A retired engineer who has taken up writing delivers fascinating accounts of six Japanese and Americans who passed the war in enemy hands.
Smith (Lightning: Fire From the Sky, 2008, etc.) delivers first-person stories of a GI who endured more than three terrible years as a POW in Japan and a Japanese soldier who spent a more comfortable time in the United States but felt guilty about surrendering. Casting his net widely, the author describes an Russian mining engineer and his wife, hiding and starving in the occupied Philippines, a Japanese soldier who escaped to the jungle after the U.S. reconquered Guam in 1944, emerging only in 1960, and a young Nisei woman, born and raised in Los Angeles, caught up in the shameful American internment of Japanese Americans after 1941. Smith pulls no punches portraying the cruelty of the Japanese to those under their power, but, like many amateur historians and not a few professionals, he justifies this as a consequence of the samurai Bushido tradition, which teaches that warriors fight to the death and that those who surrender are beneath contempt. In fact, traditional Bushido does not excuse brutality or require warriors to die except to preserve honor. The Japanese did not abuse prisoners from the Russo-Japanese war and World War I. Their suicidal behavior and inhumanity during World War II sprang from a new policy by 1920s military leaders who believed it would toughen Japanese soldiers, enabling them to overcome less-determined but technically advanced Western armies.
Readers can take comfort knowing that all six subjects survived, perhaps the only good news in these gripping though mostly painful stories about one of the many grim aspects of WWII.