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Mr. Michel's War: From Manila to Mukden: An American Navy Officer's War with the Japanese Hardcover – November 4, 1997
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From Publishers Weekly
As a junior naval officer, Michel served on the Pope, one of the dozen obsolete "four-stack" destroyers from the WWI era that fought a doomed rearguard action against the Japanese in the early months of 1942. Most of the Pope's sea time, Michel tells us in this engaging memoir, was spent on routine patrols of the Philippines and Java; its episodes of combat were almost too confusing to be terrifying. In port, repair and maintenance vied for importance with finding sources of food and liquor and taking advantage of opportunities to meet women. When the Pope went down after engaging a fleet of Japanese destroyers, Michel was taken prisoner, to spend most of the war in Japan, working as a laborer at a Nagasaki shipyard. Hunger, crowding and overwork took lives enough, but conditions were much better than those of the now notorious camps in southeast Asia. Even newspapers were available. By not challenging the guards and foremen beyond a certain point, the POWs were able to maintain a chain of command and enforce their own standards of discipline. Michel makes an excellent case for this system, often criticized in particular by enlisted prisoners. In a broader context, his narrative supports the contention that Japanese POW policies were essentially ad hoc (unlike those of Nazi Germany), depending more on circumstances and personalities than on concepts of honor or principles of racism. It is a tribute to Michel's character that he emerged from his ordeal able, as early as 1948, to make the clear-eyed statement published here a half-century later. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Michel's World War II naval memoir was actually written some 50 years ago, shortly after Michel returned from more than three years as a Japanese POW. A lieutenant aboard the Asiatic fleet destroyer Pope, Michel served in her through the whole ordeal of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet and survived her sinking while trying to escape from Java. His subsequent captivity was less onerous than that of many Allied POWs, with fewer shortages of basic necessities and somewhat more professional, occasionally even humane, conduct on the part of the Japanese. Michel writes plainly but manages to vividly convey the range of behavior in the POW camps, from the heroic to its opposite. He is also plainspoken about the behavior of the Dutch, both during the fighting and later in captivity, and his negative remarks may partially account for his book's deferred publication. This is definitely a valuable addition to Pacific war POW literature and to knowledge of the forgotten Asiatic fleet. Roland Green
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He beat the odds of survival, over and over. Another great value in this account is that he recounts the stories from other POW's that were told to him, such as those who came from the Philippines, Singapore, and other naval vessels (including British, Dutch, and Australian).
This book needs an index added. The very short postscript describes the post-war years for Mr. Michel himself and some of the Allied POW's who are named in the account, but it needs some follow-up research added on the brutal Japanese who are named (by nicknames, mostly) at the various camps in Japan, and later, China. It is understandable that Mr. Michel himself probably had no interest in pursuing their fates, but this information was a standard feature of most other POW accounts published in the 1990's. Were any of them caught after the war and brought to the war crimes trials?
Michel's 3 1/2 years as a POW ranged from the absurdly comical to the painfully brutal. Perhaps atypically, Michel details not only the brutal and criminal treatment he and other POWs received but also some of the more humane treatment that he was fortunate enough to receive (or witness). His book doesn't vilify every Japanese soldier and/or citizen which, given the fact that he wrote the original manuscript in 1948, says quite a bit about his character to this reviewer. However, where war crimes were committed, he doesn't pull any punches. There were many Japanese soldiers and officers whom he encountered who were later tried for war crimes (several of whom committed suicide rather than face the gallows).
Overall, Michel's text is engaging and well written making this book an easy to read memoir. Certainly, as the members of this "Greatest Generation" pass away, it will be these narratives that live on and serve as testament to their sacrifice and dedication. Michel's is a worthy addition to this collection and certainly worth the time of anyone interested in the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII.