Interview with Mr. John A. Glusman
The author of Conduct Under Fire: Four American Doctors and Their Fight for Life as Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941-1945 (Viking, 2005, www.conductunderfire.com )
 

Congratulations on having published this remarkable book, Conduct Under Fire. Synopsis of your book, which received advanced praise from many prominent people including Professor John Dower, reads like the following. 

The fierce, bloody battles of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines are legendary in the annals of World War II. Those who survived faced the horrors of life as prisoners of the Japanese.

In Conduct Under Fire, John A. Glusman chronicles these events through the eyes of his father, Murray, and three fellow navy doctors captured on Corregidor in May 1942. Here are the dramatic stories of the fall of Bataan, the siege of "the Rock," and the daily struggles to tend the sick, wounded, and dying during some of the heaviest bombardments of World War II. Here also is the desperate war doctors and corpsmen waged against disease and starvation amid an enemy that viewed surrender as a disgrace. To survive, the POWs functioned as a family. But the ties that bind couldnít protect them from a ruthless counteroffensive waged by American submarines or from the B-29 raids that burned Japanís major cities to the ground. Based on extensive interviews with American, British, Australian, and Japanese veterans, as well as diaries, letters, and war crimes testimony, this is a harrowing account of a brutal clash of cultures, of a race war that escalated into total war.

Why did you want to write this book?

I wrote Conduct Under Fire so a new generation could understand the war in the Pacific from the point of view of the men--American and Japanese, as well as English, Filipino, Dutch, and Australian--who were a part of it. I wrote the book assuming that most readers had little, if any sense of the history of that conflict.  I was particularly concerned in presenting a balanced point of view.  Too often our histories are slanted by the nationality of the author. I was interested in the war from both perspectives. I worked closely with a Japanese researcher, Ishii Shinpei, and a translator--John Junkerman--who had been recommended to me by the historian, John Dower, author of War Without Mercy.

You wrote that while you were growing up your father did not speak much about his POW experience. There must be so many things that you learned for the first time about sufferings of POWs of the Japanese while you were researching. I understand also that you received support from members of the POW Research Network Japan. Can you describe what kind of experience it was to research for and write this book?
 

Another objective in writing the book was to take advantage of the memories and recollections of those veterans still alive. I extensively interviewed American and Filipino defenders of Bataan and Corregidor, and of course my father was instrumental in that process. We traveled together to the Philippines in 2001 and retraced his wartime itinerary there, from the Cavite Navy Yard, base of the Asiatic Fleet, which the Japanese destroyed two days after Pearl Harbor, to Bataan, the island fortress of Corregidor, where he was attached to the U.S. 4th Marines on beach defense, to his capture on Corregidor, his imprisonment in Bilibid Prison in Manila, and later, in Cabanatuan, sixty miles north of Manila. It was an extraordinary experience for both of us. He was 86 years old at the time, and the trip brought back many, many memories, some of them pleasant, but others, were clearly painful for him.

He had little interest in returning to Japan, so I went on a separate research trip with Ishii Shinpei.  We tracked down the sites of every major POW camp where my father was imprisoned, from Tsumori, and the notorious stadium camp, Itchioka in the Osaka area, to the Kobe POW hospital, to Maruyama outside of Kobe. I met quite a few members of the Japanese POW Network who were enormously useful in my continued research, and I was surprised and delighted by their interest in the subject. 
Lieutenant (j.g.) Murray Glusman, Medical Corps,
United States Naval Reserve, listed as missing
in the New York Herald Tribune.

 

You said to me that you would like to see this book translated in Japanese.  Why is it important for you that Japanese people have an opportunity to read your book?

I'm particularly eager to see Conduct Under Fire published in Japan.  Too many POW memoirs present only one side of the war; I made a deliberate attempt to present several.  For example, my father was lucky he wasn't killed during the American firebombing of Japan.  The hospital where he worked on the Allied medical staff, the Kobe POW Hospital, was destroyed by American B-29s on June 5, 1945. Several patients were killed; quite a few others were injured.  I wanted to present that fire raid from the perspective of the POWs on the ground, from the perspective of Japanese civilians whose homes were destroyed, and from the perspective of the American B-29 crewmen who carried out those raids.  So I was particularly eager to interview Japanese victims of the firebombing of Kobe, which I did.  I was told by one of my interviewees that my visit to her home was the first one ever made by a Westerner.  When her daughter listened to her account of the firebombing of Kobe, she was spellbound; her mother had told her nothing whatsoever about it up until this point.

That's one of the reasons I want to see this book published in Japan. I think a younger generation of Japanese needs to know about their country's role in the war, just as a younger generation of Americans needs to know about our role in the war. How else, then, can we understand each other as nations, as cultures, as friends?

Many tragic episodes of POW abuse by the Japanese are often explained as a result of a clash of cultures. Assuming that we, Japanese and Americans, are still influenced by each of our distinctive culture, how do you hope that your book will transcend that cultural difference and be accepted by Japanese readers? What do you think is universal message in you book?

Allied POWs suffered terribly at the hands of the Japanese. They were tortured, beaten, and starved. They were denied medical treatment, and robbed of their dignity. More than 60,000 Allied POWs died while in Japanese custody, a mortality rate between 34-37%.  By contrast, less than 1% of American POWs in Germany died. The reasons were many: racial antagonism, cultural naivete, linguistic problems, Japan's failure to ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, as well as a military ethos that permeated all aspects of Japanese life and came very close to destroying Japan itself. I've tried to capture some of the complexity of the war, show how thin a moral line there is in battle, how quickly behavior changes, frequently for the worse. Just as there were

Americans whose "conduct under fire" was heroic, there were some whose behavior was less than exemplary. Similarly, there were Japanese, and here I'm thinking in particular of Dr. Ohashi Hyojiro, commandant of the Kobe POW Hospital, who did everything within his power to improve the lot of the POWs in his charge. The Allied POW medical staff had an enormous amount of respect for Dr. Ohashi; indeed, it was a letter they wrote after the firebombing of Kobe thanking him for his considerate behavior that in all likelihood prevented him from being charged by the American authorities with war crimes. One of the highlights of my trip to Japan was meeting Dr. Ohashi's two daughters, and his grandson, Yoshihisa, who I think of as a friend.  I felt as if I were truly stepping across generations and back into the pages of history.

So I suppose if there is a universal message in this book it is one that asks the reader to weigh both sides of a story, to question a particular government's rationale for waging war, to uphold a universal sense of decency, morality, and a respect for human rights. That message seems more relevant now than ever.

Unlike many tales of the Pacific War where soldiers from both sides met in battlefields, it seems to be difficult for Japan and the U.S. to find a common ground on topics such as POW abuse, fire bombing of Japanese cities, and the dropping of the Atomic bombs.  How do you think we can overcome that? What efforts are needed on both sides?

The only way to overcome historic animosity, transgenerational trauma, is through education, cross-cultural dialogue, and self-examination.  Politicians have their own agendas, but we must bring them to task.  We cannot look the other way. We must take responsibility for our actions. Otherwise, we are bound to commit the same errors of our fathers and grandfathers. Otherwise there really will be no hope for world peace.

One researcher in the Japanese POW Network set up e-mail classes between her students and a variety of Americans.  I cannot tell you how thrilling it was for me to be in touch with a Japanese high school student who was learning about World War II for the first time, learning about her past, thrilled to discover of a part of her own history. That was a genuine trans-Pacific dialogue. The place to begin is with our children, which is why I dedicated Conduct Under Fire to my own children.

Did the Navy uniform on the jacket of your book belong to your father? 

Yes, the Navy uniform on the jacket of Conduct Under Fire was my father's. He kept it stored in a metal footlocker, along with two Bronze Stars, and a photograph taken of the Allied medical staff of the Kobe POW Hospital.  As a child, I rarely saw that footlocker open, but I was fascinated by it.  Who was the man who wore it? What experiences did he encounter during the war? What could I learn from it? Now, so many years later, I know at least some of the answers to those questions.

You wrote about your father's postwar years as follows:

His postwar career in neurological research was launched at New York State Psychiatric Institute, and he won a position as an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia. His research took off, and in a double promotion he leaped over an associate professorship to become a full professor. He used his training in neurology to specialize in behavioral physiology, with a focus on the neural mechanism in the brain that trigger responses with which he was all too familiar: fear, anxiety, and aggression.

Your father passed away this January.
You said that he was able to read Conduct Under Fire in its entirety. What did he say?

My father read the book in its entirety in manuscript form.  He was an avid reader of histories and biographies, and he was a very tough critic. In later years, he began to write newspaper editorials on a variety of issues, some pertaining to the war and to Japanese-American relations. I thought he might shy away from the more personal details I revealed of his life, but he didn't at all. He was enormously proud of Conduct Under Fire, impressed with the breadth and depth of my research, and I know he learned a good deal from it. But to the end of his life, he downplayed his own role in the story. "We did nothing extraordinary," he said. "We lived in extraordinary times."



 Mr. Glusman in the Philippines   Courtesy Arvin Quintos


(interviewed by Kinue Tokudome)