The World War 2 Japanese Prison Diaries of
Alexander John James
“This melancholy state: you are in the power of your enemy; you owe your life to his humanity; your daily bread to his compassion. You must obey his orders; await his pleasure, possess your soul in patience. The days are very long. Hours crawl like paralytic centipedes.
Moreover the actual atmosphere of prison is most vile, and the best regulated prison is odious. Companions quarrel about trifles, and get the least possible pleasure for each other society. You feel a constant humiliation in being fenced in by railings of wire, watched by armed men, and webbed about with a tangle of regulations and restrictions.”
Winston Churchill (“A Roving Commission”)
In anticipation of enquiries concerning my captivity in the Far East, I have prepared the following brief description of that period. This will not only save my breath, but also help to eliminate those inaccuracies that inevitably arise from constant repetition.
That my description will contradict much that may have been heard through the International Red Cross Society, is readily understandable. While the war was in progress, it was part of the fundamental plan of this body to maintain a friendly disposition towards both sides. To have given a strictly accurate report of conditions in P.O. W. Camps, would not only have alienated the Japanese, but also caused much worry and suffering in the homes of P.O. W.’s. While at the time we were often infuriated to read, in letters from home, extracts from glowing reports of our condition, we appreciated the policy that made these reports necessary.
The obvious question “How were you treated?” is a difficult one to answer. If the Japanese are to be rated as a civilized nation, then we were very badly treated; if, on the other hand, they are classed as primeval savages (which is what we thought at the time), then we were quite well treated in as much as we were kept alive. They afforded us the absolute minimum of food and clothing, but that it was sufficient is evident from the fact that the vast majority (in Korea) survived. However, it is equally true that almost all of those who died, did so either as an indirect result of malnutrition, or as a direct result of lack of proper medical attention.
Happy memories have a fortunate habit of obscuring unpleasant ones. Hence if the following pages appear to describe a sort of holiday-cum-rest-cure, it must be borne in mind that the hard times experienced have been given less prominence than they deserve, also that my feelings have had time to subside. In any case a strictly accurate report describing the innumerable methods devised by our captors of annoying us, and deliberately adding to our discomfort, would read too much like a harrowing tale of self-pity.
Looking back on it all one is apt to say: “Well it wasn’t too bad, and it might have been a lot worse”; but we did not think that at the time. Our thoughts then may be summarized in the crude and inaccurate generalization that was so after voiced – “All Japanese are B-ST-RDS!”