Prisoners of the Empire: POWs and their Captors in the Pacific War

In the opening stages of the Pacific War, Japan took prisoner more than 140,000 Allied servicemen and another 130,000 civilians from a dozen different countries. Some 378 POW camps and 358 civilian internment centers were scattered from Manchuria to Java, from Burma to New Guinea. Forty percent of American servicemen did not survive, and more Australians died in camps than were killed in battle. The perceived lessons of this experience shaped the 1949 Geneva Conventions. New rules to safeguard civilian internees and protect POWs from arbitrary trial and punishment have been crucial in present-day controversies over how the U.S. treats its own captives.How did Japanese officials, who initially had virtually no policy for POWs, and none for civilian internees, improvise a system to manage hundreds of thousands of people? How did the experience of captivity vary between different camps and change over the course of the conflict? And how did this history become so infamous in the U.S. and British Commonwealth, even while it hardly figures in Japanese popular memories of the Pacific War? Like my first book, Occupying Power, my new research will show how the daily interactions of people with little power can assume great symbolic importance in relations between two hostile societies. Conversely, both projects seek to demonstrate the local and personal impact of international and transnational trends, whether the rise of the anti-prostitution movement or changes in the laws of war. And this will again depend on multi-archival, international research, combining a close reading of military and diplomatic records with site visits and interviews.