Article on the Bataan Death March
Published in Japan's Premier Magazine, Bungei Shunju

by Yuka Ibuki

An article entitled "A Woman Retraced the Entire Route of the Bataan Death March Alone" appeared in the December, 2005  issue of Bungei Shunju, one of Japan's most widely read monthly magazines. The author, a 30-year-old female journalist Ms. Yukie Sasa, views the sneak attack of Pearl Harbor and the POW abuse on Bataan as the two incidents that the United State used to justify its fire bombing of Japanese cities and the dropping of the atomic bombs that killed non-combatants including women and children indiscriminately. Compared to the Pearl Harbor attack, she wrote, there were very little information available on the Bataan Death March and very few journalists retraced the actual route of the March.  This is the article she wrote after she retraced the actual and entire route of the Death March.

She made plans to walk, with no baggage, from Mariveles (Southern tip of the Bataan Peninsula) to the train station in San Fernando in 4 days plus an extra day along the markers maintained by FAMEiFilipino American Memorial Endowment).  Although admitting that it would be difficult to recreate the physical condition of the POWs at that time, the author wrote that having just participated in a 12-day memorial tour to  Bougainville island she was not feeling well and happened to be in a condition that she could not eat.  

She started to walk on October 13. Unlike the dry season in April, October is a rainy season. It only rained during the night, however, and the temperature reached 100 F in the afternoons and 102 F on the third day. The distance of the March that the author had found through her research varied, but the most common was "60 kilometers (37.3 miles) in 4-5 days," she wrote. Her major theme was "was it a systematic atrocity by the Japanese military?" And she wrote about her march each day in a journal style. The markers discontinued near Lubao, which was the 87 kilometer (54 miles) point, and she proceeded on a newly constructed straight road. She finished the entire march in 4 days and found out that it was 102 kilometers (63.4 miles).   

"POWs were not told where they were being taking to. Without knowing the destination, the march must have been hard. It seems like it would continue forever." The author practiced what Lester Tenney wrote in My Hitch in Hell--walk with a goal-- and it worked for her.  

The author introduced witness testimonies from the record of the War Crimes Office. "(Japanese soldiers) forbade us to get water from any source and herded us as if we were animals." However, she raised questions as to whether all such records were credible. She wrote that they were the testimonies that were gathered based upon the assumption that an atrocity of the Death March did take place and that the facts could not be established since opposing testimonies were not treated equally during the war crimes tribunal. 

Having found out that the author herself could walk the actual distance of the Death March, she wrote that the plan to move POWs itself was not unreasonable. It chose the shortest route possible and "it was not correct to condemn it as a systematic atrocity." She continued to ask if the biggest reason for the many deaths was illnesses such as Malaria that many POWs were already suffering from. "That fact does not justify the Death March, of course, but at least it is not correct to say as if the Japanese military bore all the responsibility." She argued that the most pressing objective for the Japanese military at that time was to take Corregidor and that transporting POWs under those circumstances could not be held to a peace time humanitarian standard.       

Lastly, the author introduced an incident where a death march was forced upon Japanese soldiers who became POWs on Nauru island in the Gilbert Islands by the Australian troops. After landing on Bougainville Island, the Northern most island of the Solomon Islands, Japanese soldiers were made to empty their canteens and were forced to march to Tanakina camp 30 kilometers away under the hot sun. Australian soldiers deliberately spoiled river water so that Japanese POWs could not drink from it. 

Upon receiving a debriefing from a POW who escaped from the Death March, the author  wrote,  MacArthur swore revenge by saying, "It will be my utmost duty to seek justice on a proper occasion." She went on to write that the Death March, together with Pearl Harbor, "became the slogan that roused hatred in the United States."

Seeing the same cycle of hatred that only deepens the conflict in the current Iraq War, the author wrote, "What prevents cycle of hatred from being perpetuated is to know the facts." and concluded "When we know the facts it will become apparent that there is no such thing that only one side is to blame."

* Please read the PostScript to this episode.