Tales of courage, desperation and endurance in some of the worst moments of WWII.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux editor Glusman concentrates on recounting the wartime experiences of his father and three of his father’s fellow Navy doctors, his larger story sprawls across miles of canvas and involves countless players. The elder Glusman and his three comrades were captured in May 1942, after Douglas MacArthur and a handful of senior staff were evacuated in the face of imminent Japanese victory. Glusman junior suggests that MacArthur’s abilities as a leader were surely inadequate to the task of defending the Philippines; he had weeks in which to prepare for the seaborne invasion after Pearl Harbor and did nothing useful, and “at the eleventh hour, MacArthur was forced into a devil’s bargain by trading a failed military strategy for one that would knowingly sacrifice the defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.” In Japanese hands, the doctors found themselves confronted with daily cultural conflicts: whereas the Americans thought of the Japanese as subhuman, the Japanese were certain that as members of the master race they were destined to replace “Anglo-American imperialism with a new world order.” Governed by the rules of bushido, or the warrior’s way, the Japanese had little sympathy for captives. Yet, as Glusman writes, they had not always fought this way; in the earlier wars of the 20th century, they had treated their prisoners humanely, a practice that apparently ended when Soviets butchered a Japanese garrison in the 1920s. A soldier was not supposed to surrender, and “if a Japanese soldier would choose death over capture, how could he be expected to respect enemy prisoners of war?” The Japanese behaved abominably. But, as Glusman notes, worse lay in store when the doctors were removed to the Japanese mainland, where, “healers in a world of hurt, they were deprived of the very tools they needed most”—and where many of their fellow prisoners would be killed not by their captors but by errant American bombs.
A thoughtful, humane meditation on war and family history, full of myth-bursting truths.