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The Execution of Prisoners


The controlled nd of depicting allied and in particular, American Armed Forces atrocities as aberrations; one-off isolated acts carried out in the madness of war. In fact, U.S. Army policy has always been inclined against taking prisoners.

If you thought the American treatment of enemy combatants in Afghanistan, Iraq or Guantanomo Bay is b just see what the Americans were capable of doing in the war against the Japanese. The bridge builders over the River Kwai and the inmates of Singapore’s Changi Prison might well consider themselves to have been fortunate compared to those captured by their own forces.

These double standards of war are best illustrated by Colonel Charles Lindbergh’s observations made whilst serving in the battle zones of the American Japanese war. He questioned the American policy of not taking prisoners. "I felt it was a mistake not to accept surrender whenever it could be obtained; that by doing so, our advance would be more rapid and many American lives would be saved. If the Japanese think they will be killed anyway when they surrender, they, naturally, are going to hold on and fight to the last – and kill American troops they capture whenever they get the chance.


Take the 41st, for example; they just don’t take prisoners. The men boast about it. The officers wanted some prisoners to question but they couldn’t get any until they were offered two weeks leave in Sydney for each one turned in. Then the got more than they could handle. But when they cut out giving leave, the prisoners stopped coming in. The boys just said they couldn’t catch any.

"The Aussies are still worse. You remember the time they had to take these prisoners south by plane? One of the pilots told me they just pushed them out over the mountains and reported that the Japs committed hara-kiri on the way."

He recounted how ‘our troops captured that Japanese hospital? There wasn’t anyone alive in it when they got through."

Lindbergh also described his concern over ‘our lack of respect for even the admirable characteristics of our enemy – for courage, for suffering, for death, for his willingness to die for his beliefs, for his companies and squadrons which go forth, one after another, to annihilation. What is courage for us is fanaticism for him. We hold his examples of atrocity screamingly to the heavens while we cover up our own.

"A Japanese soldier who cuts off an American’s head is an Oriental barbarian. An American who slits a Japanese throat, ‘did it only because he knew that the Japs had done it to his buddies.’


On another occasion he described his feelings when, "I stand looking at that patch of scorched jungle, in the dark spots in the cliffs where the Japanese troops had taken cover. In that burned area, hidden under the surface of the ground, is the utmost suffering – hunger, despair, men dead and dying of wounds, carrying on for a country they love and for a cause in which they believe, not daring to surrender even if they wished to, because they know only too well that our soldiers will shoot them on sight even if they came out with the hands above their heads.

"But I would have more respect for the character of our people if we would give them a decent burial instead of kicking in the teeth of their corpses, and pushing their bodies into hollows in the ground, scooped out and covered by bulldozers."

"I am shocked by the attitude of our American troops. They have no respect for death, the courage of an enemy soldier, or many of the ordinary decencies of life. They think nothing whatever of robbing the body of a dead Jap and calling him a ‘son of a bitch’ while they do so.

I said during a discussion that regardless of what the Japs did, I did not see how we could gain anything or claim that we represented a civilised stare if we killed them by torture.


"Well, some of our boys do kick their teeth in, but they usually kill them first," one of the officers said in half apology.

"It was freely admitted that some of our soldiers tortured Jap prisoners and were as cruel and barbaric at times as the Japs themselves. Our men think nothing of shooting a Jap prisoner or a soldier attempting to surrender. They treat the Jap with less respect than they would an animal and these acts are condoned by almost everyone.

"We claim to be fighting for civilisation, but the more I see of the war in the Pacific the less right I think we have to claim to be civilised. In fact, I am not sure that our record in this respect stands so very much higher than the Japs."

Lindbergh also described how Japanese bodies were bulldozed over as ‘a number of our Marines went in among them, searching through the pockets and prodding around in their mouths for gold-filled teeth. Some of the Marines had a sack in which they collected teeth with gold fillings.

An officer said he had seen a number of Japanese bodies from which an ear or a nose had been cut off. "Our boys cut them off to show their friends for fun, or to dry to take back to the States. We found one Marine with a Japanese head. He was trying to get the ants to clean the flesh off the skull, but the odour got so bad we had to take it away from him."

Pretty rich behaviour and double standards coming from a nation which, like Britain, made sixty years of propaganda out of the untrue story that Germans had boiled bodies to make soap, and used skin to make light shades.


Not surprisingly much has been said and written about Japanese atrocities. Unsurprising very little is said about allied atrocities which invariably exceeded those of the Japanese.

Indeed, there was little more than lip service paid to the taking of prisoners. Great Britain’s Ghurka Regiments would never countenance such limp-wrist squeamishness. The captives had their throats slit or were bayoneted where they stood. It was then common practice to dissemble the victim’s physique to a condition in which it could neatly be buried in a bucket-sized hole in the ground.

Beri Beri and the trots in a Japanese POW camp, building a railway with at least some chance of survival, might by some be considered a reasonable alternative.


As a mater of policy American ships sank all Japanese ships on sight, irrespective of whether they were carrying passengers or war materials. Such was their enthusiasm in this respect that when they sank a freighter filled with American POWs there was no change in policy.

With shades of Iraq and Afghanistan official communiqués laid claim that only military objectives in Japanese cities were bombed ‘with pinpoint accuracy.’ In fact the fire raid bombings, as on Germany, were wholly indiscriminate and caused more casualties than did the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan’s only two Christian cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Over 250,000 lost their lives during the fire raids on Tokyo, and eight million were made homeless. One raid alone on March 10 1945 killed 140,000 people and left 1 million homeless.

The west has never been slow to make a fast buck out of recounting tales of Japanese atrocities but the Japanese themselves, for cultural reasons, have never spoken of their own ordeals at the hands of the allies. They see such account as a national humiliation. Even when during a POW riot at a camp in Australia, 221 Japanese prisoners-of-war were either gunned down or took their own lives, no mention was made of it. For the Japanese there are no films entitled ‘The Great Escape.’


When at the end of the war evidence was produced that showed not all allied POWs suffered abuse this was ignored. Much to his credit Britain’s General Percival, captured in Singapore, wrote in 1949 an objective account of his experiences and that of fellow officers, during their internment.

He recalled sharing a bottle of whisky with the camp commandment, travelled in the First Officer’s cabin on the ship bound for Japan, because he wasn’t feeling well. He had received Red Cross stores on arrival at the camp where they were taken, and in 1943 was moved to a camp near the capital of Formosa.

Not quite the Raffles Hotel and tea dances were a rarity but each officer did have a room to himself, a library of English and American books, table tennis to keep them amused, and a gramophone with a good supply of records which they could buy locally.

The prisoners received letters though they did take rather a long time in transit, and were allowed to write one letter a month. For a period at least they received a choice of two English language newspapers, and each had their own radio set. When they were moved to Manchuria they were given extra warm clothing ands were housed believe it or not in centrally heated barracks.

So who would you prefer being captured by? The Allies or the Japanese?

A Michael Walsh News Report

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