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Another side of the story
on 25 December 2011
This is a short book by an Indian Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW), and that alone makes it very unusual. There must be dozens of books by and about European FEPOWs and this book makes it clear that the Indians had just as terrible a time, thus rather debunking the prevalent theory that the Japanese treated the Europeans so badly as a way of debasing the former colonial masters. I think I would have found it shocking had I not read so many other FEPOW stories: the hunger and starvation, the malaria, the ulcers, the forced labour, the beatings. But, as with many memoirs of the Japanese occupation, it makes the point that some of the Japanese were decent and humane.
It also gives an alternative view on the formation of the Indian National Army (INA), by a man who appears to have no political axe to grind: by John Baptist Crasta's account, coercion was used. I don't think there's any doubt that genuine Indian nationalists joined the INA, but clearly not everyone entered it in such a spirit.
John Crasta's section of the book reads as if it was written quickly (not badly, not at all: just quickly) by a man setting down the essence of his experiences as a means of catharsis. It gives a chronological account of events; the analysis has to wait for the contribution by Richard, his son. Richard also injects a gentle note of humour here and there.
I think I had two questions which the book didn't answer: firstly, what sort of impact John Crasta's incarceration had on his personality and secondly, why he didn't join the INA. Was it out of loyalty to the British Empire, or was it something more personal, a feeling that he had made a promise and should stick by it?
This book is a quick and worthwhile read for anyone interested in the wider FEPOW story, and adds another first-hand voice telling a painful story of World War II.