*** World War II -- Japanese Murder of POWs

World War II POWs: Japanese Murder of POWs

Japanese murder of POWs
Figure 1.-- The Japanese murdered most of the POWs they captured. As horfific as the the German and Soviet treatment of POWs were, they at least took POWS. Most of the POWs taken by the Japanese were simply murdered. Most of the POWs taken by the Japanese were Chinese soldiers. Virtually all were killed at the time of capture or soon after. The death toll was in the millions. The Japanese did not maintain POW camps for the Chinese. One approch was to use the POWs for bayonet practice. This photograph is from a Japanese book, 'The History of Prohibited Photos'. This book contains photographed censored by the Japanese military. This photogrph shows Japanese soldiers having fun bayonetting a bound Chinese POW. Often this ws done with large groups in pits. Click on the image to see the cover.

The Japanese murdered most of the prisoner of war (POWs) they captured. As horfific as the the German and Soviet treatment of POWs were, they at least took POWs. Most of the POWs taken by the Japanese were simply murdered. Most of the POWs taken by the Japanese were Chinese soldiers. Virtually all were killed at the time of capture or soon after. The death toll was in the millions. The Japanese did not maintain POW camos for the Chinese. They simply murdered them after they surrendered and in unbelebly horific ways: bayoneting, burrying them alive, medical experiments, and other inhuman actions. The Japanese also murdered Allied POWs, but in much smaller numbers. Here there were two types of killing. Ome was murder en masse like the killing of Chinese POWs. The other was murder in the camps done individually, usually as a form of punishment, but not infrequently for no reason at all--simply for the pleaure of it. There are many documented reports. This began almost immediated after the Japanese launched the Pacific War. Most of the Western victims were Americans and Australians, but there were also English and Dutch soldiers killed. Indians fighting with the Brirish were also killed. Most of the Allied fatalities were more from neglect, denying the POWs food and medical care. There were, however, numerous actual incidents of flagrant murder. Reports indicated that the Japanese upon seizing the Dutch East Indies forced some Australian prisoners into baskets and them took them out to sea and threw them overboard (1942). There were murders during the Bataan Death March in which about 1,000 Americans perished (April 1942). The deaths included Japanese officers wielding their swords, in some cases trying to cut off heads from moving automobiles (1942). The American survivors on Wake Island were murdered (October 1943). Most of the murders came later in the War. Some but not all camp commanders for various reasons executed orders recived from Tokyo to kill surviving POWs. As instructed, they murdered all or almost all the POWs in their hands. [Holmes, p. 116-17.] In almost all instances this occurred in circumstances that there was no danger of attack. One of the best documented murder incident was on Palawan, a narrow island in the eastern Philippines. The Japanese 14th Area Army Commander was General Tomoyuki Yamashita. His men to prevent the rescue of the POWs on Palawan herded the remaining 150 prisoners of war at Puerto Princesa into three covered trenches (December 14, 1944). The trenches had been dug earlier as air raid shelters. One man who after noting there were no approaching planes refused to go into the trenches. A Japanese officer cleaved his head in two with his sword. The Japanese then poured aviation fuel into the trenches and set them a fire. The POWs who tried to escape the inferno were shot. Others attempted to escape by climbing over a cliff that abutted one side of the trenches. They were also hunted down and killed. Only 11 men escaped the masacre. [Wilbanks] A POWs survived and made it back to Allied lines. He recounted the details to Army Inteligence. This and other reports is why the Americans were so concerned about what the Japanese would do with the POWs and civilians at the main camps on Luzon. Japanese Army officeres murdered Australian POWs on Borneo (June 1945).

Murder Orders

Japanese POW and internment camps for civilians were hell holes. People died in large numbers from sarvation and disease. If the Allies had not reached them when they did, many more woukd have died. The Japanese treatment of these people was a war crime and could rightly be considered murder. But here we are talking about outrighr murder, by shooting, bheading, burrying alive, burning, and other methods. This occurred on a large scakle in China. There were no POW camps for the Chinese, they were simply killed. The Westn POWs were treated differently. Some were killed, but most were interned, but under dredfull conditions. Civilian internees were subjected to the same dreadful conditions. Many did not survive. In the final year of the War, orders went out to kill the internees.


The Japanese treatment of POWs in World War II was barbaric. Most of the POWs were taken by the Imperial Army. The Imperial Navy, however, beaved in much the same way with the POWs they captured. Treatment to a large extent was affected by nationality. The most severe treatment was directed at the Chinese who were killed in large numbers by a variety of brutal means. Few Chinese survived being taken prisoner by the Japanese. The numbers of Chinese soldiers captured by the Japanese run into the millions. The killings were conducted in many ways including shooting, burrird alive baynoetting, beheading, medical experimentation, and other methods. This was a fraction of the much larger number of civilians murdered by the Japanese Army. Western POWs were taken in much smaller numbers and usually were not killed outright like the Chinese. American, Australian, British, Canadian, and Dutch POWs were starved, brutalized, and used for forced labor. Most of the over 130,000 Western POWs were taken in the months immediately following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). The Japanese took 50,000 Australians and New Zealanders at Singapore, 52,000 Dutch and British in Java, and 25,000 Americans in the Philippines. [MacArthur] Of the Euripoean POWs, the Dutch were treted most harshly. We do not understand just why. Perhaos because the Japanese had nohing to fear from the tiny Dutch nation. Other POWs incuded Indians serving with the British and Filipinos seving with the Americans.


Kllling is of course central to the bussines of war. This is understood by all nations, but ovr time rules of war developed among nations, especially Western nations. And one of those most commonly recognized was that after a soldier surrendered, than the victorious nation was responsible for his care and wellbeing which was monitored to an extent by the Red Cross. The care of POWs was first codifded in the Hague Regulations (1899) and after World War I updated with the Geneva Convention (1928). Japan did not ratify the Geneva Convention, but that does not mean that they can not be held responsibk in the Court of Public Opinion for their barbarity. Killing enemy soldiers in battle is one thing. Killing soldiers after they surrendered in murder pure and simple. There are tragically many well doumented incidents of the Japanese mudering POWs after they had surrendred and were disarmed. This included such incidents whereever the Japanese military went. But the Japanese were especially brutal in China, leaving a bloody trail of millions of victims in their wake. It was a policy not only tolerted, bu ordered by the higerst levrl of commasnd. It was China where the War in Asia began. After seizing Manchuria (1931),the Japanese invaded China proper (1937). The Japanese claimed to be waging war to protect Asians and the drive the Europeans out of Asia. But even before actually launching the War (1937), but they they had been invading independent coubntries in Asi (China and Korea). And their treatment of Asians was unbelievably barbaric, much more brutal than their treatrment of Westerners. It is not entirely clear why thatbwas. This was espcially true of the Chinese, both civilians and military personnel. The treatment of Chinese military personnel was incomprehensible horific. Of course Americans and the other Western Allies know most about their own soldiers. Modt Americans know about the Bataan Death Msrch dufring which the Jopnese were especially brutal toward the Filipinos. The Japanese brutalized and killed many Allied POWs, both overtly and indirectly throufgh mistreatment and starvation. but their actions against Westerners, were a tiny proprtion of what they did in China. Most but not all of the victims were Chinese. 【Kowner】 And for the most part they did not hold Chinese POWs long eniough to starve. They killed them in masny horrible wats, shooting, behading, bayonetting, drowning, burning, bearing alive, and other heinous methods. As a result, after the Japanese surrender (Seoptember 1945) when POWs were exchanged, despite ober 8 years of war and taking millions of POWs, the Japanese had virtually no Chinese POWs to repatriate in exchasnge for the lasrge nunbers of Japanese the Chinese had. The Japasnse may have killed 30 million Chinese--the exact number will never be known. How many were soldiers abd how mny were civilians we do not know.


Holmes, Linda Goetz. Unjust Enrichment: How Japan's Companies Built Postwar Fortunes Using American POWs (Mechanicsburg, Pennsslvania: Stackpole Books, 2001).

Wilbanks, Bob. Last Man Out: Glenn McDole, USMC, Survivor of the Palawan Massacre in World War II.

The History of Prohibited Photos.


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Created: 3:24 PM 3/11/2016
Last updated: 7:33 PM 8/2/2023