The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath


Assiduous account of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines in World War II and the fate of the American garrison there.

The “death march” after Bataan fell in April 1942 has been a byword for the worst warfare can bring to a soldier. Some 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered, and their Japanese enemies despised them for doing so. The surrender was, write the Normans (New York Univ.), “the single largest defeat in American military history.” The subsequent forced march of the prisoners, many of them ill and wounded and all of them malnourished, led to more than 10,000 deaths. By the authors’ account, the Americans were a mixed lot, poorly equipped, trained and led—which does not square with many other accounts of the early war in the Philippines, and which will doubtless excite discussion in military-history circles. What is certain is that the Japanese soldiers were little better off, short on rations, beaten and abused by their officers and marching everywhere, since, their doctrine stated, “a drop of gas is as precious as a drop of blood.” The Normans take pains to present the Japanese side of the story, and some readers with direct memories of events may find their account too sympathetic, especially their portrayal of the commanding general, Homma Masaharu, who was executed for war crimes after the Allied victory. Yet their story says a great deal about the inglorious—and rightly unglorified—aspects of war, from the sense of shame that settled on the American commander at the moment of surrender to the terrible years that lay ahead. Drawing on the memories of participants on both sides, the Normans provide a careful history of a ghastly episode that still reverberates.

Highly recommended for students of the Pacific War.

Pub Date: June 16th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-374-27260-9
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2009


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