Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Prisoners of the Japanese

Prisoners of the Japanese

Daws, Gavan
Rating: 5 knit sticks

This was a hard book to read but I think one of the most comprehensive in it's overall view of what it meant to be a POW of the Japanese during WWII (and I have read quite a bit on this time period). Mr. Daws follows the lives of several men as they progress through their time as POWs and in doing so gives voice to the overall experience of the 140,000 men who were "guests" of the Japanese during the war.

Daws made several observations that I really hadn't thought about. The POWs really worked in an unstated tribal system. You had the larger tribe which might have been the battalion or larger group of soldiers or perhaps the group of soldiers from one region or town. Then you had the smaller "sub-tribes" which were usually 3-4 men. Those men who weren't in a sub-tribe, where your buddies watched your back, possibly even got you food if you were in the sick hut, didn't for the most part survive their captivity (the Japanese didn't feed those soldiers who were sick, if you couldn't work you didn't eat).

For the most part officers who were also POWs don't come off too well in this book either. If Mr. Daws is to be believed (and I have no reason not to at this point) then the officers didn't really watch over their men. They often acted in a self survival way, making sure that they had the best of what there was to offer. That didn't apply to all officers but to many.

I will leave you with a longish quote that sums up the book.

"The Japanese were not directly genocidal in their POW camps. They did not herd their white prisoners into gas chambers and burn their corpses in ovens. But they drove them toward mass death just the same. They beat them until they fell, then beat them for falling, beat them until they bled, then beat them for bleeding. They denied them medical treatment. They starved them. When the International Red Cross sent food and medicine, the Japanese looted the shipments. They sacrificed prisoners in medical experiments. They watched them die by the tens of thousands from diseases of malnutrition like beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy , and from epidemic tropical diseases: malaria, dysentery, tropical ulcers, cholera. Those who survived could only look ahead to being worked to death. If the war had lasted another year, there would not have been a POW left alive."


Post a Comment

Thank you SOOO much for commenting. We bloggers, of which I am such a minnow in such a big pond, live for our comments.