A personal note about Pearl Harbor Day

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a devastating attack on American naval forces in Honolulu.  Within a short time, 2,403 Americans were dead and another 1,178 were injured.  What many people forget is that the Japanese also attacked most of Southeast Asia.  My mother was there when that happened.

Neither my mother, 16, nor her sister, 12, should have been in Java.  They were Dutch citizens who had been living for some years in British-mandate Palestine.  Because North Africa was one of the theaters in which the Allies fought the Axis powers, the British set up military bases there.  They hired my grandfather, an architect, to design the basic buildings (mess halls, barracks, etc.).

I never met my grandfather, but he was apparently quite charming, and the British officers liked him.  They told him they thought Rommel might win.  If that happened, the combined Arab and German forces would slaughter every Jew.  (It was an early version of Hamas's "From the river to the sea" plan for a Jewish genocide in land Jews had occupied for thousands of years.)

My grandfather decided to send his daughters far from the war.  He picked Java, which was then part of the Dutch East Indies.  For a year, the girls had a lovely life because life was good for the European colonists benefiting from the cheap labor in the countries they occupied.  That ended on December 8 (because East Asia was on the other side of the international date line), when the Japanese invaded the Malayan peninsula, countries that offered oil, rubber, and iron ore.

Within a short time, the Japanese had interned the civilian populations — men and boys in one set of camps, women, girls, young boys in another.  As Mom was always careful to point out, these camps were not extermination camps like Auschwitz.  However, they were still horrific.

The Japanese are among my favorite people today.  I love visiting Japan because it's so clean, orderly, and charming.  It probably was in 1941, too, but the country was in the grip of the foul Bushido culture, which combined unrelieved brutality with a disdain for all non-Japanese races.

The Japanese immediately set about concentrating the civilian population by moving people into group housing.  The next step was to remove all the men and any boys who weren't actually small children, who were sent to slave labor camps.  The women, girls, and children were moved to concentration camps.

Once separated, the men and women remained completely segregated for the remainder of the war.  The men were subjected to brutal slave labor and had an attrition rate much higher than the women did.  Also, with the typical Bushido disrespect for men who didn't have the decency to kill themselves, rather than to surrender, these civilian men were tortured at a rather consistent rate.

One of my mother's friends discovered, at war's end, that her husband had been decapitated.  If you have the stomach for it, you can see the moment before Leonard Siffleet, an Australian Special Forces operator, died under an executioner's sword.

Once in camp, the women were given small shelves to sleep on (about 24 inches across), row after row, like sardines.  They were periodically subjected to group punishments.  The one that lived forever in my mother's memory was the mandate that they stand in the camp compound, in the sun, for 24 hours. 

No food, no water, no shade, no sitting down, no restroom breaks (and many of the women were liquid with dysentery and other intestinal diseases and parasitical problems).  For 24 hours, they stood there, in the humid, 90-plus-degree temperature, under the blazing tropical sun.  The older women, the children, and the sick died where they stood.  The camp commandant was later hanged for war crimes.

Starvation was the norm, and diseases were endemic.  Mom and her sister both had tertian and quartan malaria, tuberculosis, beriberi, and dysentery.  They survived, though, and they survived for a specific reason: Truman dropped the atom bomb, ending the war.  Had the war continued even a  month longer, my mother knew she would have died because she was no longer interested in food.  The atom bomb saved her life and led to mine.  If Truman hadn't dropped the bomb, millions of others would also have died.  The Japanese were prepared to fight a mainland invasion to the death of the last man, woman, and child — not to mention one million more American dead:

If you want an overview of Bushido Japanese war crimes, this Wikipedia article is a good overview.  You can also read Iris Chang's The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II.  Chang was so overwhelmed by the results of her research and her work on the Bataan Death March that she committed suicide.  Regarding the atom bomb, I also recommend Paul Fussell's Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays.  I also highly recommend Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice.

Image: Newspaper story about Tjideng Internment Camp.