Japanese POWs in Allied Hands

The cultural difference between the western notion of an honorable surrender and the Japanese notion of fight to the death was a big contribution to the ferocity of the Pacific War. Allied soldiers had trouble comprehending the Japanese will to fight on in the face of certain death, and Allied atrocities against surrendered Japanese was a function of the racism that infused the island fighting. This resulted in very few survivors of the pacific garrisons.

The small numbers of prisoners is shocking. On Tarawa, only 17 Japanese were taken; many surrendered only after being knocked unconscious by gunfire. Many more Korean laborers survived the battle. Many prisoners were only captured when they were unable to resist due to wounds or incapacitation.

Once captured, they were reported as dead to their families and many Japanese POWs chose to aid the Allied effort. Prisoners provided the Allies with important information, sometimes directing bombers against their former comrades.

Once they had delivered all the information they could, or were recalcitrant, they were shipped to POW camps in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Their treatment in Allied hands was better than their Allied counterparts in Japanese prisons. Over 95% of Japanese POWs survived the war, while only 49% of Allied POWs returned to their native lands. As the war ended its final year, more POWs were captured as the rank and file Japanese soldiers surrendered, recognizing the futility of fighting for a lost cause.