Through the accounts of the survivors that I have read or listened to, the one thing that truly stands out terribly is the Japanese treatments and attitudes of POWs. Wherever, whenever it might have been for a prisoner in Japanese control, their handling and interaction was horrific, through vicious beatings, through the removal of dignity through degrading tasks, through the experimentation of chemicals and disections, or through the civilian treatments. When reading the accounts of these prisoners, the Nazi treatments almost appear mild and generous when considering the conditions that their prisoners and even Jews went through. Both were absolutely terrible, and while the Nazi’s may have killed more, the Japanese had far more affect on the American, British, and Austrailian troops that were affected by them. If there are any conclusions to make coming out of this study, they would be that the Japanese’s view of prisoners (and almost all foreigners) was extremely biased and imprinted. Like the Nazis, the Japanese believed that they were the superior race over all, and they would being doing the world a justice through conquest and subjugation. However, while the Germans might have treated the opposition with some respect, and accordance to the Geneva Convention, the Japanese completely ignored and disregarded the convention’s existance, while torturing the opposition’s prisoners in an act similar to ethnocentric origins, as it was considered dishonorable and cowardly to submit to the enemy, and to preserve the family’s honor, that they should die before capture. This attitude and regime was clearly reflected in the treatment of opposing prisoners, as no mercy or dignity was shown to or allowed to the victims. Overall, this study revealed many things about the Japanese treatment, regime, and context of the time.
(Searched “japanese pow camps ww2” into youtube, first result (45 minutes, but only video actually about Japanese camps specfically [Several go for 55-70 minutes, but describe German camps])
This is a documentary made about a man named Alistair Urquhart, who survived not one, but two full experiences in Japanese labor and POW camps. Alistair was first captured defending the city of Singapore from the relentless Japanese invasion. His first camp experience wasn’t terrible among other accounts, just humiliating, as Alistair would describe. However, this would soon change, as he and many other prisoners were going to be sent to another Japanese camp, with fair work and good food. Their train ride in carriages stuffed with 30 people each, with the walls at over 100 degrees F., made just the journey “hell”. Then, the prisoners were forced on a death march through the jungle to the camp, which wasn’t even built, so that the prisoners had to build their shelter. When they finished, they soon set out to help in the building of the Burma-Thailand Railway. He was soon assigned to work on a bridge (which he helped sabotage), and after defending himself from a guard to was sexually harassing him, he was put into what the camp called “The Black Hole”, a bamboo cage surrounded with darkened metal, that starved and scorched the prisoner inside. He barely survived 7 days and nights of this treatment. Finally, his experience in this camp ended when he was moved to a hospital camp, and then moved onto a ship to go to recently abondoned Japanese factories to fill in for the workers who had just left to fight against the US Army. Along the way, a US submarine had spotted this ship, and torpedoed the ship, which forced Alistair and the prisoners to swim for their lives away from the ship. He made it to a life raft, where he somehow survived for days without food or water, burning by day, freezing by night, all alone, until he was finally picked up, but by another Japanese ship. He was then transported to a camp just outside of Nagasaki. The time was late 1945. Then, one day while Alistair was cleaning out the Japanese latrines, the second atomic bomb detonated in Nagasaki. The war ended shortly after. This account, by all means, is a miracle. Yet, like other survivor stories, it shares two common traits or circumstances. One is the consistant urge to focus on surviving today, shown very repeatedly in this documentary. The other is the series of transitions made as a prisoner that would take them away from the staged executions, whether it be through disease or physical damage. Yet again, the brutality of the Japanese treatment of prisoners again. In a statistic that I had heard repeatedly throughout these accounts and records, the average mortality rate of Japanese POW’s was approximately 25%. In Germany, that percentage was only 4%.
(Second video instead of audio recording)
(Searched “Japanese POW camps WW2” into Youtube, third entry down [Video on iPhone])
This second video is a survivor’s account of his experiences as a soldier against Japan and also his time in a Japanese POW camp. The soldier’s name is Fergus Anckorn, and in his first military engagement, he gets captured and sent to a hospital, where the Japanese bayonet everyone except him, as due to a wound that he had suffered earlier before capture, he looked as if he had been already stabbed with a bayonet. He then gets transfered to work in a labor camp with Korean guards, but because of his earlier wounds, he can’t do the work, so they throw his assigned 5 gallons of creosote onto him, and it gave him so many blisters that he appeared so wounded that the Japanese took him away to another camp. Then, after he was transfered, he and a group of prisoners were brought out into the jungle (no specific details given) and lined up against the trees. The Japanese brought out a tripod and a machine gun, but didn’t shoot for ten minutes. They finally let the prisoners go back to camp, where Fergus soon learned that WWII had been over for three days. However, the camp commander still wasn’t letting the prisoners go, and they were forced to work, so Fergus had to get food. The commander saw him doing magic tricks, and called him into his office to perform. Fergus would then use whatever food with sustance that was available in his tricks, as they would be given to him because the Japanese considered the prisoners vermin, so the food would effectively be contaminated to them. Fergus would also perform magic tricks to the guards during rest breaks in work, and he was so distracting that those breaks of ten minutes could stretch to fourty-five minutes, where the other prisoners would sneak off and steal food. Finally, the prisoners were released from the camp, where they finally found their way home (not described in account). This was a very interesting account by a survivor, because of how lucky Fergus was in the nature of his wounds, the way how he looked heavily burned, the way how he knew magic tricks, and how the Japanese were considerate enough at last to not shoot the prisoners point blank. But what I found truly the most important and lasting was how Fergus finished the video, by summarizing his view of every day in camp. His view was to only focus on today, not tomorrow, not yesterday, and making it through to tomorrow. This is probably one of the most inspiring messages that I have found through these websites and readings.
(NOTE: THESE WEBSITES ARE NOT USHMM RELATED)
This account (checked website, there are many other stories), is the hidden diary of Lieutenant Colonel E.E. Dunlop as a senior officer and surgeon at the labor camp of Burma. The account lists some of the experiences and conditions of prisoners working on the Burma-Thailand Railway. The diary mentions the conditions of working, in which every prisoner works, even the heavily sick and weakened. Also mentioned are soldiers who are beaten by the Japanese guards. The soldier happened to have a fever of 103 degrees, while having abrasions across the knees, a contused neck and chest, and a sprained ankle. The soldier died within two days of the initial recording. These diary entries, while short, are horrifiying to read, as they show the Japanese treatment at its worst, whether it be the beatings of the prisoners to death, or the way how prisoners on the brink of death are casually forced to work at physically challenging tasks for little if no food at all.
(NOTE: THESE WEBSITES ARE NOT USHMM RELATED)
When searching for websites about the Japanese POW camps, the first I came across was an account of some of the actions taken by the Japanese with downed US bomber pilots. The website lists the story of the Fukuoka account, in which a B-29 Bomber was shot down by a Japanese Zero, (main fighter plane), and eleven crew members bailed out. 1 man simply disappeared, while 2 died in conflicts with civilians around the crash site, and 8 were rounded up by the Japanese military. These 8 were taken to the Kyushu Imperial University Medical Department, where they were supposedly told that they would have surgery to help heal the wounds from the crashing. That was up until the surgeons started manipulating or cutting out the various airmen’s hearts, livers, brains, stomachs, and lungs for experimental value. However, when the war ended (all crewmen died from the vivisections performed), records of these “experiments” were all destroyed, the bodies were cremated, and stories were made up to cover the airmen’s disappearences, until one of the directors involved with the experience finally told the true story of what happened to the crew members on the island. This account is extremely gory and disturbing, and just morally wrong in every way by nature. This is one of many examples of Japanese atrocites commited to American (sometimes Austrailian and British) POWs, and also helped to better provide background knowledge on the Japanese actions (even as morally wrong as they were). From this account, I learned that airmen were treated especially terribly due to their destruction and havoc in Japan, that citizens were taught how to attack soldiers in the case of invasion, and the the “Kill All” policy (learned before, but this only helped to reinforce).
(Section 6, pgs 338-398)
In the final sections of Unbroken, Louis’s life sets out on an unsteady and rushed path, as he soon meets a women by the name of Cynthia, who he almost immediately wants to marry. The problems start when Louis starts to take up drinking to stop feeling the stress and anxiety he feels when giving speeches, and when Cynthia has problems with getting her parents to support her. The Bird continues to drift through Japan before finally committing suicide. However, Louis only falls farther and farther into his state, drinking to stop his flashbacks and nightmares of The Bird. This continues on and on until Cynthia forces Louis to stay at a religious convention, and he snaps, for the second time, but rather, a snap of forgiveness and understanding. Louis set out to reclaim his life, while Watanabe had been discovered to not have committed suicide. Louis tries to contact him, but it fails, and the book ends describing Louis carrying the Olympic Torch for the 1998 Winter Olympics, held in Japan, with the run going through a previous POW camp, and smiling faces. This is a very emotional section of the book, as it is the most reflective and understanding out of all of the sections in Unbroken. Although this holds no connection to the plot, it is shown individually about each of Louis’s family members dying off, the irony being shown through how he was thought to have died first, but outliving them all. This section of the book concludes very soundly, and is one of the few books that has forced a tear into my eye.
(Pgs 214-300, section 4)
In this section of Unbroken, the ending of WWII is almost at hand. Louis has been transfered between two POW camps in this section, both of which containing the one true antagonist of the book, Watanabe, or as the prisoners call him, “The Bird”. This sections displays, in purest form, the brutality of the POW camps, but also, some of the sadastic people who ran them. The Bird happens to be the shining example of this, regarded in both indirect and direct quotes from both prisoners and also sympathetic Japanese, to be a psychopath and a sadist. This man is the main form of torment for Louis for the rest of the book, through physical and mental torture, but also, The Bird’s targeting of Louis to break his spirit, by performing actions that would remove his dignity. This section is by far the most riveting in the book, as it describes the horrifying conditions that the prisoners faced in the camps. This section would be of most importance if going through the book for information.