From Publishers Weekly
This grimly absorbing history revisits the worst ordeal Americans experienced during WWII. Michael Norman, a former New York Times
reporter, and Elizabeth Norman (Women at War
) pen a gripping narrative of the 1942 battle for the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines, the surrender of 76,000 Americans and Filipinos to the Japanese and the infamous death march that introduced the captives to the starvation, dehydration and murderous Japanese brutality that would become routine for the next three years. Focusing intermittently on American POW Ben Steele, whose sketches adorn the book, the narrative follows the prisoners through the hell of Japanese prison and labor camps. (The lowest circle is the suffocating prison ship where men went mad with thirst and battened on their comradesÖ blood.) The authors are unsparing but sympathetic in telling the Japanese side of the story; indeed, they are much harder on the complacent, arrogant American commander Douglas MacArthur than on his Japanese counterpart. ThereÖs sorrow but not much pity in this story; as all human aspiration shrivels to a primal obsession with food and water, flashes of compassion and artistic remembrance only occasionally light the gloom. 8 pages of b&w illus., illus. throughout; maps. (June 16)
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*Starred Review* Unlike historians who have spotlighted the titans—MacArthur and Wainwright, Yamashita and Homma—who matched strategies in the Philippines in 1942, the Normans focus on the ordinary soldiers who bore the brunt of the wartime savagery. At the center of this searing narrative stands Ben Steele, a Montana cowboy remarkable for the fortitude that sustains him through fierce combat, humiliating surrender, and then the infamous Bataan Death March into imprisonment: four years of unrelenting slave labor, starvation, torture, beatings, and disease. Because Steele went on in his postwar life to capture his wartime ordeal in harrowing drawings (here reproduced), readers confront in both image and word the brutality of war and the desperation of captivity. Readers learn how news of Japanese atrocities inflamed an American passion for vengeance and justified horrific bombing raids—incendiary and then nuclear—against Japanese cities. But readers will find it hard to view such raids as fitting punishment of a bestial enemy after reading the Normans’ chronicle of the bitter experiences of very human and often guilt-wracked Japanese soldiers. The narrative even humanizes the anguished Japanese commanders condemned by a victors’ justice that held them accountable for offenses of out-of-control subordinates. An indispensable addition to every World War II collection. --Bryce Christensen