Books by Robert S. La Forte

Released: June 1, 1994

A harrowing compilation of accounts from survivors of Japanese POW camps in the eastern Pacific. The editors, who previously collaborated on Building the Death Railway: The Ordeal of American POWs in Burma (not reviewed), have selected material concerning the trauma of surrender and capture, the physical and psychological conditions suffered by POWs. Some of the oral histories are startling indeed. Desperate for food (it was Japanese policy to provide only daily rice, a spoonful of sugar a week, and virtually nothing else), POWs killed and ate anything they could get their hands on. One prisoner remembers a man riding the back of an enormous monitor lizard, trying desperately to cut its throat as it carried him through the camp. Another recalls throwing water buffaloes over the bridges they were constructing, because the guards would shoot the animals and give the carcasses to the prisoners. For some, though, the war was paradoxically kind. One prisoner at Kanthanaburi in Thailand (close to the infamous River Kwai bridge) remembers: ``That was the land of milk and honey as far as I was concerned.... You could eat all the old fruit you wanted and all the duck eggs you could eat.'' But this is the exception. Most of the stories, in particular those about the Bataan Death March, are horrifying. Resistance and sabotage occurred as well. One man, in symbolic defiance, kept a Marine Corps ring hidden in his rectum for two and a half years. An electrician dropped a live cable into a truck full of Japanese soldiers in metal beds. Others caused minor explosions at the industrial plants where they were forced to work, or sabotaged military vehicles. A grim portrait of brutality, fanaticism, and the cheapness of human life in wartime, etched by people whose voices have been faithfully rendered. Read full book review >