17 October 2012

Review: Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides

Eric's dad read this and then recommended it to Eric. Eric had barely started it when he recommended it to me. We actually got the book on CD to listen to on our drive to Seattle, but sadly, the CDs were not in great shape, and they kept skipping, sometimes skipping entire tracks. That wouldn't do.

Even after returning from Seatlle, I was slow to start Ghost Soldiers. I had already listened to the first little bit, and I knew that the topic would make this book difficult to read. The book chronicles a group of soldiers who fought and ultimately surrendered to the Japanese on the Bataan Peninsula. Then they endured the Bataan death march. Then they were sent to various Japanese prison camps. At the close of the war, most of those who were somewhat healthy were transferred to prison camps out of the Philippines. Those that were not well enough to be transferred stayed at the prison camp near Cabanatuan. As it appeared inevitable that the Americans would be retaking the Philippines, the Japanese began mass executions in some of their prison camps in the Philippines. Some of the prisoners were able to escape and share their stories with the Americans.

When the Americans learned that it was likely that more than 500 Allied soldiers were likely to be massacred at the prison camp near Cabantuan, the Americans put together a top-secret rescue mission. The book alternates between telling about the soldiers interned in the camp and the Rangers on the rescue mission.

I read this book in just a few days. (In fact, when I was up very late having contractions, I went ahead and finished it off.) It was incredibly well-written an compelling. The rescue-mission itself was compelling enough, but add to it the group of people that were being rescued and everything that they had endured, and wow. Ultimately, the men who were left in the camp truly were the sickest, which made the rescue mission all the more challenging. Not only did the Rangers have to get into the camp, they had to get over 500 unwell men out and then across enemy territory and into safety.

With that said, this book is about men who are held prisoner by the Japanese for a few years. It is gruesome and sometimes difficult to read. The book chronicles what happened to the men's bodies when they dealt with long-standing malnutrition, lack of adequate medical treatment and difficult manual labor. It also gives excellent background into the fall of the Bataan peninsula as well as why treatment in Japanese camps was so bad.

The only thing I disliked about the book was the lack of footnotes or endnotes. The author, Hampton Sides, states specifically in his introduction that he didn't provide footnotes because he didn't want them to detract from the narrative and literary flow of the writing. That is understandable, but there were so many points in the book where I wanted to know exactly where he got little tidbits of information. At the end of the book there is a bibliography, but as a person who majored in history, and still regularly writes reports with hundreds of footnotes, I like to know exactly where every piece of information comes from.

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