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.
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
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.
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
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."