12. "Unbroken" v.s. Real POWs

  • 2014.12.24 Wednesday
  • 23:12

Laura Hillenbrand wrote this book "Unbroken" by phone-interview (Hillenbrand and Zamperini never met once while this book had been written), internet search, and obviously, reading books written by other people.

To know what really happened in those POW camps, why don't we learn more from the person who actually met with POWs, talked with them face to face and read their diaries.

Here is a book "Long Night’s Journey into Day: Prisoners of War in Hong Kong and Japan, 1941-1945 ". This book by Charles G. Roland is based on hundreds of interviews with former POWs, as well as material culled from archives around the world.

Not without some disagreement (especially regarding the author's take on "Bushido"), I would recommend this book as a "must read" for all who want to learn what was like to be a POW in war time Japan.

We all understand the life as POW is hard. In the "Unbroken", no positive side is described. But, wasn't there any? Was it all pitch dark?

Let's see what this book says about life as POW. The following are the excerpts from the book.

Contacts with the Japanese Population
"Unbroken" describes the whole population of then-Japanese as extremely hostile and violent with only negligible exceptions. Let's see what it was like.

One Japanese worker at Niigata was notably kind to the prisoners. All his fingers had been cut off by the Chinese while he was their prisoner, some time before. One of the POWs would be sent out with this man to gather greens for the camp kitchen. They would Visit his home, a tiny one—room dwelling where the man lived with his mother. There they would have a modest meal, sitting cross—legged on the floor.

In camp the POWS were warned that the civilians outside were homicidally furious at Allied prisoners, especially Americans. The prison administration announced that they were the “guardians” of the POWs. Yet the latter seemed never to encounter an enraged citizen. “On the other hand, I met several who went out of their way to make my lot more bearable at the risk of their own safety. The civilians I met merely went through the motions of expediting the war effort. They had a bellyful of war.”
One American recalled a Japanese woman, wife of a workman (they called her “Ma”) who gave each of his group a little parched rice that tasted like popcorn. Also, civilians would hide handfuls of roasted soybeans where the men might find them. Once a guard caught a man doing this and brutally whipped him in the face with a pair of pliers. “Only then did we realize the full depth of the civilians’ kindness.. 
Unlike "Unbroken" may lead you to believe, even during the harshest of the war, there were some heart-warming human relationships.

One of the greatest differences between Kawasaki 3D and other camps was the fact that at Kawasaki they had the good fortune to have a few helpful and humane Japanese in charge. Dr. Reid’s Japanese counterpart, Dr. Inoue, was most helpful. He never interfered with Reid’s assessment of sickness and, even more remarkably, became “a good personal friend whose conversation, books, flowers and general tolerance and education do honour to our profession and make a bright spot in my routine here.”

Legal Status
Japanese are law abiding people now. We were law abiding people then. The law doesn't discriminate now. The law didn't discriminate then.

West, caught trading clothing to a civilian for food and cigarettes, was beaten severely by several Japanese NCOs, including Kondo. Pattingale became implicated and was beaten. These beatings lasted for an hour or more daily for several days, the fury of the Japanese increasing when it was found that a pair of Japanese army boots had also been traded. West initially refused to say where he got the boots but, when he had been held on half rations for 10 or 11 days, he weakened. Then there are two stories: one, that Soroka came forward and confessed that the boots were his, the other that West named Soroka. The Violence now was turned on Soroka.
Ultimately, a Japanese court martial was held in Tokyo. West and Soroka had no lawyers (Pattingale was not tried). Kondo appeared as a witness and, according to his statement, he was able to sway the court to give reduced sentences: “for an offense which would have brought a Japanese soldier at least five years, West received only eight months and Sirocca [sic] about two months.” West and Soroka served their time in the state penitentiary in Tokyo, where they said they were fairly treated, and then returned to Kawasaki. At his own trial, Kondo was found guilty and sentenced to one year at hard labour.

Medical Treatment
Healthcare and medicine were scarce resources in war time Japan. And yet, medical personnel and guards did their best to see POWs survive through hardship.

Dysentery, a debilitating and sometimes lethal disease, had a devastating effect on malnourished, overworked men. There were almost always a few cases, but in the early part of 1944 a serious epidemic ravaged Niigata Camp 5B. By mid—March even the Japanese became concerned at this threat to their labour force.
Later, Lt. Kato cooperated with Maj. Stewart in stopping what could have been a devastating outbreak of bacillary dysentery: “On the 19th of December 1944, at which time Lt. Kato was the camp ommandant, I reported there were cases of dysentery in the camp, and I expected to find on survey that there would be many more. Lt. Kato immediately stopped all work.” None of the men went to work for two weeks. This prevented the spread of the dysentery, and Stewart could treat those men who were already sick. In all, about 40 cases were diagnosed, with no deaths.

Dr. Fujii testified about some of the medical procedures used to combat pneumonia. He had the POW medical orderly make up a gargle solution with potassium permanganate. Before roll call, morning and evening, bottles containing this deep purple solution were distributed to each barrack. The POWS would bring their teacups and the section leader poured a measure of the gargle for each man. Asked about effectiveness, Fujii commented: “After the policy of gargling was instituted there were some pneumonia patients the first year, however, there were no pneumonia patients during the winter of the second year and so I think that it had beneficial effects.” Possibly it did help.

The number of injuries that occurred in Niigata Varied from month to month. The men were exposed to harsh physical labour and long work days. One report indicates that the peak period for accidents was similar to that for diarrhea and other diseases. The generally weakened condition of the men and the nature of the work performed combined to make them subject to accidents. Lack of proper attire, such as warm clothing and boots, also contributed to the number of accidents on the work site.

In some instances crude surgery was carried out under unpleasant and painful circumstances. Randy Steele was working at the coal yard when he got a sharp piece of coal in his foot. Unable to get it out, he kept on working. After a week his foot became infected. “I was limping about when a Jap guard asked me what was the matter and I told him. That night, two guards came and they made me lay on the floor and they took a knife and cut a hole in the bottom of my foot and took a piece of wire and dug the piece of coal out, then took a piece of rag and pushed it in the hole....After a few days, they changed the rag and my foot healed up after a few changes.”

In the spring of 1943, for the first time, patients travelled to an outside hospital- three men with severe beriberi. Eventually, all the men who had beriberi improved. The disease eventually vanished from the camp over a period of a year and a half.

Sometimes the system worked. In June 1943, Pte. Zytaruk, WG, had an accident at work: “He was removed to the Company hospital, the hospital operated in connection with the Company; the fracture was fixed with silver wire and a brass plate, the leg splinted with hip abduction, extension of the knee and full extension of the foot. I saw the patient on the morning of June 12th and his general condition was excellent. The Japanese had operated. They took him right off from where it occurred to the hospital.” Certainly this patient had prompt and apparently appropriate treatment.

At Omori, as in many other camps, the POWs came to expect the familiar order: “Prepare to gargle. Gargle!” When they ordered men to gargle the Japanese were deadly serious. In October 1944, men were stood at attention for an hour after tenko because some of them had forgotten to gargle, as ordered, twice a day.

Even in the height of the war when everything was scarcely available, we did our best to provide for the POWs. In in some cases, perhaps more than necessary..

The Japanese apparently expected giants when their POW labourers arrived from the south. The clothing supplied was so large that “we looked like walking tents. We rolled up the pant legs and sleeves. This was no fashion show, we gathered, but it was certainly a circus. The small men disappeared in a sea of cotton. Marching to work, four abreast, we were a wonderful sight to behold—straggling, bumbling, clumping along as though in time to some dissonant arrhythmic music.”

Foods were the problem, for sure. We didn't serve enough protein, for sure. The meal was not nutritionally balanced, for sure. But, we did our best to feed them, and sometimes did not hesitate to improvise..

People say "smoking kills". That is true in peace time. That was obviously acutely true in the war time, especially for the POWs.
As with all camps, Omine was guided by official regulations. One of these, in typically garbled English translation, refers to food. It was a rule the POWS found no difficulty adhering to: “Endeavour not to make remnant.” The British medical officer at Omine believed that the amount and quality of food supplied was extremely poor. But, he added, “in fairness it must be admitted that it was not much worse than the Japanese Army personnel in the camp were getting and it was also greater in quantity than the civilian mine workers were getting.” Maj. Robertson believed that most prisoners who ate their full rations managed to survive the war. The men could do their work “though with considerable discomfort and with some loss in weight.”

According to Hubbard, most of those who died at Narumi did so because they failed to consume their daily ration regularly. The POWs who manipulated food rations put themselves at great risk. “Rabbits,” who deferred current rations to the future, and “gorgers,” who mortgaged future rations to increase current consumption, were flirting with death. At even greater risk were those who gave nicotine a higher priority than food. Most of the men who traded food for cigarettes did not return home.

According to Lewis Bush, when rations were short at Omori, Dr. Fujii put forward his plan to make miso beer—beer brewed from fermented soybean paste. This he believed would prevent and even cure beriberi. Bush, a Japanese-speaker who knew Fujii as well as any POW, reported that he had a lengthy argument with the supply staff, but eventually they provided him with the supplies necessary for making this brew for the men engaged in heavy labour. It was made in the cookhouse under his supervision from miso, sugar, and fermented barley. Not only did it not taste bad, but it soon had the desired effect. “This was only one of the very excellent deeds of this young cadet doctor, but even so, he was tried as a war criminal." 

"Unbroken" describes the POWs as "slave". Well, it was not a free labor market for sure, but we allowed POWs some leeway of getting extra revenue, so that their lives were easier.

Moreover, the sick who remained in camp were cut off from two sources of extra nourishment, sources that could be crucial to survival. POWs working outside were sometimes paid—trifling amounts, it is true, but nevertheless some additional food could be purchased. Also, those working outside often were able to steal food, or materials that could be bartered for food. These facts further increased the pressure on men to work even when unwell.

Lewis Bush and Mutsuhiro Watanabe
Here is the bastard, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe. OK, he did terrible things and we are sorry about that. And here is Lewis Bush - the man who never spent a single day in Omori together with Zamperini and yet appears in the book time and time again.

Now, let's see what the person with real experience had to say about him for the record.

Lewis Bush testified that on one evening in June 1944, at Omori Camp, he was brutally beaten by Watanabe, who knocked him down, threw water on him, hit him with a fire bucket and was about to finish off by hitting him over the head with a 40-pound fire extinguisher. Then someone struck Watanabe and dragged him away, thus preventing the blow with the fire extinguisher. Bush was later told that it was the Japanese medical officer, Lt. Fujii Hiroshi, who interfered and stopped Watanabe. Bush was convinced that Fujii had saved his life. He considered Fujii to be “a better type Japanese, high strung and rather enthusiastic.”
Conditions improved dramatically after Watanabe left the camp early in 1945. A Japanese sergeant by the name of Oguri, and Kano, an interpreter, took over the administration of the camp. For the rest of the time there were no beatings by camp staff, who did what they could to make working and living conditions decent.

Lewis Bush and Tokugawa
Another person who appears in "Unbroken" is Tokugawa. This is the experience of Lewis Bush himself. "Brown" was the bastard, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe.

One day a handsome, tall Japanese, dressed impeccably in clothes which might have been cut in Savile Row- according to Lewis Bush, they had been - visited Omori and came to the room occupied by Bush and other officers. The man was Tokugawa Yoshitomo, son of Marquis Tokugawa Yoshichika, and brother-in-law of Prince Chichibu. Bush knew of Tokugawa, and he had heard of Bush, and they found that they had many friends in common. Tokugawa was visiting the POW camps representing the Japan Red Cross. Naturally, the POWs told him all their complaints and he promised to do whatever he could to assist. Immediately, he was able to have released to the men boxes of books sent by the American Red Cross, but which the POWs hadn’t seen because of the characteristically lengthy delays until books could be censored. “After Yoshitomo’s first visit, ‘Brown’ gave me another bashing and accused me...

Moxa Treatment
We did our best to relieve the suffering of the POWs. And, it was unfortunate that the treatment was sometimes painful, especially for those who didn't know what that was.

Even with good intentions, probably we did not have much language skills to explain it properly. There was not much of "informed consent" at that time. For that, we feel a bit sorry.

And, perhaps we were sometimes too eager to cure..

One of the many hazards of POW life in Japan was moxibustion. In many instances the Japanese made its use compulsory, inflicting it by force if necessary, on prisoners suffering from such diverse ailments as beriberi and amoebic hepatitis.

One complaint expressed by a few of these POWs was that the Japanese had tortured them, burning their bodies by lighting some sort of combustible substance piled up on various places on the skin. 

Distressing and painful as the burning was to startled, resentful POWs, in fact the procedure was medical therapy of a type having a history extending back more than two millenniaz namely, moxibustion.

The Japanese were unwilling to hear debate about their orders to have moxibustion administered. At Taisho POW Camp, the medical officer discovered painfully the futility of arguing with Nipponese Medical staff over this treatment. For “Beri Beri Pellagra & diarrhoea the treatment consisted of burning some sort of fusee on various parts of the body and to be done every day for 10 days.” Because he protested against this procedure he was beaten for an hour and a half. And, of course, “[t]he treatment was that day & subsequent days carried out by the Nipponese.”

Lancelot Ross, a Canadian sergeant, was sure the burning was a type of experimentation having something to do with beriberi:
One time they took four or five of us, stripped us completely of our clothes and made us lie flat on our backs with arms and legs out. They came along with this cotton rope, about a half-inch. They would cut a half—inch length off of that rope and set them on their ends, at, I think, about six points. I had one on each side of my chest, one on each hip, on the side of my stomach, one on each wrist, one on each ankle and one on the centre of my forehead. Before they put them on they would light them with a match, and you know how slow cotton burns. They put them on a nerve center. And they would let them burn right down to nothing. My God, it was awful the pain with it, when the fire came close to your skin. If you showed any tendency of moving they would holler at you and raise the rifle butts, and you had to stay there until all the rope had burned away, and then they would let you up. I had open ulcers and sores for months after.
But another Canadian, Randy Steele, who had severe wet beriberi while at Niigata 5B, believed that moxibustion saved his life. One evening two Japanese, a woman and a man, came into the camp. They made several of the POWS lie on the floor, applied what appeared to be little sulphur wicks to their stomach and legs, and then set fire to them. “They burned right through the skin and the water came out the holes, big pans of it. They drainedthe fluid and I felt much better. I fainted during the burning but I guess that saved my life. Many of the boys who had it as bad as I did died before that treatment was given them. My swelling came down and I felt better.”

Some died, unfortunately. Out of Bushido spirit, we don't beat up the dead. We respect them. We treat them as much as we can, regardless of the nationality of the dead. That is the way it is now. That was the way it was then.

Ultimately, they took them out, on a three—wheel motorbike with a box on the back, to a local crematorium. A POW witness accompanied them and, after the cremation, they gave the witness chopsticks, instructing him to pick out a few bones. These were put in a box about eight inches square, labelled with the dead man’s name and army number, and the box was put in a shrine.

Sexual interest
Boys are boys. Girls are girls. No matter where you are.

Even in hostile foreign cities, the POWs frequently were reminded that another gender existed. In the camps in Hong Kong there was little opportunity to see women except from a distance, though workers at Kai Tak airport seem occasionally to have made contact, as has been mentioned. In Japan, the POWs often found themselves working alongside or near women and girls. The number of women in the workforce increased dramatically as the armed forces absorbed more and more men.

When we first went to work on the docks the Japanese women were frankly afraid of us. We may have been the first white men they had ever seen. The first day they ran and hid. After that they stared at us from a distance, and finally they decided to ignore us, and pretend we never existed. The last summer they were beginning to be interested, and would have been friendly if we had given them any encouragement. Particularly one of the girls who handled one of the “boshas” (carts) and learned to giggle and roll her eyes.

That there was sexual interest was inevitable. Communal bathing was still the norm in Japan in the 1940s, so men and women were accustomed to seeing each other nude. This was routine. What was not routine were these large, hairy strangers. Seeing them bathe became a fascinating exercise for some Japanese women, who, during the occasional communal baths (at which the POWS routinely bathed as a group, last, in dirty water) “looked at us and pointed to the fellows with the big ones and made quite a fuss."

Music is a human nature. Only the heartless prohibits other human beings to enjoy it. Fortunately, we were not the one to do that.

Sgt. Lance Ross recorded, on 29 April 1944, that they had a day off because it was the Emperor’s birthday. The Japanese were all drunk. They gave the POWs a can of bully beef and a can of vegetables between two men. These, it proved, were Red Cross supplies. The Japanese also gave the men an egg, an orange, and a bottle of beer between four men; “not much chance of getting tight on that."
Despite the often desperate conditions, the men nevertheless did find the energy to put on a few “entertainments” at Niigata. Two Americans, Bill Barbour and George Francis, were largely responsible for the concerts;
Anyone at 5B will not soon forget the two plays “Eadie was a Lady” nor “Romeo and Juliet.” The bard of Avon might have been profoundly shocked if he could have heard Romeo borrowing Hamlet’s speeches but an audience of POWs was not critical. The Jap camp staff enjoyed the third act of “Eadie was a Lady” so well they ordered it repeated a second time. Was it only a rumour that the commandant was disappointed when he discovered that Eadie was no lady but only Sgt. Neal masquerading as one? What would the commandant have thought if he could have seen Sonny Castro, in the “Biaderes,” at Shamshuipo. 
Tom Forsyth remembered one splendid concert. “Red” Barlow played Little Red Riding Hood. He brought down the house when he cried in a shrill falsetto, “But Grandma, you’ve got a nose just like Huhmicky’s.” Huhmicky, obviously, was “Grandma.”

The Britishers and Canadians from Hong Kong had their musical instruments. There was a tall, sad—faced warrant officer who directed a small jazz band under the starlit sky. Hot trumpets blew, guitars strummed, and violins took up the melody while weary prisonersrelaxed and dreamed of home and freedom. The Red Cross sent in a good electric phonograph with a fine collection of records, both jazz and classical. “If The Bird was in a good humour, we got permission to play it. Some of the records that I heard for the first time in October, 1944, were ‘Queenie, the Strip-Tease,’ ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,’ and some harmony by the Andrew Sisters and Bing Crosby.”

The subtitle of the photo says "said to be faked", but it seems to be "not faked" as long as what we can see on the book.

To be continued.

Special thanks to @hinatanococo for the reading suggestion.

Just preparing article about true story different from movie unbroken in Italy. I saw the movie, nothing of special hollywood movie with a lot of mistake, but in true is not completely against japan, infact there are only birdman the evil. In true in general the idea of japanese very evil during second world it's propaganda continue from Hollywood. Only the good movie of Eastwood have a litte part talk about the true of Iwo Jima. War is war, also in Italy fascist is not good people, but for me this campaign against jolie movie, it's only good propaganda for earn money, the movie is not a great movie, in part very boring and also my friends critics of cinema agree, is a classic hollywood product and stop.
  • roberto
  • 2015/01/30 3:27 PM
Hi, Roberto-san, thanks for your comment. Believe me, it is not only against Japan, but it is against friendship among the nations. It brings out old hatred all over again. Hillenbrand does that with fabrication. It's evil.
  • CBJ
  • 2015/01/31 6:33 PM
Please read "Prisoners of the Japanese" by Gavan Daws. It describes the years of abuse that POWs suffered under Japanese control. This entry is nothing more than revisionism of the highest order.
  • Hitokiri1989
  • 2015/02/03 3:47 PM
Hitokiri san, thank you for your recommendation. Important thing is which book you read. You can pick any book you want - book of hate or book of restoration. I would pick the latter.
  • CBJ
  • 2015/02/03 6:01 PM



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