Japanese POW Treatment and Eliza Scidmore’s Last Book

My husband and I recently watched a powerful film called “The Railway Man,” starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It was interesting in light of my work on a biography of Eliza Scidmore.

Her last book was As the Hague Ordains, a novel about POW conditions in Japan in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. “The Railway Man” is based on a true story of Japanese treatment of a British Army officer captured in Singapore during World War II. Together, they present a sharp contrast.

Photograph of prisoner-of-war camp in Japan, from “As the Hague Ordains” (Henry Holt and Co., 1907)

Eliza was in the Far East when the war between Japan and Russia broke out. She was curious about the issue of POWs because of new international accords governing humane treatment of war captives. To investigate the situation, Eliza got permission from Japan’s War Ministry to visit sites where Russian prisoners were being held. She found the treatment of POWs exemplary.

Because she thought the issue would be too complex for a magazine article, she wrote about it as a novel. The point of view is that of  a Russian officer’s wife who goes to the bedside of her wounded husband in Japan.

“The Railway Man” takes place 40 years later. The main character, Eric Lomax, is one of thousands of Allied POWs sent to help build the Thai/Burma railway under hellhole conditions. He cobbles together a secret radio to bring news and hope to his colleagues. When it’s discovered, he’s accused of being a spy and brutally tortured.

Back home in Scotland, the experience has left him traumatized, threatening a late-in-life marriage that offers a chance at happiness. After learning that the young Japanese officer who tormented him is still alive, Eric sets out to confront him.

Not an easy movie to watch, but a compelling story of human drama and historical insight.

 

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Filed under Biography, Books, Eliza Scidmore, Japan, Research

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