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Prisoners Of War In Japan Ww2 History Essay


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The Japanese attack against the United States in Pearl Harbor happened so quickly that most Americans were captured in the opening weeks of World War II. The Japanese captured a total of 140,000 American soldiers and held them in Japanese camps from 1942-1945. These prisoners were treated cruelly and inhumanely by their captors. In fact, more prisoners died in Japanese camps than did in German war camps. To prevent enemy soldiers from returning to their troops, the Japanese held prisoners of war in horrible camps throughout Japan, forced them to work in horrendous conditions, and treated them inhumanely.

The living conditions the prisoners had to endure on the way to the camps was truly awful. When transported, the men were crammed into rusty old freighters and spent several nights in these "hell ships" ("The POW Camps"). The men on the ships had no room to move, were ill with dysentery and had very little food. Sometimes they were transported from one "hell ship" to another on their journeys to work camps. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and closely guarded by Japanese soldiers (Wukovits 37). Prisoners of war slept in crowed barracks on mats ("World War Two - Japanese") and slept eight to thirteen prisoners to a room (Wukovits 37). Because the living conditions were so bad, the health conditions in the camps were also horrendous. In 1942, the Japanese decided that each prisoner would get fifteen ounces of rice or barley, a few vegetables and sometimes a few bits of meat each day (Wukovits 39). They suffered from starvation, malnutrition, ulcers and cholera ("World War Two - Japanese"). 1-in-3 prisoners died from starvation, work, or diseases ("World War Two - Japanese"). More prisoners died from disease and illness than from torture. The Japanese took no pity on the sick. If they were incapable of doing their assigned task because of their illness, they were made to do other jobs and their allotment of food was cut in half. Many men died because they were starved to death. One structure in each camp was known as the "Zero Ward," because men who entered the ward with illness did not leave it alive (Wukovits 63).

The prisoners of war were treated as slaves by the Japanese. In May 1942, the Japanese Prime Minister announced a "no work- no food" policy (Wukovits 39). They were forced to work in mines, fields, shipyards and factories ("World War Two - Japanese"). Prisoners had to build bridges, dig ditches, garden and raise chickens. One of the most famous work assignments was the Burma-Thailand Railroad. Prisoners of war were forced to work side-by-side with Asian laborers to build the 260 mile railroad by hand. They worked from dawn until dusk moving earth and building bridges for 10 days straight ("World War Two - Japanese"). They worked 16- hour days in 50-man teams cutting down trees, building roads and laying ties for the railroad ("The POW Camps"). Prisoners did not remain in the same areas for long. They were shipped off to various camps throughout Asia. A camp near Changi was the most notorious POW camp where prisoners who did not work were not fed (Trueman). In the beginning, the prisoners of Changi were not asked to do much and had plenty of food. However, in Easter of 1942 the Japanese changed their minds and formed work parties providing the men with very little food (Trueman). Many of the prisoners' jobs "were in conflict with the rules established by the Geneva Convention," but the Japanese did not care (La Forte, Marcello, and Himmel 115).

The Japanese believed in "Extreme Measures" and treated the prisoners of war inhumanely. Japanese soldiers lived under the code of Bushido which involved complete obedience, bravery, honor and ultimate loyalty (Wukovits 14). "The worst offense a Japanese soldier could commit was to surrender in battle. By this action he shamed his action and village, and his name would be removed from the town's registry" (Wukovits 14). Therefore, American soldiers who surrendered were considered to have dishonored their country and were treated with contempt. Prisoners who tried to escape were killed either in groups or individually (Gevinson). The aim was to not allow a single escape, but to annihilate them all and not leave a single trace (Gevinson). One of the many difficulties the prisoners of war were faced with was the language barrier. The Japanese guards spoke very little English and prisoners were forced to learn Japanese to follow commands ("World War Two - Japanese"). Those who did not follow commands were beaten (Gevinson). Annelex Hofstra Layson in her memoirs of life in a World War II Japanese prison camp as a little girl said, "The soldiers did a lot of arm waving and yelling… When we couldn't understand what they wanted us to do, the guards became angry. Their facial expressions would change, and they would start hitting and shoving people around. Even though no guard ever hurt me, I lived in constant fear that one would" (41).

Prisoners of war suffered horribly in Japanese camps during World War II. The living conditions were barbaric, because soldiers were forced to live in crowded barracks on mats. They suffered from starvation, diseases and malnutrition not only because of their living conditions, but because they were given very little to eat each day. Prisoners of war were forced to work side by side building a 260-mile railroad in 16 hour days doing hard labor with very little food ("World War Two - Japanese"). Injured and sick prisoners were still made to work, but their food was restricted even more. The Japanese believed in a "no work - no food" policy (Wukovits 39). The working conditions violated the laws of the Geneva Convention. Extreme measures were used by the Japanese with the prisoners of war, because they believed the soldiers were dishonoring their country by surrendering or being captured. The aim of the Japanese was not to allow any prisoners to escape. Their main goal was to eliminate all prisoners and not leave any traces of their existence. The Japanese did not speak any English and the soldiers spoke no Japanese, therefore they had difficulty following the commands and were beaten because of this.

In conclusion, during World War II Japanese prisoners of war were held in appalling conditions, forced to work as slaves, and were treated inhumanely to prevent their return to their troops and to punish them for abandoning their country.

Prisoners of War in Japan WW2

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