2012年5月20日 星期日

Taiwanese POWs in New Guinea

Many Taiwanese farmers drafted to serve in the Pacific War as members of the Agricultural Production Brigade never came home. On Jan 12, 1945, 148 [out of 200] with four from Tamsui, Mr 張根池, Mr 郭福林, Mr 陳九連, and Mr 張流和 were killed in Cape St Jacques, near Saigon. They were on board of Shinsei Maru, a transport ship, sunk by 2 bombs and one torpedo delivered by F6Fs from the US Navy.

Many more such Taiwanese military workers [as well as combat soldiers] ended up in Papua New Guinea. Those who survived the war were incarcerated in POW camps. It was not until one year later when they finally returned home to Taiwan. Here are some photo records:

Photo taken on Nov 23, 1945 showing the POW camp site in Kokopo [formerly Rabaul], New Britain, where Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese POWs were detained
Taiwanese POWs outside of a storage tent in the 20th POW camp located in Lae, Australian New Guinea, Nov 3, 1945
Taiwanese POW camp trustees in Lae
Growing vegetables - doing what they did best
The Taiwanese have often been portrayed as sadistic prison guards who abused and killed Allied POWs. These were actually in the extreme minority, not among the 80,433 combat soldiers. In all, of the 207,083 Taiwanese who served, 173 [most of them guards] were convicted, sometimes without legal representation, as class BC war criminals with 26 sentenced to death and executed. Needless to say, it was not a pleasant experience for the Taiwanese during and after the trial - in the hands of the Australian military who intended on exacting revenge.


Dr Wei Chiu-Jin, a Taiwanese draftee from Wu-feng, sends his memoir. He recalls waiting to be shipped out from Singapore in early 1945 and saw the arrival of the Awa Maru 阿波丸, the Red Cross relief ship that carried vital supplies to US and Allied POWs. He mentioned seeing shipment of coffee, cigarettes, etc, intended for the American POWs.

Awa Maru was sunk by USS Queenfish on April 1, 1945, despite the Relief for POWs agreement that accorded the ship safe passages. Except for 1 survivor, 2,004 on board were all lost. After this attack, no more supplies for the POWs. The negotiation for a replacement ship was never concluded and the Japanese demand for the compensation of the ship and the lives lost was never met.

The wreckage of Awa Maru was found by the PRC in 1977 and the salvage operation that ensued had recovered no gold, platinum, or diamonds - treasure rumored to be on board.

19 則留言:

  1. "The Taiwanese have often been portrayed as sadistic prison guards who abused and killed Allied POWs. These were actually in the extreme minority, not among the 80,433 combat soldiers."

    Formosans who scored the highest on the military tests were sent overseas to serve. This was desirable as these were the only recruits that received a salary (and from time to time even a rank). The Formosan prison guards, on the other hand, represented those with the worst scores and they were pretty much the dregs.

    The Japanese POW camps sucked. They violated every Geneva Convention going (although did Japan ever ratify Geneva? / defense lawyers after the war argued with much success these individuals were unaware of the conventions so they shouldn't be convicted of breaking them) and these individuals fit in well; if they didn't, they were brought around to act in accordance with how the camps were being run. That is why you will rarely hear good things about the prison guards. I have around 30 books on POW camps in my library and have read a lot more on the topic. 99.9 percent of the accounts are negative. I probably can count stories of good deeds on a single hand. You need to look at the statistics too: 37 percent of American POWs in Taiwan died. 43 percent of POWs in the Asian theater died. On the other hand, 2 percent of American POWs in Germany died. 90 percent of all POWs who died during the war did so in Japanese POW camps.

    In all, 100,000 Japanese (with Formosans among them) were interned as POWs. How many of them were transported on hell ships? I think the answer is none. Conditions in the Allied POW camps did meet with the Geneva conventions: Instead of eating a bowl of maggoty rice per day and suffering a host of diseases for it, Japanese POWs had cereal, toast, jam, corn flakes and coffee for breakfast; roast pork, potato salad, carrots and coffee for lunch; and perhaps some meatloaf, scrambled eggs, coffee (they drank a lot of coffee), milk and bread for dinner. The Allied POW camps had doctors, dentists, libraries, movie nights and educational facilities. Beer and cigarettes could be purchased in canteens while other items could be bought to order. During the harvest season, it is said some POWs earned as much as US$3 a day, more than what many American soldiers were making on the front. I was just at Jinguashi in Taiwan last month (the site of a Taiwan-based POW camp). The POWs there didn't earn anything at all. They tied rags to their feet and put on cardboard mining helmets. They worked at least 12 hours a day, and were punished for not making quotas (which was hard to do as they were constantly beaten and starving to death).

    It's interesting to learn more about Taiwanese POWs. Nobody has written about them. But if you want to make this comparison, it'll be disingenuous.

    Some of the Formosans convicted after the war did not receive legal representation? What's the source?

  2. (1) Indeed it was very competitive for a Taiwanese to receive the rank of 軍人 in the IJA in 1942. I am not sure the prison guards were those with the worst marks because so many had participated in the 2 exams; they were basically farmers with elementary school education and when drafted, had received rudimentary military training.

    (2) "I have around 30 books on POW camps in my library and have read a lot more on the topic" -- Let me take a wild guess: none of which were written by the Japanese? The atrocities committed by the Japanese military has been pretty well-reported. And if the Allied POW camps for the Taiwanese, Koreans and Japanese were so honky-dory as you have described, why were there breakouts in both New Zealand and Australia?

    (3) I am not comparing who suffered the most in the war. I am only interested in what had happened to the Taiwanese. In fact, the story of the 200 Taiwanese guards are just beginning to be known. The legal representation was a cruel joke. And the source? Interviews with the prison guards, see for example: http://www.intimes.com.my/yeo-html/yeo567a.htm
    They were not without remorse - never mentioned in the books in your library, I'll bet.

    (4) Jinguashi Memorial - There are Allied POW memorials all over Taiwan, so where is the memorial for the Taiwanese drafted to serve and died in the Pacific War or those killed by the American bombing of Taiwan between 1944-45? After all, this is the homeland of the Taiwanese.

  3. The biggest burning of documents in humankind took place in Japan in August, 1945 during the two weeks between the time of Japan's surrender and the landing of Allied troops in Japan. I think the Japanese managed to destroy 70 percent of their documents during that time.

    "Why were there breakouts in both New Zealand and Australia?"

    Guilt and shame. According to Japanese propaganda, a soldier should not be taken alive. Probably a lot of those making the prison break were perfectly happy where they were, sitting out the war. Their parents were farmers, fishermen, laborers, etc. The officers went to work on their heads. Plus these men were taught / brainwashed not to ignore the chain of command and to not have any sense of self worth, just to behave like sheep.

    The issue of the US bombing of Taiwan needs to be discussed more. Some people are starting address the fire bombings of Japan. Have you seen Fog of War? I think you would find it interesting.

  4. (1) Luckily, people's memory did not go up in smoke.

    (2) First, the cultural difference cannot be regarded as brain washing, that is too simplistic. Second, indoctrination is a universal practice, e.g., the Allied fought a "just war" (oxymoronic, IMHO) and every enlistee fought for their own country. And third, military command is not leading a herd of sheep. These are for another post.

    (3) Indeed, the fire bombing of Tainan, for example, was known but the loss was never tallied. In Tamsui, the Shell Oil storage was hit and burned for three days, and the father of a famous meteorologist was killed nearby during the raid.

    (4) War documentaries should be made from the POV of the common folks - as you have recommended, in the Ken Burns mode. Which the Fog of War is not. That is why we are now nattempting a documentary on The Pacific War and Tamsui.

  5. Funny that Patrick should quote exactly where I want to say something as well: "The Taiwanese have often been portrayed as sadistic prison guards who abused and killed Allied POWs. These were actually in the extreme minority, not among the 80,433 combat soldiers."

    "These were actually in the extreme minority, not among the 80,433 combat soldiers." -- I guess that is very likely to be true (I'm guessing since my knowledge about POW prison camp in WWII comes mostly from the movie THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI, with Alec Guinness in it. What a guy, Alec Guinness! He's a great actor not because of his playing obi one kenobi, but because of his role of George Smiley. What a guy, George Smiley, who can be a hero without putting down or killing anyone)

    In peacetime, only a very small minority might be sadistic in any group of population, Taiwanese or otherwise, as the statistics may indicate. Well, that's peacetime. But during WAR time, it seems to me it's the opposite that's true: the majority of the military personnel will harbor sadistic feelings towards the enemy they face (real or imaginary). How can they not feel or act sadistically during the war, given that they are hearing, seeing, and telling all the atrocious deeds the enemy is doing to their countrymen? If they can observe and think about the whole situation independently from the war propaganda and hearsay, like the Shigeru Nogami family in the movie Kabei, then they are in a troubled minority.

    Will a person behave the same way in a battlefield or in a prisoners-of-war camp as he would in his home environment during peacetime? No. Most likely he won't. When circumstance changes, most people adapt and change their behaviors accordingly.

    Here's my speculation: take those Taiwanese draftees who were assigned to be the POW-camp guards for the IJA, and let's say these Taiwanese guards were all peaceful by nature as most people are. Now consider the circumstance of the POW camps, with IJA commanding officers in charge. When an IJA commander says to the guards: "Do xxxx to the prisoners." If the guards feel the slightest hesitation about the order because it seems to be unusual and excessively cruel punishment, can they disobey the order? Can anyone disobey orders from a commander in a military setting? in IJA or in army of any nationality?

    1. "can they disobey the order? Can anyone disobey orders from a commander in a military setting?" A quick answer to both questions: absolutely not. Even Mr Ke knew that killing POWs was against the Geneva Convention but lost the argument with his commander when the latter threatened to shoot him if the order was disobeyed. Under extreme duress, I doubt any of us would have behaved differently.

  6. In the article
    one Taiwanese POW-camp guard recalled that if he didn't "do xxxx to the prisoners", then the IJA commander will do it to him. What then is he to do? What will most people do under the circumstances? The prison guard did as he was told to do, and did it with great remorse. But would it be any different if the guard were a better educated Taiwanese, graduated from middle school or even high school with honor? Would he disobey the order if he were not Taiwanese, but a Japanese instead? Would it be different if he were an Korean, or Chinese, or Australian, or British, or American?

    It seemed to me that ethnicity or education background would have mattered none in such a circumstance. What mattered was what's called "self-preservation". The prison-camp guards faced the choice of obeying orders or be punished themselves. And seeing what the punishment could be, the guards had a pretty clear choice to make in the name of survival. We may like to accuse, or to excuse, those Taiwanese pow guards. But how do you answer the question what would you do if you were the prison guard? Who among us are men of principles that rise above the instinct of self-preservation? Who can walk into the lion's den and face the test?

    That brings us to this extremely small minority group of people like the Nogamis in Kabei, and Lt. Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) in The Bridge Over The River Kwai. Colonel Nicholson demanded to be treated as a POW officer by the Geneva Conventions. He was punished for this very cruelly, but he stood his ground and got what he demanded. For this he was the hero of that story. Once he earned the rights accorded by the Geneva Conventions, he carried on his duty as a POW officer by helping the Japanese build the bridge better than the Japanese could! That was a wartime story. Had he not lived during the war, can you imagine what kind of man he would be perceived as in peacetime? A man of principle over instinct? Wouldn't he be a little too odd? Like Seibei Iguchi of the Twilight Samurai, who refused to marry the beautiful and loving Tomoe because of his notion of his low income?

    When George Smiley was asked "have you any children of your own?" He replied, "alas!" Alas, a sin is not a sin in all circumstances, nor a virtue always a virtue. We are trapped by these goddamn nouns that hypnotize us into believing the transitory qualities of our language and ideas. To me, circumstances and contexts are where to look for meanings. "Facts" or "data" are convenient units of messages for communication, but are never the whole story.

    1. "To me, circumstances and contexts are where to look for meanings." - Agreed, as long as we don't apply the "holier than thou" attitude. Taking moral high ground is easy to do until one faces the reality.

      Mr Ke passed away two years ago after his story in part was told in Lung Ying-Tai's book. The interview also should be translated into English, perhaps you can do it for us.

    2. OK, found the Mr. Ke interview. Now I have a better picture.

      Below is an excerpt from the book by Ms. Lung Ying-Tai, who is now the Minister of the Department of Culture Affairs in Taiwan. (I saw this on the World Journal 世界日報) The excerpt is an interview between Ms. Lung and Mr. Ke King-Sing, one of the 7 Taiwanese POW camp monitors tried at the Australian Tribunal, on charges of killing 46 Allies POW in 1945 in Northern Borneo.

      The 7 Taiwanese camp monitors were found guilty and sentenced to death on the first trial. A month later a second trial commuted the sentence to 10 years in prison.

      The interview took place on February 26, 2009, at Mr. Ke's home in Changhua county, Meiher township. Mr. Ke was 89 years old at the time, so stated in Ms. Lung's book.

      (The translation of Japanese names I got them from Google Translate.)

    3. Ms Lung: Tell me about the 46 POW. What happened?
      Mr Ke: Captain Sugita Tsuruo ordered us to kill them. That bayonet even had the Emperor's chrysanthemum emblem. If we disobeyed orders, then we would be killed.
      L: When you killed the POW, where did the prisoners stand? Where were you and your commander?
      K: About forty, fifty prisoners of war. We surrounded them. Sugita Tsuruo yelled: "arm your bullets!" Then we killed them all by bayoneting. We were taught bayonet drill before. The coach who taught us bayonet drill, he won the first prize performing in front of the Japanese Emperor.
      L: Surrounding forty, fifty prisoners, how many Taiwanese monitors were there?
      K: A dozen or so.
      L: You are saying that you killed those 40, 50 POW not by shooting but by bayoneting?
      K: It was dangerous to shoot. We were afraid we might shoot ourselves. All bayoneting. Stabbed them to death one by one. I stood on the side a little far away. One Indian soldier ran to where my feet were, and I said to him. "it is the heaven that wants to kill you, not me want to kill you." I then bayonet him once. There's another one calling out "Help me". It was a British soldier. One guy from Chingshui told me to kill him. I said you were taller than me why didn't you do it? You were taller and could bayonet him better. The British soldier was hiding in a ditch and yelling for help. If he didn't call for help nobody would've know he's hidden in there. I said, Chingshui man, you are taller, you go kill him.
      L: After killing all of the POW, how did you take care of the bodies?
      K: We then dug a big hole and put them all in.
      L: How did you destroy the evidence of the killing?
      K: The skulls of humans are how brittle, how big, do you know?
      L: After killing the forty, fifty prisoners of war, where did you go?
      K: Someone brought water to us. We drank it all up. Then we stayed there.
      L: By then the POW camp was empty. The Allies were coming soon. What were you waiting for? Why stayed there?
      K: We left also. We wanted to go back to Kuching, but couldn't get there. At that time... That's too long ago. I can't remember now.
      L: Please describe the process of the trial.
      K: A group of people sitting on chairs. All of them Taiwanese soldiers. On one side was an observer area. One slapping of face got five years.
      L: The Australian POW bore witness on the court that you slapped them?
      K: Face slapping was learned at the Shirakawa training center.
      L: How did you feel when you heard the death sentence?
      K: The feeling was -- was I really going to die? If I die no one would even cry for me. The next day it got changed to 10 years in prison. I was so happy.
      L: Sentenced to 10 years. And finally stayed in prison for seven and a half years. Did you feel the punishment was fair?
      K: Since I had killed a person. I said it was "the heaven wants to kill you, not me want to kill you."
      L: Did you feel that 7.5 years in prison was right or what?
      K: The 7.5 years was because of the special pardon from the Accession to the Throne of Queen Elizabeth.

    4. L: I know. But did you feel that you deserved the sentencing or were you wronged?
      K: I didn't think about anything at all at that time. Put in jail for killing someone was what it should be.
      L: Did your family know what happened to you?
      K: None of them knew. Couldn't mail letters at that time. If I had known that my father was already dead I wouldn't have gone back to Taiwan. I would have married into Japan.
      L: After your release and finally got back to Taiwan, what were you feeling when you saw the Keelung Harbor -- did you cry?
      K: No, I didn't.
      L: You took the train from Keelung to your hometown Changhua by yourself -- did anyone come pick you up at the train station?
      K: No. After arriving at the Changhua station there was walking. I walked and walked, till I got back home.
      L: Who was still left at your home?
      K: There was only my mother.
      L: Ten years without seeing her son, the moment your mother saw you, what did she say?
      K: Nothing was said. She only said: you stay in the second room now. The second room is over there.

    5. Hi Herman, thank you very much for the translation. I'll simply add the last paragraph from the other interview (http://www.intimes.com.my/yeo-html/yeo567a.htm):


      It was beyond comprehension but Mr Ke had also saved the lives of the Cho Family then confined in the internment camps. A niece of Mr Cho went from Houston to Taiwan to personally thank him and soon after, he passed away.

      Rabaul was also where Chinese POWs were sent, to be slave laborers. Ms Lung's book also has a section on the forgotten men. One survivor who eventually ended up in Taiwan told Ms Lung that he had been waiting for her phone call all his life (so that he could tell the story). This gentleman also passed soon after the interview.

    6. I'm re-reading the related sections in Ms. Lung's book. Now I feel the stories are more intense and closer to heart. Thanks for pointing out all these pieces. But I still get confused with some of the names. Is Mr. Cho the 周老 in the last paragraph? And the gentleman waiting for the phone call, was he in Ms Lung's book?

      I hope Patrick will add something from his perspective as well.

    7. I am citing from memory, you can refer back to Ms Lung's book:

      (1) It was 卓領事 who was executed by the Japanese but his wife and children survived the camp, helped in secret by Mr Ke. His niece and I went to NTU in the same year.

      (2) The Chinese survivor was a Mr 李. They were shipped from Shanghai to Rabaul to do hard labor. Many died on the ship and in the camps. Ms Lung's or rather Mr Li's description of his hell ship experience was quite vivid.

    8. The stories are in Part 7, Chapters 62 and 67.

    9. OK. I see both the 卓領事 and Mr. Li story in the book now, and also the story of Allies POW survivors regarding their Taiwanese guards.

      Look forward to your next post.

    10. My point is really this: Much has been written about the Taiwanese POW camp guards. It gives a distorted view of the Taiwanese draftees. Of the thousands of Taiwanese combat soldiers who died in the war, virtually nothing has been written about them, as if they did not exist.

  7. "Second, indoctrination is a universal practice, e.g., the Allied fought a "just war" (oxymoronic, IMHO) and every enlistee fought for their own country. And third, military command is not leading a herd of sheep. These are for another post."

    I agree; there probably isn't a just war in most cases (if you're defending your home and not acting aggressively though an argument could probably made). The Allies said they were fighting the holocaust later on, but they knew what was going on for a long time and purposely kept the info. suppressed. Actually, Roosevelt knew about the POW camps. He ordered the info. be kept top-secret because if the US population found out, they would have required immediate reprisals when the US military was not yet in gear to respond.

    This is what McNamara said in Fog of War: "LeMay said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"

    I am looking forward to a post on point three because this is a tricky issue.

  8. Point (3) - yes, we have now pieced separate events together, the Tamsui part. Many who were drafted are eager to be interviewed. In their own words, no tricks.