For the first four months of 1942, American, Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought America's first major land battle of World War II: the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the single largest defeat in American military history. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered forty-one months of unparalleled cruelty and savagery, far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur.Michael and Elizabeth Norman bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a young cowboy and aspiring sketch artist from Montana who joins the army to see the world and ends up on a death march. Juxtaposed against Steele’s story are the heretofore untold accounts of Japanese soldiers who struggled to maintain their humanity while carrying out their superiors’ inhuman commands.Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides.
“Unlike historians who have spotlighted the titans—MacArthur and Wainwright, Yamashita and Homma—who matched strategies in the Philippines in 1942, the Normans focus on the ordinary soldiers who bore the brunt of the wartime savagery. At the center of this searing narrative stands Ben Steele, a Montana cowboy remarkable for the fortitude that sustains him through fierce combat, humiliating surrender, and then the infamous Bataan Death March into imprisonment: four years of unrelenting slave labor, starvation, torture, beatings, and disease. Because Steele went on in his postwar life to capture his wartime ordeal in harrowing drawings (here reproduced), readers confront in both image and word the brutality of war and the desperation of captivity. Readers learn how news of Japanese atrocities inflamed an American passion for vengeance and justified horrific bombing raids—incendiary and then nuclear—against Japanese cities. But readers will find it hard to view such raids as fitting punishment of a bestial enemy after reading the Normans’ chronicle of the bitter experiences of very human and often guilt-wracked Japanese soldiers. The narrative even humanizes the anguished Japanese commanders condemned by a victors’ justice that held them accountable for offenses of out-of-control subordinates. An indispensable addition to every World War II collection.”—Bryce Christensen, Booklist "[An] assiduous account of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines in World War II and the fate of the American garrison there. The ‘death march’ after Bataan fell in April 1942 has been a byword for the worst warfare can bring to a soldier. Some 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered, and their Japanese enemies despised them for doing so. The surrender was, write the Normans ‘the single largest defeat in American military history.’ The subsequent forced march of the prisoners, many of them ill and wounded and all of them malnourished, led to more than 10,000 deaths. By the authors’ account, the Americans were a mixed lot, poorly equipped, trained and led—which does not square with many other accounts of the early war in the Philippines, and which will doubtless excite discussion in military-history circles. What is certain is that the Japanese soldiers were little better off, short on rations, beaten and abused by their officers and marching everywhere, since, their doctrine stated, ‘a drop of gas is as precious as a drop of blood.’ The Normans take pains to present the Japanese side of the story, and some readers with direct memories of events may find their account too sympathetic, especially their portrayal of the commanding general, Homma Masaharu, who was executed for war crimes after the Allied victory. Yet their story says a great deal about the inglorious—and rightly unglorified—aspects of war, from the sense of shame that settled on the American commander at the moment of surrender to the terrible years that lay ahead. Drawing on the memories of participants on both sides, the Normans provide a careful history of a ghastly episode that still reverberates. Highly recommended for students of the Pacific War.”—Publishers Weekly
The critically acclaimed new book from Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman on WWII and the infamous Bataan Death March.
Ben Steele takes us from boot camp to his arrival in the Philippines, then to the bombing of Clark Field. Later he became a foot soldier in the battle of Bataan -- 99 days of fighting and starvation. "Help is on the way," his commanders promised, a promise, he says, that turned out to be a "lie."
Ben Steele gives us a tour of the oil paintings depicting his days as a POW: scenes from the battle, death march, camps and the coal mine in Japan where he was enslaved. We also get a look at his studio. He talks about teaching art and the first time a Japanese student walked into his classroom.
"Tears in the Darkness" authors Michael and Elizabeth Norman and Fmr. POW Ben Steele on the Bataan Death March during World War II.