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Treatment of World War II Prisoners of War: Japan Vs. United States

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Essay title: Treatment of World War II Prisoners of War: Japan Vs. United States

Treatment of World War II Prisoners of War: Japan vs. United States

The topic of POW’s is a fascinating one that can be dealt with in various ways. First, one can gain information from primary sources from diaries and journals kept by POWs or their captors and guards. Second, there are secondary sources that can give general overviews of what treatment the POWs received. Another interesting thing in learning about POWs is to compare how the prisoners were supposed to be treated (in accordance with international law) and how they were actually treated. Another interesting viewpoint you can look at is to compare how countries treated prisoners differently, and subsequently, their reasoning to justify the treatment. The goal of the paper is to compare the differences in treatment of POWs between the United States and Japan during the Second World War. In my paper the treatment of American POWs by the Japanese with first-hand accounts from Manny Lawton’s book Some Survived: An Epic Account of Japanese Captivity During World War II will be discussed along with how the Americans typically treated POWs and why they were treated that way. According to Some Survived by Manny Lawton, the treatment of American POW’s by the Japanese was harsh and unforgiving. Lawton was a captain in the United States Army and a POW for three and a half years in the Philippines and Japan. He experienced the Bataan Death March, transportation through marches and by rail, and was on the infamous “Hellships” when the prisoners were shipped to Japan. His memoir reveals how he dealt with the surrounding death and torture, the lacking medical treatment, and the minimal food portions. After the Death March the prisoners went to Camp O’Donnell. It was there that Lawton came to the conclusion of how he would mentally survive being a prisoner. He wrote, “The human emotions can absorb only so much grief and shock; beyond that point they must become hardened and calloused or else breakdown and insanity will ensue” (Lawton, p 27). Over time, Lawton was desensitized to the horrendous conditions he and the other men were subjected to. During his captivity he befriended Lieutenant Henry Leitner and they helped each other survive, especially on the Hellships. It was not until February 1945 when Henry died that Lawton was truly able to feel real emotion again. In his friend’s death he had an emotional reawakening (Lawton p.216). Malaria, dry and wet beriberi, and dysentery were all common ailments for the men, often resulting in death. The POWs were never properly fed during their entire captivity. During the night some were known to attack others and try to drink their blood, while others drank their own urine in attempts to quench their undying thirst (Lawton, p 160). Beatings were also common to the men along with other, more creative forms of cruelty and torture. The Japanese were known to rip out fingernails, dunk men by the heels repeatedly into the ocean, or just make men stay out in the extreme weather conditions and die of exposure (Lawton, p 191). However terrible the American POW’s were treated, the Japanese prisoners of war were not treated nearly as bad.

In Japanese Prisoners of War, Hisakazu Fujita states that treatment in the west, particularly by the United States and the United Kingdom, was much better than by the Japanese (Towle, p 94). An account by Shohei Ooka, a Japanese POW, said that Americans provisioned them on the same scale as our own troops and, because our lines of communication were fully established, we had no need of their labour. The

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