Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ghost Soldiers

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1. Ghost Soldiers, written by Hampton Sides, is 4 pages long.


. The book Ghost soldiers is a non-fictional account.


. (a) The purpose of the book is to provide the reader an accounting of the events, from those who survived and participated, in the liberation of POWs from the Philippines in WWII. It provides an account from the initial surrender of American forces to the Japanese, the march to the POW camps, living at the camps and the eventual rescue of the POWs from the Japanese who had made the decision to execute all POWs.


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(b) The audience in this non-fictional account that is intended for readers that would be interested in History, Military, World War II, Asia Pacific theatre of WWII, Philippines, Rescue Operations.


4. Mr. Sides begins his book with the grizzly details of the execution of POWs by the Japanese and the escape of some of the prisoners which established the sense of urgency for a daring rescue. The author then takes us through the circumstances that led to the initial surrender of American forces to the Japanese and the infamous Bataan Death March. This helps sets the stage of the abandonment, hopelessness and despair in which the US soldiers found themselves. Mr. Sides alternates between the perspective of the POW and the soldiers who came to their rescue giving the reader a full appreciation of the emotion and anxiety being experienced. Sides’ tone (attitude toward the subject/audience) is to provide as factual account as possible of the circumstances, the morale, the bravery and heroism of the liberation of POWs in the Philippines. He evokes empathy, patriotism, emotional anger and despair at the plight of these solders, their officers and their rescuers.


There are several quotes that illustrate the tone used by Mr. Sides


1. A quote that invoked the patriotism of the reader and emotional anger of the rescuers is “When Colonel Mucci suggested that in all likelihood the Japanese planned to sweep these guys into a ditch and slaughter them, the Rangers were thus fired with a zealous outrage. It made us so damn mad, Prince said, that we couldn’t see straight” (Sides 6).


. A poignant quote by one of the solders who was identified as the resident poet, sums up the fatalistic attitude and despair of the solders after General MacArthurs departure from the Philippines “We are the battling bastards of Bataan, No mama no papa, no Uncle Sam, No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces, no pills, no planes, no artillery pieces… and nobody gives a damn” (Sides 44).


. Sides really gets the reader emotionally involved with his account of a speech given by Captain Tsuneyoshi, the POW Commanding Officer, “Your domination of the Orient is gone forever, we will fight you and fight you and fight you for a hundred years until you have been destroyed… it is only through our generosity that you are alive at all. We do not consider you to be Prisoners of War, you are members of an inferior race, and we will treat you as we see fit… your country has forgotten your name, your loved ones no longer weep for you” (Sides 106). You now can understand why the solders referred to the Colonel as Little Hitler.


5. In my opinion, Mr. Sides is offering through this account is that while these soldiers were initially abandoned by their country (hence Ghost Soldiers), there is an innate human spirit to survive and help one’s countryman that is capable of overcoming even the most hellish of circumstances and for some men, it is what defines leadership


1. The unrelenting hope one holds on to Sides talks about the solder’s will to survive and that without hope there is no survival. “And still we have faith, faith in your might, in each bright weapon in the far flung fight and in the blood of wary men who take the coral beaches back again” (Sides 0).


. There was one American who left what was left of his outfit to join the local Philippine tribesmen and lead them in guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. This American understands the atrocities that the Japanese are capable of and rather than abandon these prisoners for his own safe return to the U.S. he seeks out the advancing American force to convince them of the necessity and urgency to rescue the POWs before the Japanese fully appreciate that they are going to lose the islands to the Americans again and thus eliminate all POWs.


. The importance of a strong leader to motivate a group of men to press on, not to give up hope and die if they had to in order to save their countrymen who had been subjected to such horrors. Sides describes this aptly in recounting how Colonel Mucci led the rescue - - as the men walked, Mucci strolled up and down the column patting backs and giving pep talks; a real pusher, a real commander when the chips were down; he consumed the ground with his strides; he made sure the men believed what he believed. “We all would have died for him, he was the very best” (Sides 1).


4. The spirit to survive under extreme duress and total hopelessness is illustrated by the account of a POW that manages to escape the initial execution of POWs in the trenches, hides in the filth of a garbage dump and then swims out into the ocean while soldiers are firing at him and waiting for the tide to bring him to shore for his inevitable execution. The soldier does not give up and manages to evade the Japanese until darkness when he is able to come ashore then trudge days through the jungle seeking whatever refuge he could find, and finally giving his account of what had happen to American intelligence confirming the end game that the Japanese had in mind for their prisoners.


5. The burden of leadership in convincing men to die for a cause, yet doing what is right and taking responsibility for your actions. Of Colonel Mucci, “we knew he was selling us blue sky, but we would have followed him anywhere” (Sides ). Sides notes that General King’s unilateral decision to surrender on his men’s behalf was indicative of his courage of leadership- - he knew he would be court-martialed after the war for acting against the orders of his superiors, yet he insisted on acting alone so that no one above him would be “saddled with any part of the responsibility” (Sides ).


6. In reading “Ghost Soliders” I found myself focusing on these three issues in particular


1. How man can be so inhumane in his treatment of another human being in times of war. The Japanese made the decision to execute all POWs. Some POWs attempted to escape the trenches that were used to execute them. Sides describes the fate of one POW who escaped the trench only be caught on the beach. “One American who’d been caught was tortured at some length by six soldiers, one of whom carried a container of gasoline. Seeing the jerry can, the American understood his fate and begged to be shot. The solders doused one of his feet with gasoline and set it alight, and then did the same with the other… when he collapsed he poured the rest of the gasoline over his body and ignited it leaving him withering in flames on the beach” (Sides 14). This vivid image perfectly portrays the inhumane treatment that is presenting war. You don’t want to believe your fellow man would do this, but sadly this book proves just that.


. How can a person survive under such deplorable conditions, not give up hope. Once again, Sides talks about the solder’s will to survive and that without hope there is no survival. “And still we have faith, faith in your might, in each bright weapon in the far flung fight and in the blood of wary men who take the coral beaches back again” (Sides 0). This is an example of the POW’s not giving up. I would I have just wanted to keel over and die, because it seemed so much easier then trying to escape just to end up dieing 5 minutes later, probably in a much crueler fashion.


. How critical the importance of leadership is in times of war (getting men to sacrifice their lives for their fellow countryman and knowing when to stop). As I said before. Leadership is something Colonel Mucci possessed a lot of. The Rangers even said they “knew he was selling us blue sky, but we would have followed him anywhere” (Sides ). Sides notes that General King’s unilateral decision to surrender on his men’s behalf was indicative of his courage of leadership- - he knew he would be court-martialed after the war for acting against the orders of his superiors, yet he insisted on acting alone so that no one above him would be “saddled with any part of the responsibility” (Sides ).


7. Mr. Sides forces the reader to come to grips with their emotions and consider the enormity of what was being faced by both the POW and the rescuers. I also found myself considering how I might have performed if I had been there. I found the following quotes to be of particular relevance to the issues I found myself contemplating while reading Ghost Soliders


1. “The trench smelled strongly of gas, there was an explosion and flames shot through the place. Some of the guys were moaning. Luckily I was in the trench closest to the fence. So I jumped up and dove through the barb wire. I fell over the cliff and somehow grabbed on to a small tree which broke my fall and kept me from being injured. There were Japs posted down on the beach. I buried myself in a pile of garbage and coconut husks and worked my way under until I got fairly well covered up. Lying there, I could feel the little worms and bugs eating holes in the rubbish, and then I felt them eating holes into the skin of my back” (Sides 1). The imagery in this passage is truly amazing. Sides appeals to the reader’s sense of smell with the strong scent of gas. He paints a picture in the reader’s mind of an explosion and flames shooting through the place. The sounds of men moaning in pain makes the mind see agony. Also, the reader can practically feel the one escaped POW diving under the barbed wire, falling off the cliff, clinging on to the tree, feeling the bugs eat him while hiding under the trash. Sides could not have created a more of a disturbing mental image then he did using his imagery, along with tone in this passage.


. “Today the shop is a lonely place. There are numerous corpses… and the smell is unbearable” (Sides 1). The diction in this quote goes along well with the tone of this specific passage. The tone in the passage is one of hopeless ness. When Sides says “Today”, it seems like it is any day. It is a normal day, and on this normal day many dead bodies are starting to produce an awful smell. The passage is so Non-Chelan that it is scary. It is as if this is nothing new to the POW’s and they are just always surrounded by death, which adds to the lonely feeling around the shop of their POW camp. When death is present, you can feel very alone.


. The Japanese made the decision to execute all POWs. Some POWs attempted to escape the trenches that were used to execute them. Sides describes the fate of one POW who escaped the trench only be caught on the beach. “One American who’d been caught was tortured at some length by six soldiers, one of whom carried a container of gasoline. Seeing the jerry can, the American understood his fate and begged to be shot. The soldiers doused one of his feet with gasoline and set it alight, and then did the same with the other… when he collapsed he poured the rest of the gasoline over his body and ignited it leaving him withering in flames on the beach” (Sides 14). This quoted paragraph contains a good amount of detail. While illustrating a horrific punishment, Sides gives you the “who, what where, and how of the situation. On the beach below, the Japanese soldiers are torturing an escaped POW from an earlier massacre.


8. Ghost Story forced me to examine my beliefs and understanding of the circumstances/issues that compel man to be so brutal and how under such circumstances that it actually can spawn the celebration of the human will and spirit to survive and to pay the ultimate sacrifice for the belief that their cause is just. As I mentioned, it also caused me to examine how I might respond under similar circumstances. My conclusion is that while it is horrible to contemplate such a condition, and though perhaps I might more easily conclude that I would not have been strong enough to survive, deep down I believe that only when actually confronted does a person gain an understanding for what beliefs and will they truly possess and what they are capable of doing!


. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in war stories, or history. This book is a compelling rendering of an amazing mission. The story of the liberation of the American POW’s in Cabanatuan is wonderfully recounted by Sides. He has definitely done his research as is apparent in the storyline. While the book is filled with the liberation of the survivors at the Bataan Death March, Sides does a brilliant job of including the history of the surrender at Bataan, the march, and the years spent in the POW camps. Through out the book his descriptions are graphic and many events that he chronicles are appalling. None the less, it is important that these events are retold so that the bravery and spirit of the men that endured them are not forgotten. Everyone should read this amazing story.





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