Nisei and the POWs

I just want to take a moment to share a photo that I think captures an interesting and perhaps a bit of an awkward moment. The photo is taken from a 1946 report on the “mop-up” of Japanese troops in the summer of 1945 in the Philippines.1 In it we see a, possibly staged, moment of interaction between a US Nisei (Japanese-American) soldier and Japanese POWs sometime after August 15, 1945, who are about to go out and attempt to persuade their fellow Japanese soldiers in the area to surrender.

Nisei and POWs in Luzon

I was hit by a range of emotions and thoughts when I saw this. On the one hand is the interaction of this Japanese-American, whose loyalty has always been seen as suspect by his fellow Americans, with the Japanese, who most probably see the Nisei as a traitor to his own people.

Completely separate from this interaction is the predicament of the POWs who are about to leave the camp, which was likely no pleasant hotel, but which represented a site of sufficient food and safety reached only after an extremely risky surrender. At that moment of surrender they faced the possibility of being shot either by Americans, or even more likely, their own officers or fellow soldiers. Only a few pages before this photo we read that while, “the good faith displayed by the Americans in holding their fire” (which was not by any means universal on the part of US troops) had lead to many desertions, “many Japanese soldiers were shot by their own troops as they tried to make their way to the American lines.”

Here we see these POWs about to return to the jungle where fellow soldiers were starving and dying of disease. Instead of mounting active attacks on US forces by this time, these Japanese remnants were reportedly only launching desperate nighttime raids for food on local communities. These scenes are, of course, common to almost every description of Japanese forces throughout the Pacific in the summer of 1945. As the report records, “Patrols found individuals and small groups who had apparently starved to death…prisoners of war told of acts of cannibalism,” and of active fighting between the Army and Navy over remaining food supplies.” If these POWs failed to persuade their dying comrades to surrender, would they be able to make their way out safely again? Would they be forced to remain with the others?

One thing that we might keep in mind is that the jungles and hills of Luzon of that summer were full of “Japanese” who were not from the archipelago, as the final report on casualties and POWs from July 1 to August 20 operation reveals:

Dead 20,311
Japanese Prisoners 1,254
Formosans (Taiwanese) 1,065
Koreans 77

  1. Report of the Commanding General Eigth Army on the Luzon Mop-up Operation 27 February 1946. Surplus Copy found in Widener Library, Harvard University.  

1 Comment

  1. Pardon this ignorant question on my part but I stumbled across first your photo of the Nisei interpreter talking with what is described as Japanese soldiers who had surrendered. I am trying to figure out what this website is about… Can you assist me? What is your link to the MIS Nisei?

    Thank you.

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