During the past months letters from American POWs in North Koren camps have appeared in local and Mainland newspapers. Here in the islands the English-Japanese dailies —the Hawaii Hochi and the Hawaii Times—have published several letters in their Japanese sections, but the two English dailies have generally ignored the letters.
Is the letters were critical of the treatment the POWs were receiving in North Korean camps, the letters would undoubtedly have made front-page headlines. Only recently, fabricated stories of the mass murder of Americans by the North Korean and Chinese troops, released by an American colonel, made banner heads. This particular story brought unnecessary sorrow and bitterness, to numerous American families that have lost their sons, fathers and other relatives or who have men fighting in Korea.
But the story boomeranged as a manufactured piece. The overplayed stunt did not click. The Washington administration, seeing the adverse results, disclaimed responsibility and General Ridgway, who, according to Time magazine had almost an identical report ready for submission at the nation's capital, had to slap the colonel's wrist.
Since then American POWs, who have been informed about the reports on bad treatment they are supposed to be receiving, have written home to relatives that they are being treated well, much better than they had expected. Many had expected to be slaughtered upon capture, because they had been told just that by their superiors.
Reminded of Riots and Shooting In Relocation Camps
Letters like these bring relief to families of GIs, and as family members of a soldier in Korea said to me recently, they are happy their son is not in a POW camp like those run by the allied forces in South Korea where rioting and shootings have been taking place. One of them said that all this seems to be in a pattern with the poor management of Mainland relocation centers for Nisei and their parents, particularly during the early part of the last war."
During the last war I had an especially keen interest in POW treatment, not only because I was assigned to psychological warfare, but because I spent some time in the Manzanar Relocation Center and had volunteered for the army from behind barbed wire. I observed American treatment of Japanese POWs on the Burma front, then the Chinese Nationalist treatment of POWs and finally the Chinese Communist handling of their war prisoners.
We Visit the School for Japanese POWs
In Yenan, I had an intense schedule of work in the fall of 1944, for I planned to remain in the Communist-led areas of China for only a month in observing the prisoner of war re-education and the psychological warfare the POW converts conducted.
A few days after I arrived in Yenan, Sanzo Nosaka, who directed the prisoner re-education project, took me and a State Department official to the headquarters of the Japanese Workers and Peasants School. As we walked halfway up the hill with an ancient pagoda perched on its top, a group of Japanese dressed in faded blue, home-spun uniforms, puttees and rope sandals like those of the 18th Group Army, met us.
These men were cadres—re-educated prisoners of war who were now teachers and officials of the school and the Japanese People's Emancipation League, an anti-Japanese militarist organization. Only one was not a POW. He was Jun Sawada, a veteran Communist from Japan, who had smuggled himself into North China in 1943 after his release from prison.
Policy Was To Call POWs Students
We came to a patio which was a deep terrace cut into the hillside. On the face of the cliff, which was cut perpendicularly were dozens of caves tunnelled into the hillside. Pieces of paper with drawings and writings were tacked up on the loess wall with tiny wooden pegs. There was an article criticizing lazy students who did not take study and production for self-efficiency seriously. I read several news commentaries on the Pacific and European wars. There was a long editorial exposing the emperor myth. All had been written by students, None of the POWs was referred to as a prisoner; all were students. This was the policy of the Chinese Communists.
A group of students came out of a cave and saluted Nosaka These were new students who had recently fallen captive and been sent to the rear for re-education.
Consider "You Have Died, Then You Have Nothing To Lose"
Nosaka spoke informally and softly to the new students, and I took notes. He said:
"You are undergoing a very difficult period of re-adjustment When you were captured some of you must have considered suicide because of disgrace. Let me tell you that it is not a shame to fall into an antagonist's hands.
Rather it is a great loss if you do not live to serve in rebuilding a new Japan. Consider that all of you have died once; then you have nothing to lose. You must inject new spirit and thinking into yourselves. If you do this, it will be in your power to realize the impossible. We do hot coerce you. You are free to think for yourselves. But I ask you to cast away your prejudices against us and objectively examine and study what we have to say and offer. You may agree or disagree. That is up to you."
Former Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Taught Simplified Marxism
The school was divided into three sections—A for beginners, B for intermediate and C for advanced students. The full course nominally took one year but actually, students never stopped studying.
We attended a lecture held in a mud-walled, thatched auditorium. The students who marched into classrooms carried) crudely-made, low wooden stools. The lecturer was a husky, bull-necked former corporal in the Japanese army. A graduate of Tokyo's Kokushikan Semmon Gakko, which centered its education around the "Code of Bushido," he had once taught jiu-jitsu at the Osaka police department. He was teaching Marxism at Yenan in simple terms so that the most backward student could understand. His course on "political common sense" included lectures on wage, price and commodities, the role of labor, nature of feudalism and capitalism and so on.
The majority of these students, some in their late thirties and early forties, were peasants and workers. I noticed that some could hardly read or write well enough to carry on their studies. I was surprised to see them sitting there in an ill-lighted hall, each with a piece of writing board on his lap, painfully scribbling in his notebook.
Former Laborers and Farmers Learned Fastest
I returned to the school almost every day to talk to students, study their attitudes and see how much of this new teaching they absorbed. The students took for granted that one day they would return to Japan. This was a big morale point and motivated their efforts.
At night I observed other study groups, where students discussed the subject matter of the day's lectures. New students generally repeated by rote. The more advanced students showed greater independent thinking.
One night I heard fifteen students discuss economic exploitation in Japan in terms of their own experiences. They strove tot show how as farmers, laborers and tradesmen they had been squeezed by landlords and capitalists. Because of their past experiences, I found that laborers and farmers grasped their lessons much faster than intellectuals.
First Approach—Preferential POW Treatment
It soon became evident that there was a lot more to this project that changed the Japanese soldiers who had been imbued with the teachings of "bushido." I talked to the Chinese Communist psychological warfare specialists and to Americans of our observer section who returned from guerrilla bases far behind Japanese lines. All of them gave me the same story on Chinese prisoner treatment, and later, as my stay in North China was extended, I was able to verify these earlier accounts given me.
"We cannot succeed with prisoner re-education without the basic policy and support of the Chinese Communists," Nosaka told me. "Their policy and our policy is preferential treatment of prisoners."
He said that from the "moment of capture or surrender the prisoners were given good treatment. This initial approach is necessary in the case of all prisoners, even those who were set free and allowed to go back to their units.
The Angry Peasants Preferred To See Dead Japanese
In the initial period, out of 2,407 prisoners, the Communist troops kept only 322. The POWs were returned after a short antiwar indoctrination because the Chinese had no facilities at that time to re-educate all the captives.
There was a serious problem of the vengeance and bitterness of the Chinese peasants who suffered from the Japanese "three-all policy" of killing, looting and burning. Villages were systematically destroyed. Chinese civilians beat or tortured to death any stray Japanese they caught. The Communist soldiers escorted the captives to rear area headquarters where Japanese-speaking personnel handled the POWs. Even the local guerrillas preferred to see a dead Japanese to a live one.
Millions In Scattered Villages Won Over By Education
The peasants took the brunt of Japanese brutality and bestiality and had only hate for the enemy. Without their support, however, it was realized the prisoner re-education project would fail.
Nosaka told me that it was difficult to keep the peasants' spirit of resistance and at the same time teach them to be kind to captives.
A mass campaign to orient millions of peasants was launched in North China and political workers from the army and guerrilla area governments were then assigned the task of convincing the peasants that their main enemies were the "Japanese fascist militarists" who had deceived their people. Once captured, the soldiers can be re-educated to fight the common enemy.
I met two old-timers among the 322 POWs who had been kept for re-education. In 1938 they had been selected to go from village to village with Chinese co-workers to explain to the peasants that disarmed Japanese soldiers were potential friends and allies of the Chinese people. This was in 1938. By 1944, the peasants were leading stray captives to headquarters. They treated them well.
As I saw it, the education of millions of scattered Chinese peasants who were bitter because of Japanese raping, killing, looting and burning was a tremendous and extremely difficult undertaking.