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Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat,…

Inside the Bataan Death March: Defeat, Travail and Memory

by Kevin C. Murphy

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158647,891 (3)3
  1. 00
    Last Stand on Bataan: The Defense of the Philippines, December 1941-May 1942 by Christopher L. Kolakowski (elenchus)
    elenchus: Both Murphy's Inside the Bataan Death March and Kolakowski's Last Stand on Bataan provide concise overviews of the WWII campaign in the Philippines, updated with recent research and understanding. Both dispel some myths, though Murphy's is perhaps more controversial. I found these two books to be central to my understanding of both the battles, the aftermath, and the strategic role of each in the War in the Pacific.… (more)

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Received wisdom among U.S. citizens regarding the Bataan Death March portrays GIs as victims and the target of neglect and inhumanity at the hands of Japanese captors, soldiers characterized as deliberately cruel and abusive. Filipino soldiers received much the same treatment as GIs, and Filipino civilians generally were reduced to watching helplessly, only occasionally assisting prisoners along the route (which efforts risked their own lives). It is a story of tyrants, bystanders, and victims.

Inside the Bataan Death March reviews this accepted narrative, and argues these standard roles are oversimplified. The key problem is a lack of empirical evidence to corroborate survivor stories. Conventional wisdom, then, is a patchwork of memory, much of which can be expected to be inaccurate.

Murphy argues there are essentially two reasons for the oversimplification:
• A general motivation on the part of participants either to canonize a story of unjust defeat, or to avoid discussion entirely. Key factor is a widespread sense among GIs they were abandoned by their country: insufficient resources to defend themselves, lack of attention during the Japanese invasion, and then that awkward fact of a real thumping at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army. All of which plays into a need to justify the ignominy, and Murphy argues the role of unjust victims serves this need, at least in part.
• An abiding unwillingness to challenge survivor narrative by anyone not there at the time, especially given an almost complete lack of documentation to consult for corroboration or dispute. No official documents survive the Japanese Imperial Army, none were generated by the prisoners themselves until after the war, and though the Filipino state existed prior to, during, and after the Japanese occupation, again no official acts address the Death March excepting memorials and other post-war efforts.

Each chapter examines specific aspects of these fundamental reasons: the unpreparedness of the U.S. military (training, logistics, discipline, conditioning) for mounting a successful resistance to the Imperial Japanese Army's invasion of the Philippines; the unpreparedness of the Japanese military for managing the scale or condition of its prisoners; varying cultural responses to the tactical situation at the beginning of the Death March; the nature of memory and its likely distortion in recalling personal trauma.

Japanese held American prisoners responsible for the failure of order on the march, while the Americans themselves were ill-suited by temperament, training, and condition to behave as the Japanese expected. [104]

Bataan survivors took a degree of license because they could, because no competing narrative contradicted them and, presumably, because they truly came to believe their stories. Another part of the answer lies in the way their stories have been received -- neither readers of survivors' narratives nor authors of secondary works were interested in any sort of critical response. [150]


The book is an historian's survey of the academic literature, supplemented with a synthetic integration of original source documents (primarily diaries and personal narratives). It reads like an early effort to identify and manage the historical facts, the beginning of a research agenda. There are many evocative attempts, from his weaving of personal experiences in Japan, and quotations from Japanese and American literature, to psychological frameworks for analysing personal narratives or atrocities.

The seeds and effort are there, but Murphy has not yet found an elegant way of bringing these strands together, succinctly and evocatively.


southern Bataan along western Manila Bay, northward to interior
• Mariveles to San Fernando: 65 miles (march)
• San Fernando to Capas: 10 miles (train)
• Capas to Camp O'Donnell: 5 miles (march)

• 1941 Dec 08 - Japanese bombing of Philippines
• 1941 Dec 10 - Japanese landing on Philippines
• 1942 Apr 08 - Earthquake, sufficient to unbalance men and sway trees
• 1942 Apr 09 - Gen King surrenders to Gen Homma / begin Death March / (77th Anniversary of Lee's surrender at Appomattox)
• 1942 Apr 23 - Last stragglers arrive Camp O'Donnell / end Death March ( )
  elenchus | May 18, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I had only limited knowledge of the Bataan Death March starting this book. I think Kevin Murphy did a great job of making me question my preconceived notions of what happened and taking a fresh look at the facts surrounding what happened.
  cweller | Apr 23, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Kevin Murphy expertly dissects the real, the imagined, and the propaganda surrounding the Bataan Death March and looks at how, in many ways, the tragedy on Bataan was a very real three-way clash of cultures, showing both the best and the worst that each country had to offer. He delves into the historical utility of first-person "I was there" narratives, and scrutinizes the developmental roadmap followed by both the U.S. and Japanese armies in the decades preceding WW2: their training, their outlook, societal perspectives and impact, and their overall approach to it all. He has reviewed a tremendous amount of first and second-hand accounts, along with historical documents and primary resources. Some reviewers complain about the density or difficulty of the book, but I found it to be an honest, no nonsense approach to an emotional turning point of the war in the Pacific. It's a must-read for any student of WW2, military, or Philippine history. ( )
1 vote editfish | Apr 23, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Great book. Although not what I would term an "easy read." This is not a narrative history. Nor, is it, as one reviewer termed it, revisionist history. I have a BA and MA in history and I have always loathed the term "revisionist history." The reason for this is that it seems to always imply that the author is not telling the "real" history that he is telling a history that is biased. In truth no retelling of history is without bias. Before reading this book, I knew very little of the Bataan Death March. What I did know I took at face value--that the Japanese soldiers were nasty--that American a Filipino bodies were strewn all over the roadside. Murphy addresses the brutality of the Japanese (he does not claim that it did not happen), but he also delves into the ideas that nothing is ever black and white and that oral histories (histories that are compiled from the participants' memories) are far from flawless representations of the events that occurred. Murphy goes into detail on many aspects of the events of this tragic event. He discuses how American veterans of the Bataan Death March were treated when they came home (not well), that many of the deaths can be attributed to being basically written off my General MacArthur (many of the American soldiers blamed him for what happened), that some Japanese soldiers were kind to their captives, that not all of the Americans in the prison camps can not be considered "heroes' in that they did not treat their fellow Americans well,...and many other subjects.
This book is not revisionist, it gives a clearer picture of what actually happened to all of the men that were involved in this tragic event. This is not "revisionist history," it is "history." ( )
1 vote pmartin462 | Mar 13, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Not really what I was expecting. I did learn some things while reading the book, but to be honest I didn't finish it. Just seemed to difficult to want to continue reading it. Not sure that I could recommend it to anyone. ( )
  CharlesSvec | Mar 7, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786496819, Paperback)

For two weeks during the spring of 1942, the Bataan Death March--one of the most widely condemned atrocities of World War II--unfolded. The prevailing interpretation of this event is simple: American prisoners of war suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their Japanese captors while Filipinos, sympathetic to the Americans, looked on. Most survivors wrote their accounts of the March decades after the war and a number of factors distorted their stories. The crucial aspect of memory is central to this study--how it is constructed, by whom and for what purpose. This book questions the prevailing interpretation, reconsiders the actions of all three groups in their cultural contexts and reveals a far greater complexity: violence on the March was largely the result of a clash of cultures--undisciplined, individualistic Americans encountered Japanese who valued order and form, while Filipinos were active, even ambitious participants in the drama.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:34 -0400)

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