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Prisoners of the Empire

Inside Japanese POW Camps

Sarah Kovner

$76.00

Hardback

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Harvard Uni.Press Academi
25 September 2020
History; General & world history; Asian history; 20th century history: c 1900 to c 2000; Second World War; Prisoners of war
A pathbreaking account of World War II POW camps, challenging the longstanding belief that the Japanese Empire systematically mistreated Allied prisoners.

In only five months, from the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to the fall of Corregidor in May 1942, the Japanese Empire took prisoner more than 140,000 Allied servicemen and 130,000 civilians from a dozen different countries. From Manchuria to Java, Burma to New Guinea, the Japanese army hastily set up over seven hundred camps to imprison these unfortunates. In the chaos, 40 percent of American POWs did not survive. More Australians died in captivity than were killed in combat.

Sarah Kovner offers the first portrait of detention in the Pacific theater that explains why so many suffered. She follows Allied servicemen in Singapore and the Philippines transported to Japan on ?hellships? and singled out for hard labor, but also describes the experience of guards and camp commanders, who were completely unprepared for the task. Much of the worst treatment resulted from a lack of planning, poor training, and bureaucratic incoherence rather than an established policy of debasing and tormenting prisoners. The struggle of POWs tended to be greatest where Tokyo exercised the least control, and many were killed by Allied bombs and torpedoes rather than deliberate mistreatment.

By going beyond the horrific accounts of captivity to actually explain why inmates were neglected and abused, Prisoners of the Empire contributes to ongoing debates over POW treatment across myriad war zones, even to the present day.
By:   Sarah Kovner
Imprint:   Harvard Uni.Press Academi
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780674737617
ISBN 10:   067473761X
Pages:   288
Publication Date:   25 September 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Sarah Kovner is Senior Research Scholar at the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. She is author of Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan, a Choice Outstanding Academic Title.

Reviews for Prisoners of the Empire: Inside Japanese POW Camps

A rigorous and wide-ranging study of Japan's treatment of POWs during WWII...This revisionist history adds essential nuance and depth to an emotionally charged subject. * Publishers Weekly * In this ambitious study, Kovner moves beyond threadbare tropes of bushido and surrender-as-shameful to persuasively argue that Japanese treatment of POWs during World War II varied greatly across time and space-and cannot be fully understood without the broader context of Japanese diplomacy with the West, propaganda and strategic considerations, and the breakdown of discipline and logistics as Japan's empire collapsed. Elegantly written and compulsively readable, this accessible narrative history will be of great interest to scholars and general readers alike. -- Nick Kapur, author of <i>Japan at the Crossroads: Conflict and Compromise after Anpo</i> In a major work of original scholarship, Kovner reveals that who lived and who died often resulted not from policy but incompetence-poor training, lack of planning, disregard for anything but military priorities. With impressive daring, she situates camp lives within the larger context of occupation policies, diplomacy, and international law, and describes the multiethnic world of hundreds of thousands of POWs, civilian internees including women and children, and guards in the Philippines, Singapore, Japan, and Korea. Prisoners of the Empire is a signal critical accomplishment. -- Sabine Fruhstuck, author of <i>Playing War: Children and the Paradoxes of Modern Militarism in Japan</i> Kovner reformats the complex 'morality play' depicted in Western history of prisoner of war suffering during World War II. Looking at the entirety of the Japanese empire at war, and focusing on the camps as locales within a cascade of battles for power, she challenges preconceptions that abuse stemmed solely from bushido ideals gone wrong or specific policies of cruelty. By comparatively investigating a vast range of experiences and geographic sites, Kovner overturns our stereotyped perceptions and challenges our understanding of POW history. -- Barak Kushner, author of <i>Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice</i> Prisoners of the Empire forces readers to rethink the morality-tale version of cruel Japanese treatment of Allied POWs. Kovner is unflinching in presenting harsh treatment by Japanese prison commanders or guards and unsparing in her attention to racism on all sides. Above all, she is clear-eyed in explaining how confusion and ignorance, more than consistent policy, shaped this tragic episode in the fog of war. -- Andrew Gordon, author of <i>A Modern History of Japan</i>


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