Mark Felton’s article “The Culture of Cruelty” in the January 2011 issue looked at the issue of the behavior of the Japanese military, particularly the army, during World War II from the top down. Equally if not more important was the pervasive culture of abuse and violence that existed within the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA). Draftees were called ni sen (“two cents”), referring to the postage on the card sent to induct them. Physical abuse—including slapping, punching and kicking, and outright beatings—were administered by those of higher rank for failure to obey or perform quickly or correctly, or for no reason at all. This was not limited to the enlisted ranks; even junior officers could be struck. This was deeply humiliating, as a slap to the face was a deep insult in Japanese culture.
The top-down, or command, climate of condoning or even encouraging maltreatment of POWs and civilians in conquered territories allowed even the most junior Japanese soldier to physically abuse POWs or civilians, by definition all ranking below him, without the need to be directed to do so. It is well accepted that those who are abused in their youth are at high risk to become abusers themselves, and this applies to the learned behavior inculcated in the IJA among lower ranks. Combining this with an official policy accepting or promoting abuse, scenarios where semi-starved POWs would be incapable of meeting demands for prompt obedience or adequate work output, and significant language barriers produced the tragic outcome.
Given how the IJA treated its own men, and the reality that soldiers of any nationality are not usually overly empathetic with their former enemies, expecting decent treatment of POWs by the Japanese was a forlorn hope—it would have meant the soldiers of the IJA treating their enemies better than they treated themselves.
Steven L. Oreck
Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
A longtime subscriber to Military History, I was moved by your cover story on Japanese World War II atrocities. The opening segment detailing the murder of the 22 Australian nurses and dozens of wounded Allied soldiers was especially shocking. Your full page of poignant individual photos of 12 of the nurses will not soon be forgotten.
Possibly under the guise of “political correctness,” the American, British and Australian media—and their nations’ historians—have never adequately made this particular outrage known to the world. Your magazine is to be commended.
Unfortunately, your article includes the totally inaccurate statement, “While just 4 percent of Allied prisoners in German hands perished in the war, 27 percent of those captured by the Japanese died.” France and Poland—whose combat with Germany was brief but intense—still claim that many of their soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans never returned, while Russia estimates that less than one half of the estimated 1 million Russian soldiers taken prisoner by the Germans ever made it home.
As for prisoners of the Japanese, the known number of American, Canadian, British and Dutch prisoners renders the 27 percent figure abysmally low. And this is not to mention the unknown numbers of Chinese and Filipinos captured by the Japanese and who are now lost to history.
No psychocultural rationalization is necessary when exploring Japanese barbarism in World War II. They undertook their war of conquest simply to steal the land, natural resources and financial assets of their neighbors, using murder and terrorism as weapons.
Hilton Head, S.C.
The section on Manila Bay, part of “10 Battles That Shaped America” [by Thomas Fleming, January], caught my eye. My father’s mother, Laura Dewey (1868–1942), was related to Admiral of the Navy George Dewey. He was granted that exalted rank after his victory at Manila Bay and was the only officer ever to hold that rank; it died with him. Grandmother Dewey was rightly proud of the admiral, and it was she who gave me my first exposure to patriotism.
“One Revolution, Two Wars,” in the same issue, gave me additional background on three paternal ancestors. One enlisted in the New York Line of the Continental Army and served at Fort Stanwix, N.Y. His father served in the Orange County militia, and his uncle, William Allison, was colonel of that unit. Allison’s son was killed in the capture of Fort Montgomery, and William was captured and imprisoned on a British hulk. He was eventually exchanged in a prisoner swap, promoted to brigadier and commanded a division at the Battle of Long Island. Until I read your article, I’d never heard of the “Neutral Ground” and had no idea that Orange County was such a hotbed of Loyalists.
My only problem with Military History is waiting 60 days for the next issue.
I disagree with the implication in “10 Battles That Shaped America” that the United States would not have emerged a world power had the Normandy landings failed in 1944. The Allies’ will to fight would not have been crushed. Yes, the war would have gone on much longer. German troops and resources would have slowed Soviet advances instead of fighting in the west. It would have taken longer to defeat Japan due to reverses in Europe. Nevertheless, Germany would have been defeated. The war in Europe would have continued long enough for Berlin and other German cities to be devastated by American atomic bombs.
Thomas Fleming’s January 2011 article “10 Battles That Shaped America” was superb. George Dewey’s victory at the Battle of Manila Bay showed us that Americans think of themselves as a nation that has never sought to occupy others and has been a liberating force. But historians tell us that all dominant powers thought they were special. Their very success confirmed for them that they were blessed. But as they became ever more powerful, the world saw them differently. English satirist John Dryden described this phenomenon in “Absalom and Achitophel,” a poem set during the Biblical King David’s reign: “But when the chosen people grew too strong / The rightful cause at length became the wrong.”
Evan Dale Santos
[Re. “Playing at War,” January:] Wow! P. 56 had a few memories. I recall that [the machine gunner’s] helmet was fixed to a pin in the top of his head. That means it was lost, quite early. Also, that grenade thrower still has an impact on memory. But, they were Dad’s toys.
In the ’40s, when I was learning to walk and play, no new metal figures went on sale until after the war. Everyone used the “rubber guys,” or green Army guys. They were made of plastic, some very flexible, but that meant very few lost helmets during campaigns.
Dennis R. Roeder
Your caption identified [the toy soldiers] as “metal troops…from the 1940s and 1950s.” That may be true, but they are certainly inferior attempts to reproduce those manufactured in the late 1930s. By 1940 Barclay had dispensed with the separate tin helmets and switched to one-piece soldiers with cast helmets. World War II needs brought production of lead soldiers to a close.
Sister to Sculpin
The September 2010 Valor [“Down with His Submarine”] relates the stirring story of Captain John Cromwell, who sacrificed his life when he chose to go down with USS Sculpin rather than face interrogation by the Japanese and risk revealing highly classified information. The article mentions that many Sculpin survivors captured by the enemy later died when another U.S. submarine sank the ship in which they were being transferred to Japan. The details become more poignant when one learns about a previous encounter between Sculpin and a sister submarine.
USS Squalus was undergoing sea trials off the Isle of Shoals [off Portsmouth, N.H.] on May 23, 1939. During a dive an open valve permitted uncontrollable flooding aft, resulting in her sinking in 243 feet of water and drowning 26 men. When Squalus failed to report, a search was ordered, and Sculpin, her sister ship from Portsmouth, discovered the stricken ship’s messenger buoy. The subsequent rescue effort brought 33 survivors from the forward end of the ship to safety using the McCann Rescue Chamber.
Three months later Squalus was raised and returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard. The ship was repaired, renamed and returned to the Navy as USS Sailfish. On Dec. 3, 1943, Sailfish attacked the Japanese escort carrier Chuyo 300 miles southeast of Tokyo. The following day Sailfish renewed the attack and sank Chuyo. On board were 21 of the crew rescued from Sculpin when Cromwell had scuttled her two weeks earlier. Only one Sculpin survivor was recovered from the destruction inflicted by the submarine that more than four years earlier had been rescued by Cromwell’s very submarine.
John T. Pierce
Captain, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
Stone Mountain, Ga.