Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tears in the Darkness

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, was a gift from our friend Eli the last time we visited Manila. Considering the facts that the book has attained “best seller” status, that it took 10 years to research, and that the authors are New York University professors, we expected this to be the best book on the subject of American POWs of the Japanese since Ghost Soldiers, and it might well be. The main subject was Ben Steele, a former POW whom we had the good fortune of meeting at the 2008 Convention of the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor.

However, Steve immediately began to notice factual problems in the book, which tainted his reading from then on. He believes that when, for example, a map is included, the text should agree with the map. Statements that are “matter of fact” should indeed be factual. And the book should not contain contradictory factual statements unless clarified, as in two people having different memories of the same event. He noted exceptions to these standards. As you will see from the notes that follow, there are far too many factual errors that could have easily been spotted and corrected before publication.

We sent Steve’s initial comments to the married authors, Michael and Elizabeth Norman. Elizabeth replied with a “Thank you very much” email, but also said that since the paperback was scheduled for release in March, the errors which Steve pointed out could not be corrected. Since that time, Marcia has read the book and her comments are now incorporated.

Tears includes the memories and diary entries of several Japanese soldiers and officers, and from that standpoint, it is a necessary addition to a Death March collection. Steve considers the following to be a few of its superior predecessors:
• Stanley Falk: Bataan: The March of Death – First classic of the genre (and cited by the authors of Tears)
• Donald Knox: Death March: The Survivors of Bataan – Consists almost entirely of statements of the POWs themselves
• Gavan Daws: Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific – The best of the bunch for an overall understanding of the affects of being a POW
• Hampton Sides: Ghost Soldiers – Easy to read, fascinating story of the daring and miraculous rescue of the POWs from the Cabanatuan POW camp

Marcia, being less of a technical and numbers person (read “less of a nerd”) and more of a personal story reader, found the book more enjoyable. The authors used too many unnecessary obscure or archaic words which hindered the book’s flow. She enjoyed the post-war details of Ben’s life, but felt that the reader should not be left to wonder if he recovers from the end-of-book medical crisis.

The primary character is Ben Steele, but General Homma becomes a central character. Both are portrayed as men who were caught up in events beyond their control. We both can feel a certain amount of sympathy for Homma the man, because he was clearly not the typical Japanese military man. However, we found the apparent attempt to elicit equal sympathy levels for Homma and Steele demeaning to the suffering of Ben and all of the POWs. Homma, in his command position, was ultimately responsible for their suffering.

You may be wondering why Steve, especially, is so critical of Tears. The answer is because it has become a best-seller. He is not nearly so critical of the many first-hand accounts, written by men who are not professional writers, who do not have scores of people behind the scenes to assist in writing or proofing the text to ensure accuracy and consistency. Granted, Steve is critical, but to be fair, he also critically acclaims many portions of the book, saying that they are excellent, outstanding, or the best he has ever read on the subject. And he does recommend the book, noting that the interviews with certain Japanese add new insights into the plight of the POWs, which is his ultimate concern.

The following notes were sent to the Normans:

Tears in the Darkness had been recommended to us by several people in recent months. Living as we do on a remote island, and on a tight retirement budget, we are very selective about purchases here in the Philippines, and must be conscious of weight restrictions when returning from U.S. visits. We were delighted to receive your book in November as a gift from a Filipino friend.

We have not read any reviews of the book. The observations that we make are entirely our own. We understand that the book is a best-seller and therefore our criticisms are probably in the minority. However, the errors that we point out are just that, errors. As Steve often states, there are facts and there are opinions. Whether or not Douglas MacArthur was a great general is an opinion. Whether or not he was a coward, as implied by the nick-name “Dugout Doug,” is not an opinion. In fact, he was brave to the point of appearing suicidal, demonstrated by his standing in the open counting Japanese bombers passing over Corregidor, something reported by Steve’s father and many others. You wrongfully leave readers with the impression that he was a coward. We’d recommend Amea Willoughby’s book, I Was on Corregidor, for one eyewitness account of his prolonged stays outside the tunnel.

We are always glad when a book or movie brings the war in the Pacific and the plight of the POWs of the Japanese to the minds of the American public, and therefore we are very pleased that this book has become a best-seller. The English editing in the book is outstanding. We found only one gross grammatical error where the word “the” was missing from a sentence. One of Steve’s degrees is in English, the other in physics. Marcia majored in English and has an allied-health degree, and we are both very well read. Because of our intense interest in the subject matter, we read books like yours as if they were textbooks, and are disappointed when we encounter inaccuracies.

That Tears in the Darkness contains a number of errors distresses us, especially since you name a number of editors who should have pointed them out to you. Some of the items we have listed beneath the title “Errors” are just that, verifiable errors, while others are cases of conflicting information within the book.

We are currently staying on the island of Corregidor. We are very familiar with Corregidor and quite familiar with the Death March routes and the prison camps, having toured these areas and studied the subject for years. We are intimately acquainted with Col. Art Matibag, director of the Corregidor Foundation. Leslie Murray of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines is one of our best friends here. Both are referenced at the back of your book and can vouch for our veracity and knowledge of the subject matter.

General observations:
• The title of the book is “Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.” This would lead the reader to expect the material to almost totally focus on the Death March and its aftermath. In fact the Death March is covered in 56 pages. There are more pages (174) about events which precede the Death March (seven of which are placed in the book after the story of the march) than the 168 pages that deal with aftermath. Thus the subtitle is misleading.
• “Tears in the Darkness” comes from a paragraph about Homma on page 113. It does not appear to refer in any way to the American POWs who suffered their own “tears in the darkness” – and tears in the daylight – for over three years.
• The map at the opening of the book does not include many places of significance to the story, even some that are frequently mentioned. One example would be Mt. Samat, but there are many. We’d suggest either a more comprehensive map or multiple maps.
• The chapter on the trial of Masaharu Homma is 43 pages long. We don’t see why more than 10% of the book covers that one side topic. Although interesting, a few pages would have been more than sufficient. The Homma trial could be its own book. Also, there is no mention of the U.S. failing to prosecute the foremost war criminal, the man at the top: Emperor Hirohito. This book seems at least as much an apologetic for MacArthur’s treatment of Homma as an attempt to describe the horrors that occurred under Homma’s command.
• The story of Masanobu Tsuji’s presence and actions on Bataan (pages 371-2, during the Homma defense) is interesting, but is left unresolved, since the only material on him appears to come from potentially-suspect Japanese sources even when contained in books by others. Tsuji’s behavior was introduced during the trial in an apparent attempt to exonerate Homma. The CIA refusal to confirm or deny information about Tsuji is also provocative. Homma himself, however, stated his personal moral responsibility for the actions of his men.
• The final chapter, especially the ending, left Steve flat. Having been privileged to sit down and talk with Ben Steele in 2008, he knew Ben had survived his recent health scare. The book does not say so. Steve just didn’t get any “warm and fuzzy” with this as the end of the book. On the other hand, Ben’s reunion with his family had him in tears. Marcia enjoyed the post-war material but also felt that the readers should not be left to wonder if Ben recovered.
• Your readers – even English majors – should not need to refer to their dictionaries so often. This does not present itself as a technical book, or one written for the super-educated elite. At least we hope not. We apparently are not alone. Steve ran several of the words past a 1957 University of Michigan graduate with a degree in English who was not familiar with a single one of them.
• Despite clear references to the POWs being used as slave laborers in coal mines, factories, and other venues that supported the Japanese war machine, there is no mention of these facts: the American POWs have never received one yen of reparations in the form of pay from the Japanese government or the companies which survived during and thrived after the war; neither have these POWs ever received an apology from the Japanese government. You must be aware of this, since the principal in the effort to obtain reparations and an apology is Lester Tenney, whom you interviewed and quoted on pages 173 and 191-2.
• The book seems to be unsure of its purpose. Is it Ben Steele’s story, as Peter Matthiessen claims on the back cover? If so, there is a lot of extraneous material (in particular, the Homma trial.) Is it, as stated, the story of the Death March and its aftermath? If so, why include so much preliminary material? Or is trying to gain sympathy for Homma – appearing to equate his suffering to Steele’s – a hidden agenda? We find it curious that Homma’s story consumes so many pages, yet he is not mentioned anywhere on the dust jacket.

Errors: the following should be corrected as soon as possible:
• p. XI – Location of Camp O’Donnell on map is the one currently in use, which is 20 to 25 miles west-northwest of Capas, Tarlac. Camp O’Donnell (the prison camp) and site of current Capas National Shrine is about three miles out of town, as correctly stated on p. 222.
• p. 3 – Very first sentence of book states that the Philippine Islands lie “in the warm tropical waters of the South China Sea.” That is like saying that the United States lies in the Pacific Ocean. In fact the South China Sea is only one of several seas that surround the Philippines, including the Philippine, Sulu, Celebes, and Mindanao Seas.
• p. 15 – “…the 31st Infantry, the only ‘All-American’ army regiment in the islands.” The 59th and 60th Coast Artillery Regiments were “All-American” and garrisoned on Corregidor.
• p. 25 – There is the misconception, repeated here, that the Philippines was to be attacked “roughly at the same moment” as Pearl Harbor, which lies “some five thousand miles [and at the time five and one half time zones] to the east.” “The same moment” would have been 2:00 AM in the Philippines. The earliest the Philippines could have been hit, i.e. sunrise, would have been roughly three hours after Pearl Harbor.
• p. 28 – “…high pressure sucking the low pressure from every recess around it…” High pressure doesn’t “suck,” low pressure does, producing a vacuum effect.
• p. 71 – The old National Road “began at Mariveles, the tip of the peninsula, and ran hard north by the bay forty-one miles…” The first nine miles is almost straight east to Cabcaben, as stated correctly on p. 168. The map on p. XI clearly shows this. Again on p. 146 the text states, “[the soldiers] were streaming south from Cabcaben down the Old National Road.” “South” would have put them into Manila Bay heading straight for Corregidor. This is also obvious on the map.
• p. 115 – “…MacArthur, who was holed up underground in a command tunnel on Corregidor…” and p. 121 – “For the most part [MacArthur] stayed holed up underground on the island of Corregidor…” In fact, MacArthur spent as much time as possible outside of the tunnel – too much to suit his aides. He, his wife and their son lived in a house a quarter mile east of the Malinta Tunnel entrance, staying there whenever possible, and only going inside the tunnel when the Japanese bombing was most intense, which wasn’t very often before he left for Australia. It is true that he only visited the men on Bataan once (not mentioned in the book if we remember correctly), and these are the men who gave him the nickname “Dugout Doug.” It was about as accurate a nickname as calling Wilt Chamberlain “Shorty.”
• p. 121 – Malinta Hill begins at sea level and is between 425 and 430 feet high, not 390. The tunnel is 24-feet wide, not 30. And most importantly, the tunnel’s main shaft is 836 feet long (less than one-sixth of a mile), not “almost a mile long,” as the book states. The entire tunnel complex is well over two miles in length.
• p. 123 – Washington’s Birthday is not February 23, it is the 22nd, unless it was changed without our knowledge.
• p. 167 states that the Death March began on April 10, while p. 361 says April 9. (Some men claim to have already started marching on the 9th. We’ve seen both dates, but not in the same book unless speaking of some of the men having started on one day and some on the other.)
• p. 233 – “…the island’s beach force of four thousand marines, sailors, and Filipino soldiers had been bombed and starved to the breaking point.” This totally disregards the largest contingent: the men of the U.S. Army. Further confusing the matter, on the next page you state that there were 9,000 Americans and 2,000 Filipinos who became prisoners of war. The exact numbers are impossible to determine for two reasons. The totals included the men from the other three fortified islands in Manila Bay, and also included the roughly 2,000 who came over from Bataan in early April. A better estimate of those surrendered on Corregidor would be 8,000 Americans and 3,000 Filipinos.
• pgs. 233-4 – “They fought the invaders fiercely, fought them for nearly a day.” H-Hour is considered to be 11:30 P.M. on May 5, when Battery Way began firing at the Japanese landing craft amassing at Cabcaben. The first craft reached Corregidor’s shore at 12:30 A.M. May 6. Tanks were brought ashore by 10:30 A.M., and at 11:05 A.M. the first surrender message was sent by radio. Therefore the fierce fighting lasted less than 12 hours, or half a day.
• p. 296 – “In July 1944, his name appeared…” Since the ship set sail on July 2, the name would have appeared on the list in June at Cabanatuan, prior to moving the men to Bilibid and then to the ship. Steve’s father was also on this list and they would have been transported together.
• p. 318 – “September 1, 1944…” According to every source I’ve seen, including the sworn testimony of Col. Guy Haines Stubbs, who was ranking officer on board, the trip took 62 days, beginning on July 2 and ending at Moji on September 2. The passage through Shimonoseki must therefore have occurred on or after September 2.

Questionable statements that should be considered for revision:

• p. 44 – “Luzon… a roughly rectangular tract of land...” Luzon is very irregular in shape. One might say the northern half of the island is “roughly rectangular,” but the southern half is a narrow and meandering strip.
• p. 72 – “…with the temperature often over a hundred degrees…” The actual temperature almost never hits 100 degrees, although the high is usually 95-98 with high humidity at that time of year. We also question that, “The humidity never dropped below 75%, even in the dry season….” It certainly does on Corregidor, three miles away.
• p. 88 – “magandang gabi” is not Tagalog for “good evening.” This is a technical point, but the phrase literally means “beautiful evening.” “Good” in Tagalog is mabuti, thus mabuting gabi, although the term is not used as a greeting.
• p. 188 – “…in all 76,000 captives passing through a staging and rest depot…” in Balanga. On page 414 it says 76,000 “in theory” started the Death March, and on page 199 the book says that Zoeth Skinner stopped counting at 1,000 bodies, “before or just after Balanga.” Obviously both numbers could not be the same 76,000. The note on page 414 also states, “Approximately 500 Americans and perhaps as many as 2,500 Filipinos” died on the Death March. Although estimates have been decreased over the years, we have never before read or heard anyone claim that less than 5,000 Filipinos died on the Death March, and the number is usually stated as between five and ten thousand. By the book’s math, all of the 76,000 soldiers made it to Balanga (roughly half the distance of the march) but that 15,000-17,000 Filipinos disappeared between Balanga and Camp O’Donnell. This is extremely unlikely. Certainly some Filipinos escaped at points along the entire route. These numbers, especially those of dead and missing Filipinos, need to be reconsidered, since they defy logic and vary radically from generally accepted figures.
• p. 230 – Vertigo is not best described as “severe disorientation.” “Severe dizziness” or “disequilibrium” would be better terms. Disorientation is usually used to describe a person’s mental status, being considered closer to dementia than to dizziness. Since this occurs in a list of medical terms and definitions, the clinically correct terminology would be preferable. (Marcia has suffered from severe vertigo, has done extensive research on the topic, and underwent a rare surgical procedure to remedy most of her symptoms.)

Questionable vocabulary: archaic usages, fancy language:
• p. 10 – “supernumeraries”
• p. 15 – “toft and croft” describing “Manila’s fabled Army and Navy club”
• p. 44 – “bight” and “debouched the defiles”
• p. 75 – “agitprop” and “hidebound” (same sentence) and “sybarites”
• p. 78 – “alembics” totally unnecessary word, since the description which follows is much more helpful and apparently defines alembics.
• p. 85 – “abattoir”
• p. 171 – “suppurate” Marcia does not recognize the word despite her wound-care experience. Could use a word such as “oozing.”
• p. 188 – “tatterdemalions,” meaning something like “ragamuffins,” but neither word does justice to their actual condition at the time.
• p. 189 – “helpless against the ‘exigencies’ of the disease…” “Effects”, “symptoms” or “realities” would all be better than “exigencies”.
• p. 190 – “dysphoric”
• p. 319 – “colliery” is not defined until the bottom of page 322, after being used again earlier on 322.
• p. 343 – “panjandrum”
• p. 354 – “atavistic”
• p. 356 – “… some ‘tony’ Manhattan law firm.” “Tony” might make sense to a New Yorker, but Midwesterners are not familiar with the term.
• p. 362 – “opprobrium”
• p. 373 – “pettifoggery”

Questionable phrasing and incorrect grammar:
• p. 43 – “…then he made the general commander…” “General” appears to be an adjective modifying the word “commander,” rather than what it actually is: a reference to General MacArthur.
• p. 75 – “And from this land of libertines…” This sentence begins a paragraph. The authors appear to be characterizing American soldiers as “unfit and immoral.” Is this the authors’ opinion? The rest of the paragraph clearly reflects Japanese thought on the subject.
• p. 162 – “…across the bay to Manila, Cavite, Bulacan.” This is confusing. These are three separate destinations (a city and two provinces), but it sounds like one location.
• p. 166 – The term “clown” is used for a Japanese soldier. This appears to be from a story told by Richard Gordon, but if so the “clown” comment should be in quotes. It looks like the authors’ word choice.
• p. 191 – “Suddenly, one of unconscious men…” missing “the”.
• p. 191 – “grotesques” is used to describe abandoned, unburied corpses of the POWs. The terminology seems inhumane, without dignity. Why not “corpses” or bodies?”
• p. 233 – “No daydreams, no ideas, but in things.” This is a confusing sentence, becoming clear in context only after several re-readings. It might be better phrased as “No daydreams, no ideas, but focusing on things.”
• p. 237 – “derelicts” is used to describe unburied corpses of the POWs. A very poor choice for these honorable men.
• p. 256 – “…they damn near died.” This is probably a quote but not cited as such, and could be better stated as “…they nearly died.”
• p. 262 – The lead sentences in the first two paragraphs (Steve Kramerich story) are out of sequence. The introductory line starts the second paragraph rather than the first. Second paragraph should start with, “Kramerich could not remember who he was,” and the descriptive clause should move to the first paragraph’s opening line.
• P; 269 – “falciparum malaria” Since you name varieties of malaria, an explanation of the differences would be helpful.
• p. 344 – “[MacArthur] … abandoned his men to the enemy’s tender mercies.” To which “tender mercies” of the Japanese is this referring?

Steve found the following statements and sections particularly insightful:

• p. 17 – In November, 1941, there were “nearly 31,000 troops (19,000 Americans, 12,000 Philippine Scouts)”
• p. 25 – Japan had no chance to defeat the U.S. “Japan’s only chance was to win as much as they could as quickly as they could, then sue for peace and the status quo.”
• p. 40 – The Filipinos “came into training camps speaking a hundred regional languages and dialects, and orders often had to be translated and retranslated three or four times before a man could understand them.”
• pgs. 64-65 – General Maeda’s plan to skip Manila and destroy USAFFE immediately, which might well have changed the outcome of the war. (This in addition to the fact that Bataan and Corregidor held out as long as they did are the keys to why Japan did not win the Pacific war, and cannot be stressed enough in a world history discussion.)
• p. 73 – General Homma loses his 48th Division, a major blow, and the reason he had to stop the pursuit into Bataan.
• pgs. 78-79ff. – Good explanation of why the Japanese soldiers were such brutal savages.
• p. 120 – “Bataan… was among the most fertile breeding grounds in the world for the mosquitoes that transport the malaria parasite.”
• p. 135 – Japanese father to his son – “Don’t come back anything but dead.”
• p. 154 – First surrender of “an entire army” in U.S. history.
• pgs. 188-191 – The description of the filth at the Balanga rest site is outstanding.
• pgs. 202-214 – The description of the Pantingan massacre is outstanding, the best summary we’ve ever read. Captivating.
• pgs. 298-305 – Good description of Canadian Inventor voyage.
• p. 305 – Hellship numbers; one in five transported by Hellship died or was killed aboard. This accounts for a very high percentage of allied POW deaths under the Japanese. Although we don’t remember seeing the statement in Tears, virtually every ex-POW with whom we have spoken has said that the Hellships were worse than the Death March.
• p. 306-308 – Arisan Maru description excellent
• p. 308-317 – Oryoku, Enoura, and Brazil Maru accounts; very well written, particularly the description of suffocation on p. 308.

Overall, we liked the book and will recommend it. It may not seem like it because we are so critical, but we are very meticulous readers and writers. Many of the descriptions are outstanding, as we indicate. Since the map and the very first sentence of the book contain errors, however, Steve especially started off frustrated and with a more heightened sensitivity for misinformation. We understand that our comments on the style of the book, particularly on the emphasis on General Homma, reflect our own perspective. But we do ask that you make every effort to correct the errors and questionable statements as soon as possible.

For reader comments on this review of Tears in the Darkness, see

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