the savagery of the Pacific War

Nearly got the whole issue online now — and apparently it’s OK to put the Bob Ellis piece up, too, which I’ll do tomorrow. Anyway, I wanted to draw attention to Tom O’Lincon’s polemic about the war in the Pacific during the Second World War. It begins like this:

Humour is revealing. Here is a joke from the Pacific War, related by three infantry veterans:

Typical of the laconic humour of the times was the story about the wounded Jap who said to the Aussie, in a sarcastic tone, ‘You think you’re going to be home for Christmas’ to which the digger replied, ‘And you think you’re going to hospital!’

The point, of course, is that the prisoner will be killed. This real or imaginary anecdote, drawn from old diggers’ memoirs, will evoke unease in anyone used to the edifying stories we usually hear about the Second World War. Our first thought might be that such episodes were shocking exceptions. They were not.

Elsewhere the same authors tell of finding enemy soldiers asleep and disposing of them in their blankets. Peter Medcalf writes of one battle: ‘We took no prisoners, or wounded.’ Regarding another, he describes his mate shooting sleeping Japanese soldiers after voicing a cheerful: ‘Wakey, wakey.’ Ken Clift writes that after a victory at Oivi, ‘very few of the enemy escaped. Many surrendered and were exterminated …’ Lest there be any doubt about his meaning, Clift adds: ‘Enemy wounded were shot on the spot after our own wounded were evacuated …’

Read the full article here.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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