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Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath Hardcover – June 9, 2009
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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
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Top customer reviews
If the authors were trying to evoke sympathy for the war criminal General Yamashita, they failed. To say he didn't know a thing about the atrocities committed against American soldiers is absurd. Responsibilities go up the chain of command and lies with all commanders. They are ultimately responsible for everything that happens under their command.
The authors have included not only the entire history of the death march and imprisonment, but also the consequences of these things on individuals, especially Montana's courageous Army Air Force enlistee Ben Steele, one of the few who survived.
There was one episode that was particularly telling. After the war Steele became an art professor, and the day came when a Japanese-American student entered his class, and all the horror and bitterness and desolation of his three years of imprisonment rushed back into Steele's mind. But then he learned that the student's Japanese-American family had been interned here in the States. Steele invited the student into his office for a heart-to-heart talk, and out of it came reconciliation. Ben Steele treated his Japanese student with all the fairness he could muster. Other readers will discover other treasures in this powerful and luminous history. But no reader will finish the book unchanged.
I've read numerous accounts of the atrocities, malice, and wanton neglect dished out to the POW's by the then conquering Japanese Army. This of course included the beheadings, bayonetting and bludgeoning of the prisoners during the infamous Bataan Death March. Also discussed was the viewpoint of the Japanese and why they didn't follow the Geneva Convention as the Allies were considered to be criminals and not POW's. The malfeasance suffered by the prisoners was built upon that faulty premise, along with race baiting teachings of the then revisionist historians; who distorted the samurai narrative of Bushido, aka "way of the warrior". The Imperial Japanese Army essentially brainwashed their recruits into becoming "human bullets" and belligerents in the making.
The Normans also wrote about the "killing fields" where over 1000 Filipinos and Americans were segregated by rank and nationality, bound together in groups of 30, (with hands tied behind their backs), bayoneted and pushed over a cliff and into a ravine. This process lasted all day and night until all prisoners were considered to be dead or in their last throws of life. Remarkably two POW's survived to recant these horrors. The Japanese General who ordered these atrocities was eventually found guilty and hung for war crimes.
The main character is Ben Steele, a Montana cowboy who enlisted in the Army Air Corps and was stationed in the Philippines prior to the start of WWII. He survived the Bataan Death March, slave labor, hell ships and the torturous day-to-day existence under a brutal, lawless regime. Ben's plight throughout the book gives the reader someone to latch onto, and makes the experience much more palpable.
This book has found a permanent home in my library. I tip my hat to Michael and Elizabeth for a great literary/historical read. Fantastic job guys!
Most recent customer reviews
It falls short in what it was promoted to be. 1. A narrative history focused on the Bataan Death March.Read more