Book Beat; 85
We're talking about the prisoner and the bomb. A book by Lauren's Rander Post and The book deals with his experiences in a Japanese prison camp. It was published by morrow. And we'll be back with Mr. Banta post in just a moment. This is book B. Each week introducing you to leading authors and critics this program is made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. Your host is Robert Crumb a daily columnist for The Chicago Tribune and a contributing editor of book world the Sunday Literary Supplement of the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. You wrote this book for a rather curious reason I think or it had a rather curious background the origin of your writing it and why you delayed it so long. Yes it's in a sense a book I hoped I would never have to write. I voided it. For close on 25 years.
And what really set me off. Or perhaps I should start with why have I avoided it it when I came out of my prison camp and job I went straight back onto the active service. And I had no time to to write when I got time to write. I thought if I wrote this book it would merely be another atrocity story. And in any case I thought somebody else would write. I personally hate writing about my wall and I'm a wartime experiences I find it extremely difficult. One's been through it once and you know I don't want to go through it a second time. But what really set me off this book was a little fink knocking at the door. But what really made the nock imperative. Was an experience I had in the dead of vision studio in Canada some two years ago actually on Hiroshima Day. I was taking part in a sort of magazine television show
and I was supposed to have 10 minutes to discuss problems in Africa with an interviewer and I was rather late arriving. And as I arrived in the television studio I saw the man would perceive it was preceding me. It was a small little old fashioned Japanese doctor. And he was telling the people in the studio who were horrified how he whole family had been destroyed Hiroshima and he had been in prison. And he talked about all the harder it was of Hiroshima which of course are very rare and catastrophic. But as he towed it I suddenly became aware of the fact that there was another side of the story that had never been positively that people were overlooking and that they were forgetting and that perhaps I was the only person left who could tell it. And I said to the producer for heaven's sake let's forget about Africa. Will you give
me 10 minutes on the air with a Japanese doctor. And after some reluctance because he didn't know what was going to happen he trusted me I'd been with him before and he said yes. And then I went up to the Japanese doctor and I don't I mean very briefly. What I tell at some length in this book and of course when I told him I realized I couldn't stop there because I realized that day in the studio that the whole today was then you know obsessed with perhaps one quarter of the reality with the historical reality of the bomb. And that I was simply would have to tell the story even so it took me two years before I could get my heart up to write the actual story as I've written it in this book. Well tell us what you did tell a doctor to try and make him
feel at least I don't suppose I could feel better but at least to try and make him understand that perhaps his wife and children hadn't died for nothing. You know this is what I was trying to get him to do feel in a sense all those of us who belong to the generation of Hiroshima to use a very famous expression used by the great German novelist before he died when he said I belong to a period in time. What is impossible for human beings to feel gay. Well I know what he means we certainly can never feel entirely happy about Hiroshima. But what I try to tell the Japanese doctor was that you know your wife didn't die in vain. And I said do you all know about what happened to the people who were in the part of your military. And he said no he didn't now. And he had never read anything about it. So I had to tell
him briefly of all the harrowing story because at the time the bomb was dropped I was. In command of a party of some 6000 showed. So just we were only one group. A group which I ran into several hundreds of thousands of people who were completely in the power of one of the most fanatical of all the Japanese warlords and this warlord who was in command of the whole of the South East Asian theater of war had decided that when he's part of Southeast Asia was invaded he was not going to surrender. He was going to fight right to the end as you know the Japanese fought right to the last man everywhere in the Pacific wouldn't even allow themselves to be taken prisoner. They'd rather kill themselves strangled themselves blow themselves up with grenades and be taken prisoner. And he felt that if this is how we're going to fight there is no reason why our prisoners should live.
And our first act before the final fight is going to massacre a lot. Now we I even know the date on which the massacre was going to start which was early in September. Through the balm peace came or goes to 70. So we didn't have much time left. And in any case even if we hadn't we massacred we were dying men because we were all starving. People were going blind through the lack of food. People were falling dead through the lack of food. I myself could hardly walk and we were living on 90 grams. That's about two ounces of rice a day. When we were lucky. And then came the bomb. But in addition to this is another aspect of the story was that even if we had been killed one my dad might have said that a few hundred thousand prisoners of war are expendable. I am convinced that if the bomb had
not been dropped. The Japanese would have gone on fighting in the no islands. I didn't know this when I wrote this book because I did liberate they didn't want it to be a piece of hindsight. So I made no historical research beforehand. I tried to recapture the situation as accurately as I could of those of us who were completely in power of the Japanese that time. But since this book has been published I have had such a lot of correspondence from all over the world about it particularly when it was published in England and Germany. You can imagine the Germans are fascinated by this that I went to read up the history of the time and I find that the day before the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima the emperor of Japan had a cabinet a very critical cabinet meeting. There were some ministers who wanted peace but they were frightened to come out in the open because
they knew they would be assassinated by the military. And on this day the cabinet meeting broke up in a state more or less of disorder. Nobody could decide what to do except to go on fighting. In fact both the Army and the Navy ministers said on this day before the bomb was dropped how well are all of the hundred million Japanese die. And so Rand with shade. Then the bomb was dropped and the day after the bomb was dropped another cabinet meeting took place because of course the event was staggering and this cabinet meeting was completely different. For the first time the Army the Navy everybody said to the Emperor We cannot decide will you please decide for us which was something unprecedented in modern Japanese history for the Emperor to enter the vulgar read of day to day decisions
in matters of state. And this gave the MTO wanted peace and the emperor's advisors wanted peace. This gave the Emperor his chance and at last he could say so and give the order to his armies to surrender and the aid they had the pretext for which unconsciously they were looking to surrender without shame because this question of shame. It sounds such a small word when we use it here. But you know with people like the Japanese throughout their history on and self-respect in their definitions of the have always meant more to them than life. It really has. It still does to this day. You could see it for instance from the suicide by my friend the novelist you the other day because he committed suicide in a classical manner because he couldn't live with what he thought he was self-respect
was in modern Japan. And so it was with the whole nation. They were on the verge of committing mass mass suicide. When the bomb was dropped. So I tried to say to the doctor. Here I was on the real lives not hypothetical lives it was say here you are our nation was saved from itself by this monstrous bomb. Please do not feel that you or the thousands who died with with your wife. That they have suffered in vain. It's a funny situation in a way because it doesn't really justify dropping the bomb but it makes a little more palatable doesn't it. Yes Ira bearable. You see these are awful things that happen in history. How does one ever justify. I was asked on the BBC in London on Hiroshima Day. I was asked this question and somebody said to
me well Lawton's How do you justify the dropping of the bomb. And I said to him Well I don't know how can I justify the fact that I am alive and so many thousands of people fall bitten myself with killed in the war. It's not only Hiroshima but the whole of the war. I knew so many bad people like myself who were killed. I have no right to be alive but how can one justify it and I think you see the process of justification of the bomb is not in it. We still should or justified now as we live here. As I said to the Japanese doctor hey we must not let the bomb itself delude us into thinking that it's the bomb that is the evil. We only have to abolish a physical thing called the bomb and everything will be alright. The reality even though is the process in the human spirit which led to the
war and led ultimately which made the bomb necessity. I said we must really direct as the peace processes. And then secondly we must see that we and nations live in such a way that the bomb will never be dropped again that there will never be war again and only then can we say. That he is washing up and Nagasaki was justified. Well I don't want to give the impression that your whole book is about this one small compared to a small phase of the book because of course it isn't. It's an engrossing and and tragic and fascinating actually fascinating story of what life is like in a prison camp. Now you were organized in that camp to such an extent that you had radios. You had information from the outside you had documentation on what the Japanese will the admiral was had to field marshal field marshal to Roache he was planning and the Japanese had
no idea that you were doing this or that you knew would tell how you hid the radio when you were in your own particular little part of the camp. But the radio story was a terrible story for me because I was responsible for it all that I did to make the radio myself there were five of us in it and a graduate of fine radio. We had it went through many phases I won't go through them all but the final phase is the most interesting one thanks to an American force officer who was shot down and who had in his pocket when he was shot down by some curious fate. Some of these latest ACORN valves transister that we were able to make radio so small that we could build it into the wooden logs that we were wearing. We no longer had any issues. And when we had these dreadful searches which the Japanese instituted with incredible thought of this a couple of us would put on the wooden clogs and walk about in them. And through this radio
of course one of the most important things happened that we could keep in touch with the world outside not that we could radio back but we knew exactly how the world was going and this was very important to us. This plus the fact that I had established contact with a Christian very high up in Japanese intelligence who kept me posted of what was in the Japanese military mind. And we're doing these two things. I could tell. Exactly what the timing was and what we had to be afraid of. Not that we could do much about it but this was frightfully important for our morale. Unfortunately when this man it won't be that we were concentrated for the final massacre and all the signs were that the invasion of Southeast Asia which was going to be the sign for a massacre was about to take place when he warned me of this which was I think just a broad roundabout August the second our radio packed up
and we had no spares and we were at I would say and you stole parts from the common dance office. Yes well this you see is this is this is why my friends say it reads more like a thriller than anything else. But this really happened there was an incredible Scott with me a chap called Donaldson. And it was in the plot and it was a radio officer too. We broke into the Japanese carbon dance office where he kept some of these private. Looked like he was going to take back to Japan with him hopefully enormous refrigerator's and he had a passion for grammar fans and he had a very that is large and one of the latest radio gramophone radio grams in his office and Donaldson broke in at night while I kept watch. Two of us kept watch in effect and he got the part that we needed and we got the radio working and the very first night at the expert office at a New Zealand listened in.
He had the news of Hiroshima but he heard it late you didn't catch it all. We didn't quite what it was that the reception wasn't very good because he had adjustments to make. And he came to me as we stood in this large queue couldn't because we were so congested in this camp in which we were going to be massacred for obvious reasons that we used to standing in queues for the lavatory 24 hours a day as we were queuing up and there was this so we queued up in this queue and he came and me and he said Colonel I don't know what's happened but I don't know whether it's an act of God. I don't know whether it's a radio play but something most extraordinary has happened at a place called Russia in Japan today. He said if it's true it might change the whole war but I just can't make it out it's something catastrophic beyond our imagination and was only the second night the night of August the 7th. And I do the new Woden as I call it that we got
three stations the only thing we could get. San Francisco but and you're dead and we got the world reactions and then we realized then what had happened and then for the first time. I felt the god yet is that John's knowing the Japanese I went as a boy of eighteen and I spoke the language and I had lived among the people I thought oh my god this is the one thing that can make them feel so red and without shame as possible because this will look to them more like a supernatural event than a human infliction of as some of you are to a high level meeting of Japanese officers. Yes this is this was the most agonizing bit between August the 7th and August the 21st when I was sent for an age. I knew we were still in great that'll because the Japanese Kamandi now it iota area refused
to obey the Emperor. The employer had to send his brother Prince to go and plead with him to surrender and lay down his arms. And that this court had kept on saying to me be as careful as you have never been before because the slightest slight the slightest thing wrong will give him the excuse for which they are looking. And of course there might have been an element in revenge by as well by now and then on the afternoon of the 21st of August I was suddenly sent for by the Japanese. And I said to my second in command I said if I'm not back in then you must assume the worst and put Plan A into operation which was a rebellion plan you wouldn't had made up which involved really attacking them with stones when they came to attack you with guns. Yes that that is you remembers as another so exciting story how we got stones in the prison and now I had planned so that when they came to attack us with guns we would fight back with Stephens which is all that we could have and the object with the Stones was not to
not to win against the Japanese but in order to enable for Eurasians. To do escape in native Javanese dress and mingle with the Javanese take out word so that they could kill the allies when they came in. What happened to us. I felt this was very important because I felt that the wives and the husbands and the relations of my six thousand anyway had lived their lives with such immense dignity. With cottages you rarely see on the battlefield because it was a nobody was looking on. It was in that drab dismal circumstances I've never seen such dignity and courage. And I just wanted the people to know that they had could be proud of the settlers who were massacred. So this was the planned day that I told him which was I had a light plan we had a plan for the day and we had a plan for the night. We had a plan for a movie night we had various
plans. So I said put Plan A top into operation and I was summoned to the gates and I was on it because I was a frightened because I was not the overall commander of the camp I only commanded the military I was a senior military officer but not a senior senior officer and I thought well they must be sending for me because they found me out. And they found out about my radio. They found out my contact on the stuff and I've had it. But to my amazement they put in the stuff and they whisked me out to a place called Lemba high up on the side of a volcano called Congo which means the ship upside down always seemed to be symbolic about it because we were upside down and then in the very docks you ideas of the former Dutch oil magnate. A place which had been general way of headquarters where I'd said goodbye to general way of all when he left me behind to take charge of Gouda activity in the IDE and then I found a place
full of Japanese style facades and as I walked in I say walked in and I was staggered and I was so weak and my tattered uniform prison uniform. As I walked in with her homemade hat and a homemade hat which my Australian soldiers had made for me. Yes and I walked in. The Japanese officers all stood up and bowed to me and I said oh yeah god it's good. And I began trembling I hope not visibly at the knees and then the Japanese general. Produce some glasses filled with wine offered me a glass of wine which I refused and held up his glass and all these officers held up their losses and they spoke in English which they never admitted to speaking before and the general said. I drinks and see added to your victory. And he paused and then he added these words which to me are very faithful because they show more than anything else what the boma done he said. We
Japanese have decided to switch. And when we Japanese which we switch since yesterday and then I knew it was over and we had come through. You had some marvelous people in that camp. There was another radio in the camp which you knew about but which you were afraid to tell the other people you knew about for fear the word would spread and and both radios would be. Yes there's this radio I knew about. I confirmed it afterwards they were it was a party run. Very largely by a man whose didn't live to day. The Sultan of Pontianak in Borneo. A mock South Padre. Mark psychiatry was one of 400 children whose father was polygamous. The Sultan of Pontianak and Mark Maxwell Cowdrey had no idea that he would ever be anything except a Dutch army officer. He didn't know that his health family had been
wiped out wiped out by the Japanese and that he would find himself the only survivor and Sultan of Pontianak when he came out of prison he was a wonderful check next al Qadri gay debonair nonchalant he was a sort of Borneo and bows yes to a prison a modest chap to be good looking too. Epps cost for the Hollywood pot and Max and the group just like him ran a radio set and I knew that I could ask them but I wasn't going to do this because there was Eurasian spies. Of the Japanese in the camp and they were watching them just like this. I think they had a wind. What was up. And in order to protect them I'd made a particular body of these spies which didn't make me very popular. But I knew I had to soften them so that I could not but I bet this radio was peculiar. The possession of the Dutch prisoners and they hid them in the water and military in a military field flask. They cut it in half
on hinges and then they had a radio built inside and then listened in at night with the phones which they kept separately closed it up by day and then pulled the piece of military webbing back into position round it. Well we had been through this particular one and decided it was too dangerous because through my friend in Japanese intelligence as one continues I know that the Japanese searching a group going abroad which they might at any moment have done to us had discovered a radio like this. Inability candied and they'd cut off the heads of about 20 people as a result of it. My head is the first one to fall as the officer judge of this happened so we very quickly abandon the system and we develop the wooden clogs as a result. Tell me and we have about a minute and a half left. Did you ever see that I'm sure you did. You did see that the money was paid back to the Chinese who were giving you money to buy supplies to keep the men alive.
Yes that this was a great battle when I got back because the Chinese in the island some of whom had been part of my guerrilla force smuggled money into me so that we could bribe the Japanese to give us extra food. Without that we would all have been dead. Well they did lend me some fantastic sob. It doesn't sound much today but it was a lot in prison less than a hundred thousand pounds. Many on my web at the British government would pay it back one day and I had one hell of a job. When I came back to setting with my back its forces for another four years in the Far East to get this money out of the British government that they paid up and that I envy John and have helped us got every penny of it back. Well I'm sure if they hadn't Mr Churchill would have seen that they did. I'm certain I disagree Jack to what happened I said Mr Josh you may not be in power but if you don't hand over the money now I'm leaving for Africa in two days time they
said with a court martial you because you stood in the army. I said I'd welcome a quote national on the subject unless you pay out and now I'm going to see Winston and I'd ask him to help me in the matter and when they had they gave in. What a beautiful place and we've been talking with Lawrence binder post about his book the prison of the bomb which is both about his life in a Japanese prison camp in Java where he was captured when he was a guerilla and also about the impact of the atom bomb on things many hundreds of miles away which I think most people didn't realize and certainly I didn't I buy probably from the tribunal thank you very much for being with us. Book B has been made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- Book Beat
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- Book Beat is a literary radio program hosted by Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Cromie and made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. In each episode, Cromie interviews an author about a specific book theyve written or translated. Authors discuss the books background, topics, and themes as well as their research and writing process.
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