Friday, June 23, 2017

Prisoner of War: A Novel of World War II by Michael P. Spradlin, 2017

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Survive the war. Outlast the enemy. Stay alive.

That's what Henry Forrest has to do. When he lies about his age to join the Marines, Henry never imagines he'll face anything worse than his own father's cruelty. But his unit is shipped off to the Philippines, where the heat is unbearable, the conditions are brutal, and Henry's dreams of careless adventuring are completely dashed.

Then the Japanese invade the islands, and US forces there surrender. As a prisoner of war, Henry faces one horror after another. Yet among his fellow captives, he finds kindness, respect, even brotherhood. A glimmer of light in the darkness. And he'll need to hold tight to the hope they offer if he wants to win the fight for his country, his freedom . . . and his life.

Michael P. Spradlin's latest novel tenderly explores the harsh realities of the Bataan Death March and captivity on the Pacific front during World War II.

(272 pages)

It's so awful. I can't believe that people were so terrible to each other–and this isn't even the Germans in their usual racist evilness, but the Japanese conforming to their archaic, ingrained ideas about proper military behavior. They literally believed that the American soldiers were despicable, subhuman creatures because they'd surrendered territory, something a true Japanese warrior would rather die than do. Or at least, that's the reasoning they gave–I'm sure the men who actually committed the atrocious acts also just enjoyed the feeling of absolute power their positions offered, and the opportunity to punish someone for the pains of WWII.

I have a hard time reviewing books like Prisoner of War because they are so valuable for me to read, literary qualities aside. I'd never read a book directly focused on the experience of captured soldiers in the Philippines (well I guess I have, but not one focused on the men who experienced the Bataan Death March). It's horrible to read about the depths of inhumanity reached during WWII, so I didn't necessarily enjoy reading this, but I felt like it was a necessary read. We need to know the darkest parts of our collective history as a species so we can move forward and prevent the chain of events that would lead to a similar situation ever again.

As an aside, part of me wonders why today's education/society focuses on the murder of European-born Jews to the almost entire drowning out of stories like the Bataan Death March from WWII. So many more Jews than soldiers were killed, of course, but these were our own soldiers who suffered under the Japanese hand. Was there no public backlash when we discovered how completely the Japanese had ignored the Geneva Convention's rules about prisoners of war? Or were we so emotionally devastated by the waves of horror rolling out of newly-liberated European concentration camps that we didn't have the emotional energy to become angry at this fresh piece of brutality? Or perhaps we felt so conflicted about the morality of bombing innocents in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that we didn't think we were in any position to argue against the mistreatment of our soldiers.

Anyway, as far as the actual story is concerned I liked Henry but I never felt like I got to know him super well. The characters are portrayed with as much nuance as the book's short length allows, and it's clear that the author has done a lot of research. It did feel in some parts like the soldiers were idealized a little bit while the Japanese were almost universally pure evil, but that may well have been what it felt like for the real soldiers in Henry's shoes. Anyway, this is a good starting point for anyone interested in this area of WWII. I probably won't be reading any more on the subject just because it's really depressing, but I'm glad I at least read Prisoner of War. If you know of any other good books about life in the Philippines during WWII, post them in the comments section down below so others can check them out!


Disclaimer: I received an unsolicited, complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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