HIDDEN HORRORS by Toshiyuki Tanaka


Japanese War Crimes in World War II
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 A scholar's harrowing if pedantic briefing on largely unpunished and long-ignored atrocities committed by Japan's military during WW II. Drawing on hitherto untapped archives, Tanaka (Unmapped Territories, 1991) documents a series of appalling war crimes that, with few exceptions, have escaped notice in standard histories of the global conflict. In notably dispassionate detail, for example, he recounts the massacre of more than 2,500 Australian and British POWs in a camp called Sandakan on North Borneo, the gratuitous slaughter of 21 nurses on the Indonesian isle of Banka, and the mass murder of civilians (including German missionaries) in the Bismarck archipelago as Allied forces closed in during the spring of 1944. Covered as well is the widespread cannibalism practiced by Japanese soldiers in New Guinea and elsewhere in East Asia. In addition, Tanaka sheds new light on the infamous Unit 731, which conducted horrific medical experiments on helpless prisoners throughout the Pacific theater. He goes on to disclose that US officials unilaterally granted the responsible Japanese physician and his staff immunity from prosecution in return for the information they could provide on Dai Nihon's plans and capacity to wage bacteriological warfare, data that were never shared with other Allied powers. After reviewing the frightful particulars of his case studies, moreover, the author offers anecdotal evidence of similar behavior by other belligerents, eventually concluding, however, that Japanese barbarity was sui generis. In a concluding chapter, Tanaka attempts to explain without excusing the aberrant conduct of imperial troops on and off the front lines, citing among other factors the authoritarian basis of Japanese morality. Shocking annals that bear gruesome witness to the darker realities of what historian John W. Dower (who contributed a thoughtful foreword to the American edition) called a war without mercy. (photos, not seen; maps)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-8133-2717-2
Page count: 304pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996