Why did the Japanese treatment of POWs change so dramatically between the Russo-Japanese War and the Second World War?

Question

Why did the Japanese treatment of POWs change so dramatically between the Russo-Japanese War and the Second World War?

Mudassir Ali 9 months 1 Answer 105 views

Answer ( 1 )

  1. My uncle was British, captured in Singapore and was a POW on the Burma Railway and in Fukuoka 17B coalmining camp in Japan.

    I can’t answer this question fully. From my reading of accounts by ordinary Japanese army members, ‘none’ wanted to go to Singapore, Burma, Java or anywhere else to fight in WW2. After previous combat in other areas, they wanted to be home with their families. They thought it was madness and doomed.

    Even after the surrender, and having the ethos that surrender was shameful, my uncle described initial contact. When he and his gun crew were rounded up, the Japanese were respectful, recognising though enemies, all men had ‘just been doing as ordered, the same as those on the other side’. And when Allies learned that bowing was expected and performed according to tradition, the Japanese bowed back to them (before taking any gold pens or watches).

    On the Railway, my uncle said that ordinary Japanese solders were brutalised almost to the same extent as Allied POWs – he was sorry for some of them he witnessed being maltreated. One Japanese guard hit a prisoner in the face and the next day apologised saying, “If I had not done that to you yesterday while my officer was watching, I would have been beheaded.” …So it seems to me that when the questioner says ‘Japanese treatment of POWs’, this was not a universal natural behavior of Japanese personnel, but a treatment devised and expected by those in the highest leadership positions. (Though some guards obviously did enjoy being viscious in carrying out orders, one possibly risked his own life in giving my uncle a fish he caught on a day off.)

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