For FALL 2010's delicious offerings of books, art, food, film, and unique travel--check out the NEW ISSUE of our online magazine FEAST--you will not go away hungry-- http://www.feastofbooks.com/

Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor

SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!

Snax Online is undergoing a redesign and will be moving to a new location. Check back from time to time for a link. In its new format, this blog will cover a wider range of topics but also its usual five. In the meantime, keep up with what's happening in the world of books, art, food, film, and travel at http://www.FEASTofBooks.com --

See you in 2011!!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Lessons on War: Bataan Death March Not Old News

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and its Aftermath, Michael Norman and Elizabeth Norman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2009) (out in paperback March 2010). What a story! This book is a very readable, astounding accomplishment based on ten years of research, thousands and thousands of travel miles, hundreds of interviews, and the support of numerous scholars and ordinary people to bring it to fruition.

I had always heard about the Bataan Death March, of course, but the details set out here, often using quotes from among the 76,000 US and Filipino captive soldiers that were on the march, tear at the soul. That our US servicemen were treated so brutally, starved, tortured, and murdered for the least imaginable “offense” is so unacceptable that it can never be forgiven.

Don’t think for a moment that this is a one-sided presentation dolled up to make the US look good and Japan look savage. The Normans spent countless hours digging among Japanese archives and interviewing Japanese military survivors so that they could include accounts from that side of the war as well and perhaps comprehend the enemy’s mindset. An impossible task, in my view. The Japanese treatment of prisoners of war was savage and there is something to think about in this book about the nature of war as it is being conducted today and who it is that truly bears the suffering in all wars.
This book grips like a novel and I think one key reason is that the authors used the story of one young Montana cowboy, Ben Steele, who survived the march and is one of the few from those days still living, as a vehicle for telling the story of thousands of others. As readers, we connect with Ben—the story becomes so much more than just facts and figures, a bunch of history dates, or military battle reports. The Normans wove personal recollections of specific people on each side of the conflict and help us to see these historic events through the lens of individuals. The book details and investigates a figure we’ve all read about in the history books—Douglas MacArthur—and reveals him as a man more concerned with saving his own ass than with performing his duties as a leader. MacArthur was no hero, but a deeply flawed, narcissistic coward and liar. As in all wars there were botched plans and ill-conceived communications; chaos; and personal egos and agendas influencing outcomes.

One of this book’s strengths is that it widens the focus from just the circumstances of the march to include events that led up to it, the post-march conditions for the captives, and an account of the US trial of two war criminals when the war was over. Ben Steele, who upon his return to Montana after the war became a professor of art, contributed the poignant illustrations throughout the volume. This is the kind of quality journalism we should see more of in the publishing world and this book should be required reading in Washington.

To read more about the book: http://www.tearsinthedarkness.com

Go here to see a 5-part video series of Ben Steele telling his story: http://www.tearsinthedarkness.com/video-book
-- Rosemary Carstens


Laurel Kallenbach said...

This book sounds gripping! My dad loves reading WWII history, so I'll put it on a list for gift ideas for his upcoming birthday. Thanks for sharing about a book on an important topic--and interesting perspective.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this book. It sounds like something my book club would enjoy.

Anonymous said...

Excellent review, although a grizzly topic you make me want to read it. Thanks