Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Guest Blog - A Study in Valor

In the last few weeks, I have overheard at least two women recommend that their friends read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It is a story of courage and hope. The Ten Boom family in the Netherlands sheltered Jewish people during WW II. Eventually the hiding place was discovered and the two sisters were sent to German concentration camps. It really is an amazing story. It has been years since I last read Ten Boom's book. I don't remember all of the details but I still remember the effect that it had on me. I had the same feeling when I read Viktor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, about his survival in a German concentration camp. I felt reverence and awe for these individuals who faced one of life's most horrible nightmares but retained their integrity and dignity. And in the case of the Ten Boom sisters, their faith.

Perhaps my curiousity about how people face unthinkable adversity and survive is what prompted me to read A Study in Valor: the Faith of a Bataan Death March Survivor. The story of Clarence Bramley's experience during WW II is retold by William T. Garner. Bramley actually was able to keep a small journal and his parents kept his letters. The book also has historical pictures that bring the reality forcefully to mind.

Bramley joined the Army anticipating that he would go to flight school and learn to fly an airplane. When he returned to the US, he found out that he had passed his tests and was accepted for training. However, he arrived in the Phillipines only about a month before Pearl Harbor and the susquent attack upon the Phillipines by the Japanese. Only a few months into the Japanese assault, McCarther left the island and left the men he could not evacuate to surrender to the Japanese.

Clarence was one of the men who was forced to march and to do hard labor in camps in the Phillipines. Although the narrative does not go into detail about fellow soldiers being killed by being beaten with a rifle or at the point of a bayonette or even beheaded as they struggled to walk next to Clarence, it takes little imagination to visualize the agony of these soldiers. Clarence was one of those who against all odds survived. When McCarther actually did return to Bataan, a peninsula in the Phillipines, Clarence was one of the captives who was put on a ship and transported to Japan. Although he had heard the sweet sound of American planes in the air, he was not there to be rescued from his prison.

The continuing faith of Clarence is inspiring. Throughout his imprisonment, he always believed not only that the US would win the war but that he would survive. Probably that faith is what motivated him to continue struggling against enormous odds.

One lesson I learned from this book was a greater understanding of why the US resorted to destroying two cities in Japan with atomic bombs. The devistation was so vast. Sixty-five years after the end of the war, one can easily weep for the loss of life of those people.

Garner tells of an incident early in the book when several Japanese soldiers who had surrendered to the Americans were returned to their company. There was no trial. No words were spoken. The soldiers who had surrendered were immediately executed. There was no shame greater than surrender. Clarence came to realize that his Japanese captors held the Americans in great contempt because they had surrendered instead of fighting to the death. They treated their captives accordingly.

Reading this book, was probably the first time that I understood why Truman felt that the only solution was to drop bombs on Japan. The US was convinced that Japan would never surrender otherwise and the human cost of the war in the Pacific was so staggeringly high already. Truman did not want the war to drag out for months with young Americans dying in such great numbers. He wanted the killing of American soldiers to stop.

Somewhere along the way in my life, I discovered that history does not remain the same. As years pass, history is reinterpreted as new facts are learned or perspective is altered. This is true whether the history is of a nation, the world or your personal life. It should motivate all of us to leave a bit of our history behind.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Guest Blog - A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Memoir by Jan Wong

Several years ago I heard an interview with Jan Wong on the radio and became interested in finding out what happened to the comrade whom she betrayed while she was a student in Beijing. However, it was a long time before I came across a copy of her book A Comrade Lost and Found: A Beijing Memoir. In a couple of libraries the copy was missing.

In early December I had the chance to read the book. Note that I have not read Red China Blues. Both books are biographical. I found the experiences and the glimpse of Beijing in the pre-Olympic years interesting. Not to give away too much to those of you who might read this book - when by a series of chance encounters, Wong does find her fellow student, the resolution is so simple that I am disappointed in myself that it did not cross my mind.

I have not felt spurred on to check out Red China Blues even though it is presumably a good account of the tragedy at Tiananmen Square. Do I really want to know? However, I enjoyed this glimpse into Beijing during and after the Cultural Revolution. I could do worse than to take a bit of time to learn more about this rapidly emerging power. I have to admit that the mysteries written by Lisa See are more up my alley, square, sidestreet....