PRISONERS OF THE JAPANESE: POWs of World War II in the Pacific by Gavan Daws

PRISONERS OF THE JAPANESE: POWs of World War II in the Pacific

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A wide-angle saga that adds a chapter long missing from official and traditional histories of WW II's Pacific theater: the story of the torments endured by Allied military personnel captured when Japanese forces overran Greater East Asia. Drawing on interviews with survivors of the Japanese prison camps as well as archival sources, Daws (A Dream of Islands, 1980, etc.) effectively combines the experiences of individual American, Australian, British, and Dutch POWs with a panoramic perspective. He probes why the death rate among the more than 140,000 men interned by the Japanese reached 27% (as against but 4% for military prisoners of the Germans). By the author's painstakingly documented account, the causes were legion: inhuman living conditions, starvation diets, an almost complete lack of medical care, constant beatings by brutish guards whose (heartily reciprocated) racial hatred of whites often led to summary executions, forced labor on construction projects like the Burma-Siam railroad, and workaday atrocities. Thousands more POWs perished when the ships transporting them from the fetid jungles of conquered lands to Japan were blown out of the water by Allied aircraft or submarines. Daws provides a start-to-finish narrative, tracking the battered veterans of Bataan, Java, Midway, Singapore, and other campaigns before, during, and after their captivity. While he devotes considerable attention to group bonding, scavenging, and the other stratagems it took to stay alive behind the wire, Daws doesn't neglect the surprisingly cool receptions accorded repatriated POWs. Indeed, he reports, there are precious few memorials to Allied soldiers who died in Asian camps, let alone tributes to the brutalized, sometimes bestialized, survivors condemned to make peace with their freedom after VJ day. Overdue witness, eloquent and harrowing.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1994
ISBN: 0688143709
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Morrow