Published by Farrar,
Straus and Giroux 464 pps @ $30.00
The story of the
Bataan Death March and its aftermath.
We all think we know what the Japanese did to our POWs in
the South Pacific during WWII. A beating here, an atrocity there … But now,
Elizabeth and Michael Norman can take you step by grisly step from the arrival
of GI’s on the Filipino shore, to their ultimate repatriation at the end of the
This book is not for sissies. You have to take on the chin
the fact that 46000 Japanese fought 130000 American and Filipino troops, and 76,000
of them surrendered. The largest single defeat in American military history.
Add to this the ineptitude and flat-out incompetence of their higher command,
and you have a disaster of epic proportions.
But ‘Tears in the Darkness’ is not an analysis of failure,
it is a chronicle of courage over adversity. It is a harrowing account of the
treatment of American soldiers at the hands of their captors after their defeat.
The husband and wife authors are uniquely qualified to write
this book. Elizabeth Norman has already written of the plight of non-combatants
in the South Pacific, and her husband Michael has written about men in combat
from personal experience.
The plight of POW’s in the hands of the Japanese is a very
difficult subject to write about effectively. Not least because of the way the
Japanese treat each other and the prisoners in their care, is so unspeakable as
to be almost unbelievable. It is difficult therefore to describe on page after
page atrocious activities without blurring the enormity of the offense. The
Normans however succeed admirably. Their prose is elegant and eschews
sensation. They are scrupulously fair to all sides, save for an unnecessary
deprecation of the Brits towards the end of the work (page 320). It baffled me
how the authors could indulge in a detailed love-fest with General Masaharu
Homma who was the ranking commander during the abuses (and was executed for
it), while deprecating the Brits who, after all, were victims too.
However, this lapse into Anglophobia does not detract from
what is a beautifully constructed work of history and human endeavor. The
authors brilliantly hang the historiography onto a detailed biography of Ben
Steel: an American titan who endured the dreadful experience from start to
finish, and lived (and I hope still lives), to tell the tale.
I know that this is a hackneyed phrase; but it is important
that everyone reads ‘Tears in the Dark’. Some will find it disturbing, others
will be upset by it – but you must know what went on. And if Ben Steel’s return
to his family does not bring a tear to your eye – shame on you. But be warned –
when you have completed this book, you may see your Toyota in a totally