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on April 24, 2015
This is an interesting war memoir by a Japanese soldier. He was captured in early 1945 in the Philippines and then spent nearly a year as a POW of the U.S. army.
The author was a literary man, a translator of French writers (e.g. Stendhal). He was drafted late in the war, and at the advanced age of his mid thirties.
We read about his brief war experience before his capture on the island of Mindoro, followed by his time as prisoner in Leyte, and the transport back to Japan several months after the war ended. The memoirs were published in Japan in the early 50s. The author also made a name for himself as a writer of fiction.

Though Ōka describes himself as thoroughly lacking in militarism, he is subject to a feeling of shame at being captured alive. He shares this with his peers. One expression of the POWs' shame is an irritation at the enemies' kindness towards their captives. While the surprise at American friendliness has a touch of bootlicking, it seems all in all an honest observation on American attitudes, in line with other sources. (Just an afterthought: would Ōka have remembered differently if the text had been written or published later?)

The general attitude of the memoir is one of scrupulous self examination. Before being taken, the author experiences a moment which requires a decision: he decides not to shoot a GI who might discover him in hiding in a moment... Why didn't he shoot? Ōka ponders about the various possible explanations. It is like the process of peeling an onion. There is decidedly a Proustian flavor here. (Though Proust and onions don't seem to go together well. My fault.)

The best pieces of the text are those of self-scrutiny. There are also some slower passages, in which we learn more about practical camp life than we thought we needed to know. It does get a bit tedious at times. The translator explains that he shortened the text by about 10%, to reduce repetitions. He could have left out another 10%, for my taste.
For all the occasional tediousness, there are many interesting facts to be found. Probably different people will be interested in different aspects. One of my personal 'listen up' moments is when Ōka talks about Taiwanese POWs of the Americans, in the same camp, but in a separate zone. I had never thought about the fact, that Taiwan, as a Japanese colony, must have fought on Japan's side, if reluctantly. One of the most gripping scenes is a clash between Japanese and Taiwanese POWs when the Taiwanese celebrate the Japanese defeat in August 45.

The author's own war experience was limited to the Philippines. Sometimes, but not often, he repeats war stories from veterans of other fronts. These are obviously of limited value, being hearsay. While Ōka mentions atrocities that happened in Nanking and elsewhere, he downplays his comrades' behavior by saying that rape happens in all wars and can only be eradicated when war is eradicated. That way out is too easy IMO.
Similarly, the author treats the military practice of providing 'comfort women' to officers and soldiers as something quite normal. In one case mentioned by him, nurses are required to 'service' one man per day, against punishment of reduced rations in the case of non-cooperation. Quite revolting.

Among the most interesting chapters is the one about the days after Hiroshima. How information and understanding slowly triggers in and overwhelms the POWs is hard to imagine for us today, with our modern instant news transmissions. The emperor's surrender speech can't be listened to by the POWs, but they are given a re-translated printed text, based on the English translation... (Why did I have to think of operating manuals for Japanese equipment? Was that their revenge?)

In summary, I find the early chapters about pre-capture to early captivity, and the late ones, from the end of the war to the way home, the most interesting.
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on February 6, 2013
What a difference reading this book about the treatment of Japanese POWs by Allies after reading the book The Knights of Bushido and its description of the death and horror wreaked by the Japanese military on POWs and civilians. Quite a comparison of the clash of two cultures.
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on December 26, 2013
I really enjoyed this story. It is one of only a few books telling of the Japanese experience as POWs. While I do not usually read POW books, I am glad I did in this case.
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on March 18, 2015
I thought this book would be a really interesting read as there are so few English translations of actual Japanese soldier accounts from WW2. The part of the author's capture by American soldiers is interesting. Then there follows a lot of rambling about why he didn't shoot a US soldier and why wars are fought. The book slows when the author describes his experiences in the POW camps. He says he doesn't want to really talk bad about his fellow POW's but then he goes on to do just that. There are pages and pages of stories about Japanese POW's that are lazy, mean, greedy, arrogant. It goes on and on. After reading about half this book, I just was too bored to read any more. I was hoping for much more in this book.
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on May 21, 2014
The book revealed lots of unknown history, as it was written by an educated man who was also an imperial Japanese Soldier.
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