8.13.2005

The Great Raid

Yesterday I said I was going to see the movie The Great Raid (the official site may not be working right now, but you can see a trailer here).

I usually don't like to see war movies, and I wouldn't have seen this one, but it was my husband's birthday, and that's what he wanted to do. It's not a chick flick--far from it--but it's also not some cutsy or melodramatic, slick Hollywood film. It was very straightforward and clear, and included real footage from that time. And I think that it showed not only the bravery of the guys who rescued the POW's (prisoners of war), but it also showed the bravery of the Filipinos who fought alongside the Americans and how courageous the Filipinos were who risked their lives in the underground resistance.

The Great Raid was for real: "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan in the Philippines on 30 January 1945 by US Army Rangers and Filipino guerrillas resulted in the liberation of more than 500 American prisoners of war (POWs) from a Japanese POW camp near Cabanatuan, was a celebrated, historic achievement involving Allied special warfare operations during World War II."

And the movie portrayed what POW's really experienced:

The POWs also experienced intense cruelty at the hands of their captors in Cabanatuan. All had witnessed hundreds of their compatriots die for lack of food and medicine. All had witnessed torture and summary executions. All had experienced Japanese brutality firsthand.

Former POW Richard Beck remembered:

It's a very sinking feeling to know that you are going to be abused for a long period of time, and that's exactly what it was, it was a long period of abuse -- starvation, beatings... Some people were shot for no reason at all, so you never knew how to assess the situation, whether you should try to lead a low profile. It was a case of never knowing how to cope.

Here's a description from another former POW of the kinds of things that went on:

If a prisoner escaped ...I can recall the second camp, Cabanatuan, uh, I thought it was a Filipino. It was an American Indian. They beheaded the individual. They put his head on a pole and they walked up and down the main road in the camp so we could all see what happened to an escaped prisoner. If you escaped in Cabanatuan, they took out nine men from your squad and shot all nine of them. And they did that. So as a result, we had people agreeing not to escape because it would mean the lives of other people. We had squads made up of ten people and I've got-- well, I remember people signing certificates they would not escape. And if they did, they'd be subject to court martial after the war. Because the Japanese would shoot the other nine. So your responsibility as a soldier to escape was cut off in a hurry unless you wanted to take the lives of somebody else with you.

The movie also showed the fear that the POW's had--that they would all be killed by the end of the war, which ended up being official Japanese policy:

The Cabanatuan POWs' fear of becoming victims of another large scale massacre were well founded. After the war, it became clear that there existed a high command order -- issued from the War Ministry in Tokyo -- to kill all remaining POWs. This order, read in part:

Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, and whether it is accomplished by means of mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, or decapitation, dispose of them as the situation dictates. It is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

Throughout the Pacific theater, the Japanese treated POWs and civilians barbarically. Survivors of camps in Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Burma and Laos all reported experiencing tremendous cruelty, torture, disease and starvation. It is an astounding fact that while POWs died at a rate of 1.2% in Germany, they died at a rate of 37% across the Pacific.

I can't imagine how the POW's who suffered in those camps can function in their post-war lives. It takes a very strong person to not only live with the emotional and physical scars, but to forgive their captures for what they did. Every day we have to forgive people for what they've done to us, but those are usually tiny offenses compared to what the POW's experienced. Even living in post-war, prosperous Japan was difficult for me, but to have to survive the activities of imperial, militaristic Japan must have been practically impossible. I just hope all the former POW's have been able to find peace.

2 comments:

NYgirl said...

Great article MJ. You posted about things that a lot of us hae forgotten. I linked to this.

lingua said...

Wow--thanks for the link.