Hidden Horrors

Japanese War Crimes in World War II

By (author) Yuki Tanaka Foreword by John W. Dower

Publication date:

06 October 2017

Length of book:

350 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781538102688

This landmark book documents little-known wartime Japanese atrocities during World War II. Yuki Tanaka’s case studies, still remarkably original and significant, include cannibalism; the slaughter and starvation of prisoners of war; the rape, enforced prostitution, and murder of noncombatants; and biological warfare experiments. The author describes how desperate Japanese soldiers consumed the flesh of their own comrades killed in fighting as well as that of Australians, Pakistanis, and Indians. He traces the fate of sixty-five shipwrecked Australian nurses and British soldiers who were shot or stabbed to death by their captors. Another thirty-two nurses were captured and sent to Sumatra to become “comfort women”—sex slaves for Japanese soldiers. Tanaka recounts how thousands of Australian and British POWs were massacred in the infamous Sandakan camp in the Borneo jungle in 1945, while those who survived were forced to endure a tortuous 160-mile march on which anyone who dropped out of line was immediately shot. This new edition also includes a powerful chapter on the island of Nauru, where thirty-nine leprosy patients were killed and thousands of Naurans were ill-treated and forced to leave their homes. Without denying individual and national responsibility, the author explores individual atrocities in their broader social, psychological, and institutional milieu and places Japanese behavior during the war in the broader context of the dehumanization of men at war. In his substantially revised conclusion, Tanaka brings in significant new interpretations to explain why Japanese imperial forces were so brutal, tracing the historical processes that created such a unique military structure and ideology. Finally, he investigates why a strong awareness of their collective responsibility for wartime atrocities has been and still is lacking among the Japanese.
Tanaka offers a stunning review of Japanese atrocities, mostly against Chinese and Australian POWs, with some accounts of atrocities against Americans in Japan and the Philippines. More prominent are the needless murders of POWs and civilians in Sandakan and Kavieng and aboard the Japanese destroyer Akikaze. Throughout the book, Tanaka uses reliable reports and testimonies from the Australian War Crimes Commission as his sources, but there is a wide variety of secondary Japanese, British, and US sources. The essential focus is the present Japanese notion of victimhood and ignorance of the aggression and cruelty done in the name of the emperor…. Tanaka does an outstanding job presenting the development of emperor ideology that changed traditional Bushidō from the ‘way of the warrior’ to the dangerous cult of emperor worship. This very challenging book is expertly written and very welcome in POW studies.

Summing Up: Essential. All levels/libraries.