Tomorrow’s Washington Post Book World carries Robert Asahina’s review of a new book on the Amerian, British, Australian and other prisoners of war held by the Japanese in the far Pacific during World War II: “At the enemy’s mercy, in Asia…” Asahina writes:
“Abu Ghraib” and “Guantanamo” have entered the vernacular as grim reminders of how quickly right yields to might during wartime. But the casual use of words such as “torture” and “gulag” today numbs us to the infinitely greater brutality inflicted on our fathers and grandfathers as “Fepows” (Far East prisoners of war) during World War II — when the mere mention of “Bataan” could evoke pity and outrage.
Surviving the Sword, by Brian MacArthur, a former executive editor of the Times of London, is a nearly unrelenting account of atrocities that are, even to our jaded sensibilities, almost incomprehensible. As the 60th anniversary of V-J Day nears and “as the surviving Fepows enter their eighties and nineties, it is time their story was told,” MacArthur writes, “especially to a new generation, most of whom remain ignorant of the suffering they endured.”
My first exposue to this material came in the harrowing book by Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific. For purposes of contrast, and for those who need to complete a short course on the fatuity of multiculturalism, check out the English-language version of the Japanese classic by Ooka Shohei, Taken Captive: A Japanese POW’s Story.