Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific


Gavan Daws combined ten years of documentary research and hundreds of interviews with surrviving POWs to write this explosive, first-and-only account of the experiences of the Allied POWs of World War II. The Japanese Army took over 140,000 Allied prisoners, and one in four died the hands of their captors. Here Daws reveals the survivors' haunting experiences, from the atrocities perpetrated during the Bataan Death March and the building of the Burma-Siam railroad to ...

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Gavan Daws combined ten years of documentary research and hundreds of interviews with surrviving POWs to write this explosive, first-and-only account of the experiences of the Allied POWs of World War II. The Japanese Army took over 140,000 Allied prisoners, and one in four died the hands of their captors. Here Daws reveals the survivors' haunting experiences, from the atrocities perpetrated during the Bataan Death March and the building of the Burma-Siam railroad to descriptions of disease, torture, and execution.

From the atrocities of the Bataan death march to the hardships of the labor camps, this horrifying account of the treatment POWs endured at the hands of the Japanese during World War II explores the limits of the human spirit and the depths of inhumanity. 31 photos. 5 illustrations. Map. Notes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Daws (Shoal of Time) eloquently tells the story of 140,000 Allied military prisoners whom history has almost forgotten. He convincingly describes Japanese POW camps not as homogenizing institutions but as tribal societies of Americans, British, Australians, Dutch-and Japanese. The Japanese showed no mercy to those who fell into their hands, the author stresses: Thousands were worked to death; as many more died of disease and starvation; others were beaten to death or beheaded, often so clumsily that two or three strokes were required to finish the job. Daws combines archival research and personal interviews to describe inmates who did what they had to do to survive and afterward tried to live with their guilt. Their experiences highlight the scale of human pain inflicted by Japan. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Nov.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688143701
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/1996
  • Series: Quill
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 664,801
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

For fifteen years, Daws headed historical research on the Pacific region at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Australian National University. He also served as Pacific member to the UNESCO Commission on the Scientific and Cultural History of Humankind. The author of eight previous books, including the best-selling Shoal of Time, Daws has also won international awards for documentary films. He lives with his wife in Honolulu.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Sitting Ducks

Harry Jeffries was cruising, counting the days till his divorce papers came through and he could make his getaway from San Fancisco. He was an ironworker, his trade was bucking hot rivets, and his place of employment was the Golden Gate Bridge, the south tower, hundreds of feet above the waters of the bay. In his last week on the job--his last days as a married man--the world below appeared to him like a map laid out to show his life and times, past and future. Turn one way and there was the city, the cold-water hotel where he had been living out of a suitcase, separated from his wife and little daughter, the bars where he drank when he was not working, the blind alleys in the Tenderloin where he gambled when he was not drinking. Turn the other way and there was the blue Pacific, stretching off to the west--and the instant he was single again, that was where he was headed, over the horizon and out. On the stroke of noon, August 21, 1941, his big moment came up, and all the married men who worked on his level of the tower cheered and beat on the steel girders with their sledges and wrenches, wedding bells in reverse, as he climbed down off the bridge, free at last.

He and his friend Oklahoma Atkinson had their ship's passage booked for that same afternoon, and before the day shift on the tower downed tools they were sailing in style out through the Golden Gate.

They were going to be gone for nine months--which would make it June of 1942 when they came cruising back, flush with money, set for life. They had it all worked out.

They had met at the building trades labor temple. Harry was hanging around waiting for apoker game to materialize when Oklahoma came walking in with his little tin suitcase, looking all wide-eyed and countrified. They got to talking, and they clicked right off. They were a pair, a couple of healthy young physical specimens, the same age, twenty-six, the same height and weight, six feet one, one hundred ninety-five pounds, full of beans, purpose-built for bridge building. They organized things so that they could work the same shift in the same gang.

And they started running around together after hours, nightclubbing along North Beach, picking up women. Harry was the date maker. On the bridge he was known as Hollywood--a snappy dresser with slick hair and a movie-star moustache--and in the clubs no one was speedier with a silver Ronson when some goodlooking blonde sitting at the bar crossed her legs and tapped her cigarette. Oklahoma with his average man's Zippo was forever a step behind, meaning he was the one who always drew the goodlooking girl's less good-looking friend.

Not that he was complaining. Before San Francisco he had not seen a great deal of the world, not much beyond the flatlands for a day's drive or so around his tiny little hometown, and a military base or two from his hitch in the peacetime army of the United States, one lowly private soldier among thousands, grateful just to be fed and clothed and in out of the cold in the worst years of the Great Depression. Now here he was in the big city, with Hollywood Harry ordering up the high life.

Harry had started out a poor boy too, and that pointed him toward the service the same way as Oklahoma. Not the Army, though, the Marines. An elite corps--Harry liked the sound of those words. So he signed up with the reserves. But he never did make it to the real Corps. In the dark days of the 1930s recruiting lines in the big cities were as long as soup kitchen lines, and because the Marines were elite, for every one keeper they came across they could afford to throw back dozens. Harry was well set up, big and strong, but he was bowlegged; when the recruiters stood him at attention, daylight showed between his knees, and that was enough to wipe him out. It was a blow to his pride. He had to settle for the Navy.

His big cruise, aboard the battleship U.S.S. Colorado, took him from Bremerton in Washington State down the West Coast, through the Panama Canal, and up the East Coast to New York. It was the time of the World's Fair, and Harry was detailed to march with his shipmates in a big parade along Fifth Avenue. Passing the Empire State Building, the tallest skyscraper on earth, some of the young sailor boys got carried away and tilted their heads back to gawk; they lost their step and bumped into each other and fell down in a heap and took Harry with them.

Harry did not need the embarrassment. He was doing the parade the hard way already. In Havana, on liberty, his first ever night of catting around in a foreign port, he had picked up his first ever dose of the clap. All the way north to New York he had to suffer the Navy's fearsome gonorrhea treatment, standing at a trough, a nozzle stuck up his urethra to drench his inflamed plumbing with purple potassium permanganate, let that drain out, then take a syringe of Argyrol straight up. He made the Fifth Avenue march feeling sorry for himself, his greatest item of value and distinction tied with a butterfly bandage, and for extra protection a leather Bull Durham sack, so that the gonorrhea drip would not weep all over the crotch of his Navy whites.

By the time his ship got back to the West Coast the drip had dried up. But in Seattle he found a more serious sort of woman trouble to get himself into, a shotgun marriage, and that turned into a curse worse than the clap.

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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2008

    The God-Awful Truth

    My Father served in Service Battery, 131st Field Artillery. Reading Gavan Dawes' book was like listening to my Father recounting his experiences. Having attended a reunion with my Dad, I came to know some of the men he served with. They were HEROS to a man. Only those men who returned will EVER know the bond that bound them to one another, the courage and faith that enabled their repatriation, or the nation that forgot them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2006



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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2005


    Impeccably researched, and extraordinarily well written. The description of the horrors of camp life, disease, starvation, abuse and incredible cruelty are appauling. I am left with such a sense of grief and loss for these poor souls. This book should be required reading...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2004

    An illustration of wars true horror

    This book is difficult to read at times due to the violence that the prisoners were subjected to. It truely shows the horrors of war in real human terms. It also illustrates how Japan was not held accountable for it's war crimes. You must read this if you feel Japan was the lesser evil during WWII.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2002


    This book was one I couldn't put down. If you love history of WWII POWS. This book will put you there.These men went thought Hell, and with the courage they had inside, they made it back home.This book takes you inside the POW camps and on to the Death March. A most increadible true story of human will and courage.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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