Japanese war record

Slaughter at Sea by Mark Felton

Another book in my reading from the war section of the local library. This book is sub-titled “The Story of Japan’s Naval War Crimes.” The Japanese Imperial Navy (IJN) had poor relations with the Imperial Army. Consequently, the Navy gave all its recruits basic military training and had its own ship-borne soldiers who were frequently deployed onshore. The Navy was often given the task of administering captured islands and territories. As this book explains, this gave the IJN the opportunity to commit many land-based atrocities.

Clearly, the rape of Nanking (mentioned in reviews below) was not an isolated lapse, but symptomatic of a sinister general attitude towards anyone who fell under their power. In the territories over-run by the Japanese during World War 2, it was the norm for both military personnel and civilians, both white and non-white, to be ill-treated, robbed, and frequently murdered. This book details many incidents in which groups of captives were ill-treated and then murdered.

Most chilling is the revelation that it was official IJN policy, expressed in orders, that the crews of ships sunk by the IJN should be killed. In many cases, lifeboats were machine-gunned or rammed after the captain had been taken aboard the attacking vessel. American and British prisoners of war got no better treatment. If not murdered immediately, they would suffer ill-treatment while being interrogated and then transferred to “hell ships” taking them to slave labour elsewhere in the Japanese empire. Many were murdered on the Pacific islands after being held captive for some time. Others perished in several incidents where un-marked prison ships were torpedoed by Allied forces.

Allied naval sailors and airmen were often murdered in revenge for reverses, or even attacks, suffered by Japanese forces.

For the most part, the enlisted men and junior officers appeared to enjoy having the power to maltreat and kill prisoners, and had no problem at all in following orders to kill prisoners. In a very rare case, one Commander Junsuke Mii protested vigorously to several senior officers, including his Vice Admiral, about orders to “dispose” of a group of prisoners from a sunken ship. Mii sent ashore double the number he was ordered to, saving some thirty people. The rest of the captives were murdered and dumped at sea, the actual killing being done by junior officers and enlisted men using swords. Nothing happened to Mii, who was later promoted to Captain.

And why did the Japanese behave like this? Hard to say, but almost to a man they held the lives of non-Japanese to be of no account. And Japanese politicians can still be heard dismissing these war crimes today.

I found this book quite an eye-opener. It comes complete with notes, references, and brief accounts of war crime trials. Japan-ophiles will find this book uncomfortable reading, but it is part of a war record that, in common with the Jewish Holocaust, should not be brushed out of history.