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Travels in Atomic Sunshine: Australia and…
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Travels in Atomic Sunshine: Australia and the Occupation of Japan

by Robin Gerster

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http://shawjonathan.wordpress.com/2009/12/15/travels-in-atomic-sunshine/

Thousands of Australian soldiers and their families were part of the Occupation of Japan from February 1946 until early 1952. They formed the bulk of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, generally overlooked in the shadow of the much larger and better equipped US occupation forces. While the US occupiers, with headquarters and amenities in Tokyo, set about imposing democracy by decree and using military might to change a militaristic culture to a peaceful one, insisting on freedom of the press except for stories that might make trouble for the occupiers, the Australians – whose generals led the BCOF – were stationed near the devastation of Hiroshima and seem to have managed without any sense of themselves as Liberators. They are scarcely mentioned by any of our otherwise zealous military historians, and barely appear in the Canberra War Memorial. Sneered at by the British, discounted by the US, at home they are 'the forgotten Force'.

At the time, thanks to reports of atrocities in the Burma–Siam Railway and Changi Prison as well as the bizarre White Australia Policy, anti-Japanese sentiment was fierce in Australia, and the occupationnaires were in a bind. If they enacted the home sentiment, as many did, they were likely to be brutal, even criminal, in their dealings with the already shattered population, and there are plenty of stories of rape, sexual exploitation, black marketeering ('wogging') and careless disregard for human life. If they were open to Japanese culture and the humanity of the people, as again many did, they were likely to be shunned as 'Jap-lovers': there were plenty of headlines at home to that effect, and when people returned it was to even less acknowledgement than the troops who served in Vietnam. Governments still deny that their high incidence of cancer might be connected to the time they spent at nuclear 'Ground Zero'.

If someone wanted to make a serious war movie, they could do a lot worse than mining this book. The movie would run very little chance of feeding adrenaline addiction the way so many well-intentioned anti-war movies do. It would have trouble being read as a tale of Good vs Evil. It would leave a number of received True Stories looking decidedly tatty. After so many movies about the horrors of the Japanese prisoner of war camps, how refreshing to show those liberated Aussies as occupiers of post-War Japan – some acting out their racism-boosted vengefulness on the civilian survivors of Hiroshima, others coming to appreciate the culture and even falling in love. The book seethes with potential story lines.

Travels in Atomic Sunshine won the 2009 NSW Premier's History Award. It should also have a chance in the Literary Awards. ( )
1 vote shawjonathan | Dec 14, 2009 |
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"In February 1946, the Australians of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF) moved into western Japan to demilitarise and democratise the atom-bombed backwater of Hiroshima Prefecture. For over six years, up to 20,000 Australian servicemen, including their wives and children, participated in an historic experiment in nation-rebuilding dominated by the United States and the occupations supreme commander, General MacArthur. It was to be a watershed in Australian military history and international relations. BCOF was the last collective armed gesture of a moribund empire. The Chifley government wanted to make Australia's independent presence felt in post-war Asia-Pacific affairs, yet the venture heralded the nation's enmeshment in American geopolitics. This was the forerunner of the today's peacekeeping missions and engagements in contentious US-led military occupations. Yet the occupation of Japan was also a compelling human experience. It was a cultural reconnaissance, the first time a large number of Australians were able to explore in depth an Asian society and country. It was an unprecedented domestic encounter between peoples with apparently incompatible traditions and temperaments. Many relished exercising power over a despised former enemy, and basked in the atomic sunshine of American Japan. Yet numerous Australians developed an intimacy with the old enemy, which put them at odds with the Jap haters back home, and became the trailblazers of a new era of bilateral friendship. Travels in Atomic Sunshine is a salutary study of the neocolonialism of foreign occupation, and of Australia's characteristic ambivalence about the Asian region."--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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