently does) will simply fail. There were too many contradictions. Too many disparate points of view. Too many axes to grind.

Consider this - in the chaos of the evacuation of the city, the Anglican Bishop of Singapore pulls over and asks his driver to remove tires from a parked car because "they will be handy later on". Consider also this - the English head of the Singapore Fire Department offers grateful establishment guests fine Scottish whiskey from a crate rescued earlier that day from a flaming warehouse - the guests are doubly grateful because they are in a superheated equatorial city with no water supply. These are just two documented examples of 'looting' in Singapore by the most elite of establishment figures. And the actions are quite understandable. Yet churlish writers and commentators over the years vilified parched Australian troops, in equatorial heat with no drinking water, for similar acts.

Predictably in this documentary General Percival is vilified and shot down for tactical errors - even though his main failing was being outwitted by deceptive and brutal adversary Yamashita, with tactics and troops seasoned by years of campaigning in China, including the Rape of Nanking (Imperial Guard). Years of fifth column planning and preparation preceded the assault.

Percival makes an easy target, but his vilification is really just a lazy cliché.

The documentary hits a low with it's disrespect for General Gordon Bennett, a WW1 war hero who was with the first Australians to rush Gallipoli's ANZAC Cove, where he lost his brother. Despite the attempts by his contemporary political adversaries to discredit Bennet, as a soldier and a man he still towers over them. Bennett's main crime was being outspoken and unconventional. There is nothing in Australian Military Law that obliged Bennet to remain in Singapore and be captured and own troops supported his decision to escape.

So who would know best to judge Bennett? His brothers in arms, who worked the Burma railroad - or a commentator writing a screenplay from a deckchair at Bondi Beach. Where the only dilemma is what white wine goes best with this shellfish?

The Battle for Singapore produced so much angst that scapegoats had to be found to explain the Japanese victory. These clichés remain to this day. The Japanese victory was simply carried by force of arms, plus willingness to annihilate the civilian population. Ironically, Churchill was also willing to allow that annihilation. To his eternal credit, Percival saw differently. With today's values it should be perfectly obvious Percival was a savior.

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