The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War, from the Revolution to the War on Terror

By Robert C. Doyle | Go to book overview

TEN
The Reborn
Japanese Soldiers as Enemy Prisoners of War
and American Nisei Internees

Our capture is equal to our rebirth. We are born again. It is our
solemn obligation to live this renewed life as men.

—Kazuo Sakamaki

The Japanese did not begin the twentieth century as draconian captors or suicidal maniacs. The radical change in Japanese military attitudes and behavior toward prisoners of war in World War II and their collective decision against surrender were formed in part as a result of cultural retribution for European double-dealing in the early part of the twentieth century and the development of militant Bushido. Originally issued as Japanese Army Regulations for Handling Prisoners of War in February 1904, Army Instruction 22, Article 2 of the General Rules, stated, “Prisoners of war shall be treated with a spirit of goodwill and shall never be subjected to cruelties or humiliation.”1 From 1904 until 1945, a down-spiraling series of events proved fateful.

After stunning victories during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 and 1905, the Japanese took considerable numbers of Russian prisoners and treated them very well. At Port Arthur several Russian medical officers were astonished at how kind the Japanese were to the Russian sick in the naval barracks. The Russian Red Cross confirmed these reports: “Since the surrender, the whole attitude of the Japanese Army toward us has been exactly the same as if it were dictated by the fundamental values of European civilization[;] there has been nothing lacking on any point in the treatment by the Japanese medical staff of our sick and wounded.”2 What astounded the Russian doctors and the British observers was that the Japanese army was indeed a full participant in the Hague Conventions and acted accordingly in good faith. The Russians, in contrast, had trouble keeping up their end of the agreement.

It became apparent that the Russians had wildly inflated views of their own prowess and suffered their losses badly. In Japanese captivity, Russian officers complained bitterly about trivial matters instead of supporting the general welfare of their men, and the Russian com-

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