Lit Review

by willard ~ October 18th, 2010. Filed under: HIST 299, HIST299.

In April of 1942, a captured American force of ten thousand soldiers was marched over a sixty-two mile stretch of Philippine jungle. The American troops had surrendered following the Battle of Bataan, the largest surrender in American history. Along what would become known as the Bataan Death March, these troops were beaten, starved, and murdered by their Japanese captors. Those that survived were shipped back to Japan to serve as slave labor for Japanese companies facing severe shortages in manpower. News of the events on Bataan was released to the public three years after the Death March and was met with intense anti-Japanese sentiments and fierce nationalism in America. The veterans and former POWs of Bataan were sworn to secrecy upon their return home by the American government, and were prevented from filing war-crime claims against the Japanese a few years later. Since the soldiers were silenced by their government and not allowed to file war-crime claims, literature from the soldiers and about the soldiers went on hiatus until the early 2000s, when a resurgence of interest in the subject was peaked by the release of several memoirs by former POWs from Bataan. These works suggest that the American government neglected their own veterans needs by providing little to no compensation for their time in captivity, and the blocked any attempts for compensation by the Japanese companies for which they worked in order to maintain a strong economic and political link with the Japanese in the quickly emerging globalized economy.

A flurry of newspaper articles from the time detail the atrocities committed by the Japanese and the whereabouts of some of the ten thousand captured American soldiers. Though news of the Death March shocked the public, it was quickly overshadowed by the end of the war months later. Reports from the 1940’s and 1950’s of the events following the Battle of Bataan are scarce. A few military journals, such as Military Affairs, Vol. 15, No. 2, retold the story but merely provided a detailed summary of the battle.[1] The story of the soldiers from Bataan seems to have evaporated from the public consciousness at the time, as no memoirs or soldier’s accounts from Bataan were published until the early 2000’s. This information further supports the theory that the American government purposely silenced soldiers from telling their story in order to rebuild ties with Japan after the vicious anti-Japanese propaganda released during World War II.

Searching through historical journals, newspapers, and magazines from between 1950 and 1990 yields scarcely a mention of the Battle of Bataan. It was not until the early 2000s that Bataan reentered the public consciousness. Published in 2001, Ghost Soldiers, by Hampton Sides details the daring mission to free captured soldiers from the island of Luzon.[2] This story quickly garnered much national attention and became a New York Times “Best Seller.” This national attention helped reignited public curiosity about the Bataan Death March. Though this work provides little insight into the lives of soldiers, or political policy at the time, it is extremely important to note the sharp rise in publications about the Bataan Death March in the following years. Ageing veterans from Bataan began to tell their story and several books were published by former POWs between 2000 and 2002, notably Lester Tenney’s My Hitch in Hell and Anton Bilek’s No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan. [3] Both Tenney and Bilek recall the reception that awaited them in America. As the rest of the nation celebrated the end of the war, Tenney recalls returning to America “…quietly, anonymously, without any fanfare or banners waving to welcome us…”[4] These memoirs reveal much about the soldier’s time in Japan, but the publication dates reveal much more about the tight-lip attitude the government imposed upon the soldiers as they returned home.

The most useful source for examining the Death March’s after effects is Michael and Elizabeth Norman’s Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath. [5] The Norman’s interviewed hundreds of Bataan veterans about their time in captivity and describe the mental and physical deterioration of the captured soldiers and their disappointment in the American government in the years following their release. It also details the reasons behind the executive order not to discuss their ordeal, as the US and Japan began work on a peace treaty that would eventually nullify any war claims against Japan by former POWs. Through these interviews, the Norman’s suggest that the American government silenced these soldiers upon their return home until a treaty could be made with Japan that would void any war-crime claims against Japan, allowing the United States and Japan to become close economic partners. The Norman’s also note that Tears in the Darkness was a work “…ten years in the making” [6] thus the interviews they conducted with former POWs most likely inspired many of the interviewees to begin to reach out and tell their story.

In an article by Kinue Tokudome in the Asia-Pacific Journal from 2008,[7] Tokudome details the former POWs’ battle with their own government over reparations from Japan, as they claimed they received unsubstantial compensation for their time spent in captivity.[8] This piece clearly supports justice and reparations for the veterans. The irony here is that there were very few sources published in America vying for reparations for the veterans, yet this article, which is in support of veterans attaining reparations, comes from an Asian journal. One can gather that in the post-war globalized economy that began to form following World War II weighed much heavier in the minds of the American government than justice for it’s veterans. Linda Goetz explores this issue further in her book Unjust Enrichment.[9] Goetz conducted hundreds of interviews with former POW’s and details the types of labor the POW’s were subjected to during their internment. Unjust Enrichment also describes the fallout from the lawsuits filed by the POW’s, and the lack of so much as a public apology from the Japanese government or companies.  This piece effectively summarizes the mindset of the POWs during the 2000’s, many of whom only wanted a public apology as they are nearing the end of their lives.

Most of the literature about the Bataan Death March and its aftermath suggest that the American government purposely silenced the soldiers who were captured on Bataan in hopes of rebuilding an alliance with Japan, and in turn left many former POWs to suffer after the years of abuse in Japan. There is also a notable spike in the early 2000s of interest in Bataan, possibly sparked by Michael and Elizabeth Norman’s Tears in the Darkness. These sentiments are repeated in almost every source regarding the Bataan Death March, and shed light on a subject the American government would like to keep in the shadows.

Works Cited

Bilek, Anton. No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan. Ohio, Kent State University Press, 2003.

Frazier, Glenn D. Hell’s Guest. GA: Williams & Company Publishers, 2007.

Goetz, Linda. Unjust Enrichment. IN: Stackpole Books, 2004.

Morton, Louis. “The Battling Bastards of Bataan,” in Military Affairs, Vol. 15, No. 2. Society for Military History, 1951.

Norman, Michael, and Norman, Elizabeth. “Surviving Bataan” American Heritage Vol. 59, Issue 2 (2009), pg 56-63.

Norman, Michael, and Norman, Elizabeth. Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and It’s Aftermath. USA: Macmillin Publishing, 2009.

Sides, Hampton. Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission. IL: Doubleday Publishing, 2001.

Tenney, Lester. My Hitch In Hell: The Bataan Death March. NY: Potomac Books, 2007.

Tokudome, Kinue. “The Bataan Death March and the 66-Year Struggle for Justice.” Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (April 14, 2008) http://www.britannica.com/bps/additionalcontent/18/33966917/The-Bataan-Death-March-and-the-66Year-Struggle-for-Justice/fulltext (Accessed September General Announcement. “Jap Newspapers Ordered to Tell of Atrocities” The Canberra Times, September 15, 1945, Front Page.


[1] Louis Morton, “The Battling Bastards of Bataan”, Military Affairs, Vol. 15, No. 2 (Society for Military History, 1951).

[2] Hampton Sides, Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission (IL: Doubleday Publishing, 2001).

[3] Anton Bilek, No Uncle Sam: The Forgotten of Bataan,(OH: Kent State Press, 2003) and Lester Tenney, My Hitch in Hell: The Bataan Death March (NY: Potomac Books, 2007).

[4] Lester Tenney, My Hitch in Hell, p. 147.

[5] Michael & Elizabeth Norman, Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and It’s Aftermath (USA: Macmillion Publishing, 2009).

[6] Michael & Elizabeth Norman, Tears in the Darkness, p. iv.

[7] Kinue Tokudome, “The Bataan Death March and the 66-year Struggle for Justice”, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus (April 14, 2004).

[8] According to a report in the American Journal of International Law, the survivors were paid $2.50 a day for time in captivity, adding up to approximately $3,103 for over three years in captivity. When adjusted for inflation in 2000, this totaled only about $20,000.

[9] Linda Goetz, Unjust Enrichment (IN: Stackpole Books, 2004).

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