Guest Author - Evelyn Rainey
Overview copied directly from the book’s flap:
During World War II, there were few fates that could befall a soldier so hellish as internment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. To this day, many survivors – most of whom are now in their eighties – still cannot talk about their experiences without unearthing terrible memories. Surviving the Sword gives voice to these tens of thousands of Allied POWs and offers us a powerful reminder of the terror and deprivations of war and the resilience of the human spirit.
In this important book, Brian MacArthur draws on the diaries of American, British, Dutch, and Australian FEPOWS (Far Eastern prisoners of war), some of whose recollections are published here for the first time. These soldiers wrote and kept their diaries, in secret, because they were determined to record for posterity how they were starved and beaten, marched almost to death, or transported on “hellships”; how their fellows were summarily executed by guards or felled by the thousands by tropical diseases; and how they were used as slave labor – most notoriously on the Burma-Thailand railway (later depicted The Bridge on the River Kwai). The diaries excerpted here make plain why the FEPOWs have always believed that their brutal treatment by Japanese and Korean guards was literally incomprehensible to those who did not live it.
These prisoners risked torture and execution to keep journals and make sketches and drawings that they hid from the guards wherever they could, sometimes burying them in the graves of lost comrades. The survivors’ narratives are not just a litany of horrors but a moving testament to the nobler instincts of humanity as well, detailing how the POWs prevailed over horrible conditions, even finding or creating a precious few creature comforts and sustaining the rudiments of culture, learning, and play. Forced into solidarity by inhuman conditions, the soldiers showed incredible compassion for one another, improvising ingenious ways to care for the sick, boost morale by subtly mocking their jailers’ authority, or even turn meager rations into the occasional feast.
Countless thousands died in Japanese prison camps during World War II. Those fortunate enough to emerge from their ordeal were never the same again. Surviving the Sword at last fills a notable historical gap in our understanding, while also commemorating and memorializing the FEPOWs’ struggle and sacrifice.
I had planned to read this book slowly but I found myself holding my breath as I was drawn further and further into this book and into the lives of these men who endured WWII as prisoners of the Japanese. Degradation and discrimination were not limited to their captors, though; rivalry developed between the cultures and classes lumped together within the ranks of the prisoners themselves – at first. But the commonality of being persecuted and the unconscionable horrors of their captivity drove them together Societal boundaries disappeared in the face of such overwhelming adversity. Photos, drawings, and personal diaries (often written on scraps and secreted away for fear of punishments worse than death) tell the incomprehensible story of survival.
Surviving the Sword, Prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East, 1942-45 by Brian MacArthur
The book flap lists the price as $35.00. One of the major on-line bookstores lists copies of this book from new at $1.78 to used at twenty-two cents. I bought my copy at an overstock store for five dollars. This is a shameful testament to what our ‘fast-food society’ values and what it tends to ignore.
Originally published in Great Britain by Time Warner Books, the first United States Edition is by Random House, Inc.
This book should be read. It should be read by every politician and teacher and soldier. It should be placed in the hands of high school graduates. My God tells me to forgive and forget, but one can not forgive something one does not fully comprehend. When we fight by strict standards and honorable rules against a force which does not share those same standards and rules, we leave ourselves vulnerable to atrocities such as these eloquently and heart-renderingly portrayed by Brian MacArthur in Surviving the Sword, Prisoners of the Japanese in the Far East, 1942 – 45.