Counting the Days
Counting the Days
POWs, Internees, and Stragglers of World War II in the Pacific
Smithsonian Books (DC), Hardcover, 9781588343550, 260pp.
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Counting the Days is the story of six prisoners of war imprisoned by both sides during the conflict the Japanese called the "Pacific War." As in all wars, the prisoners were civilians as well as military personnel. Two of the prisoners were captured on the second day of the war and spent the entire war in prison camps: Garth Dunn, a young Marine captured on Guam who faced a death rate in a Japanese prison 10 times that in battle; and Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki, who suffered the ignominy of being Japanese POW number 1. Simon and Lydia Peters were European expatriates living in the Philippines; the Japanese confiscated their house and belongings, imprisoned them, and eventually released them to a harrowing jungle existence caught between Philippine guerilla raids and Japanese counterattacks. Mitsuye Takahashi was a U.S. citizen of Japanese descent living in Malibu, California, who was imprisoned by the United States for the duration of the war, disrupting her life and separating her from all she owned. Masashi Itoh was a Japanese soldier who remained hidden in the jungles of Guam, held captive by his own conscience and beliefs until 1960, 15 years after the end of the war. This is the story of their struggles to stay alive, the small daily triumphs that kept them going—and for some, their almost miraculous survival.
Smith (How the Great Pyramid Was Built) has collected compelling survival memories by both civilian and military WWII prisoners. After tape-recording their accounts, he sought a deeper understanding, and visited the sites of their harrowing imprisonment to answer the question, “Would I be a survivor?” He visited camps, battlegrounds, and war memorials, and he went to Guam, Japan, and the Philippines to retrace routes taken by prisoners. European expatriates Simon and Lydia Peters, civilian noncombatants in the Philippines, fled the Japanese and spent the war surviving in the jungle. Californian Mitzi Takahashi, who viewed herself as “an ordinary American girl,” was forced to join 100,000 other West Coast Japanese at an internment camp. Marine Garth Dunn recalls the brutality of guards in Japanese prison camps. Smith recorded “horrors beyond imagining—starvation, harassment, threats, humiliation, beatings, torture,” but his subjects also spoke of human kindness, sacrifice and friends taking great risks. These powerful and poignant interviews have been skillfully edited chronologically to present lives before, during, and after the war. 15 b&w photos, 4 maps. (May)
A retired engineer who has taken up writing delivers fascinating accounts of six Japanese and Americans who passed the war in enemy hands.
Smith (Lightning: Fire From the Sky, 2008, etc.) delivers first-person stories of a GI who endured more than three terrible years as a POW in Japan and a Japanese soldier who spent a more comfortable time in the United States but felt guilty about surrendering. Casting his net widely, the author describes an Russian mining engineer and his wife, hiding and starving in the occupied Philippines, a Japanese soldier who escaped to the jungle after the U.S. reconquered Guam in 1944, emerging only in 1960, and a young Nisei woman, born and raised in Los Angeles, caught up in the shameful American internment of Japanese Americans after 1941. Smith pulls no punches portraying the cruelty of the Japanese to those under their power, but, like many amateur historians and not a few professionals, he justifies this as a consequence of the samurai Bushido tradition, which teaches that warriors fight to the death and that those who surrender are beneath contempt. In fact, traditional Bushido does not excuse brutality or require warriors to die except to preserve honor. The Japanese did not abuse prisoners from the Russo-Japanese war and World War I. Their suicidal behavior and inhumanity during World War II sprang from a new policy by 1920s military leaders who believed it would toughen Japanese soldiers, enabling them to overcome less-determined but technically advanced Western armies.
Readers can take comfort knowing that all six subjects survived, perhaps the only good news in these gripping though mostly painful stories about one of the many grim aspects of WWII. PUB DATE May 2012
Using hours of interviews, diaries, military records, and onsite visits, Smith crafts a read-in-one-sitting narrative of six men and women whose lives were changed by the war in the Pacific: one young woman of Japanese descent who found herself in an internment camp; a Japanese sailor who had the misfortune of being the first American POW; a Japanese soldier who emerged from the jungles of Guam 15 years after war’s end; a European couple in the Philippines on the run from both the unpredictable cruelty of the Japanese and Filipino guerrillas; and a marine captured at Guam who spent the war as a POW in horrific Japanese camps. VERDICT These narratives, and Smith’s interpretive framework, capture the determination and spirit of their subjects and what they endured to survive and share their stories. Those interested in the human toll of war will want to read this book.
Counting the Days tracks six prisoners during the Pacific War. Craig Smith has conducted in-depth research and interviews to bring to life their suffering, courage and eventual triumph, creating a compelling portrait of war’s extremes and how these individuals struggled through the darkness to survive.
James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, Flyboys, and The Imperial Cruise
Craig B. Smith takes the reader behind the barbed wire and into the jungle to expertly chronicle the resourcefulness and the resiliency of the human spirit through a variety of unique vantage points. As a result, Counting the Days thoroughly captures the complete essence of the POW/internee experience during the Pacific war.
John D. Lukacs, author of Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War