Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Microcosm of Japanese Actions Across WW II Asia

Microcosm of Japanese Actions Across WW II Asia A fascinating, moving film of European civilian women interned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, *Paradise Road* tells a tale of courage and fortitude amidst the incredible barbarism of the war-period Japanese army. Kate Blanchett's character is especially moving. The film (and book) deal in microcosm with Japanese actions across Asia towards civilians - and not just Europeans of course (tragic as that was), but Asians, too. When I lived in Hong Kong and Singapore in the 90s, memories among locals were still very strong about Japanese behaviour - which across Asia resulted in the deaths of twenty million Asians: in Hong Kong Chinese villagers in the remoter New Territories at times still attacked Japanese tourist coach parties, while in Stanley, HK, I lived a few yards from the notorious site of the Stanley internment camp, where the Japanese brutally treated civilians, and had earlier, a few steps away at a nearby Stanley prep school, raped and bayonnetted the British nurses manning a make-shift hospital during the Battle of of Hong Kong. Camps for European civilian women existed across Asia, not just in "two" spots, as another reviewer suggests (these are simply all that are mentioned in the film) - in Sumatra, Java, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Borneo, etc, while the same reviwer's wondering if the Japanese raped anybody is simply lack of knowledge. Some fine books to read on the subject, as moving as *Paradise Road*, include Lavinia Warner's *Women Beyond the Wire*, Jean Gittins' *Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire* and George Wright-Nooth's *Prisoner of the Turnip Heads* ("Turnip Heads" is what the Cantonese of Hong Kong call the Japanese) - some are printed in Britain and available through Amazon's UK site. The film *Empire of the Sun* gives the view of a 12-year-old boy in a Japanese camp in China. The Lavinia Warner book gives a lot of details of Japanese war-time barbarism towards women in Singapore, Bangka island (an infamous massacre of twenty-odd Australian nurses) and the horrors of camps in Sumatra. Also, Dieuwke Wendelaar Bonga's *Eight Prison Camps* gives accounts of Dutch women imprisoned on Java, while Ernest Hillen's *The Way of a Boy* gives a view of Java internment camps and their horrors from the perspective of a young Dutch boy. The West may have enough to deal with remembering the atrocities of the Nazis in Europe, but really we have only ourselves to blame if we forget the other terrible atrocities commited in the Pacific by the Japanese. An investigation of the subject makes fascinating and moving reading, and a good place to start is *Paradise Road*.

Format: Paperback
The cruelty and depravity demonstrated by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong between 1941 and 1945 is one of the less well-documented chapters of the Second World War. Yet, as George Wright-Nooth demonstrates with such freshness and clarity in this autobiographical account, it is as great a story of heroism, endurance, and poignancy as any other of its time. The image of 33 individuals, British, Chinese and Indian, preparing to be executed by beheading, and being comforted from among their own group by an Sandhurst-trained Indian officer and a Hong Kong Chinese man leading prayers will long remain in the mind. What also brings the book to life are the diary extracts and the author's excellent memory for detail, which superbly capture the sense of a young Englishman caught in the sweep and suffering of a wider tragedy, but somehow retaining his spirit, his inquisitiveness and that uniquely British sense of humour that shines undimmed through fifty years and the terrible things he saw and experienced.