MR.Michel's War: From Manila to Mukden: A Junior Naval Officer's War with the Japanese, 1941-1945

John Michel, Author
John Michel, Author Presidio Press $26.95 (297p) ISBN 978-0-89141-643-2
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
As a junior naval officer, Michel served on the Pope, one of the dozen obsolete ""four-stack"" destroyers from the WWI era that fought a doomed rearguard action against the Japanese in the early months of 1942. Most of the Pope's sea time, Michel tells us in this engaging memoir, was spent on routine patrols of the Philippines and Java; its episodes of combat were almost too confusing to be terrifying. In port, repair and maintenance vied for importance with finding sources of food and liquor and taking advantage of opportunities to meet women. When the Pope went down after engaging a fleet of Japanese destroyers, Michel was taken prisoner, to spend most of the war in Japan, working as a laborer at a Nagasaki shipyard. Hunger, crowding and overwork took lives enough, but conditions were much better than those of the now notorious camps in southeast Asia. Even newspapers were available. By not challenging the guards and foremen beyond a certain point, the POWs were able to maintain a chain of command and enforce their own standards of discipline. Michel makes an excellent case for this system, often criticized in particular by enlisted prisoners. In a broader context, his narrative supports the contention that Japanese POW policies were essentially ad hoc (unlike those of Nazi Germany), depending more on circumstances and personalities than on concepts of honor or principles of racism. It is a tribute to Michel's character that he emerged from his ordeal able, as early as 1948, to make the clear-eyed statement published here a half-century later. Photos. (Feb.)
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