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Moving and instructive eyewitness account of life as a Japanese POW
on 21 July 2012
This first hand account of three and a half years (the whole of the Pacific war) in captivity is highly instructive, and not only because of what it tells us about life as a POW of the Japanese.
The author tells us about the embarrassingly inadequate preparations by the British for the defense of Singapore. Not only did they fail despite General percival having actually foreseen an attack from Malaya, but they did not even allow many Singaporeans and Malayans to defend themselves, as London did not trust the local Chinese population enough to issue them weapons.
Life as a POW was not so bad in the beginning, at Changi prison, we learn, and the prisoners were treated in a relatively human way. The author argues that life for some British regulars was not worse than in their poor homes in the UK. They learned Japanese and could move out of prison and around the island relatively easily. They were often treated badly, but no worse than the Japanese would treat their own men.
Being a prisoner of war, for the Japanese, was a degradation far worse than dying in combat, and given this mentality it comes as no surprise that enemy POWs were cosidered little more than scum. Things got worse as the war progressed, and conditions were much worse at the prison camp in Korea where they were moved. The final camp in Tokyo was as bad or worse and August 1945 did not come a day too soon. Elation with freedom and victory had its tragic moments, such as when some POWs were killed by crates of food dropped for them by American B-29s!
It was a bit surprising to me to read that throughout this time the International Red Cross did not appear to be as active as one would have expected in checking on the POW's conditions, even though parcels from home were repeatedly delivered to them.
It was equally surprising to learn that in a rigid hierarchy as the Japanese military, even privates were given more command responsibility than their Western equivalents and subordinates who were close to the action were listened to more than their superiors who were further removed.