The High Country

Kempeitai: Japan's Gestapo

Kempeitai: Japan's Dreaded Military Police (Ramond Lamont-Brown)

I'm all in favor of books like this. As time goes on and memories fade, more and more Americans have come to regard the Japanese as victims of World War II. Sure, they bombed Pearl Harbor, but was that any reason we should have dropped an atomic bomb on them? (And those are the brighter ones. Others firmly believe that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor because we obliterated Hiroshima.)

In fact, Imperial Japan and especially the Imperial Japanese Army (it's worthwhile to distinguish between the two) ran a killing and torture machine that in many respects was the equal of Hitler's Germany. The Kempeitai did much of this work. Officially, it was only the army's police force, but it was feared by Japanese civilians, by the captive populations of Asia, and especially by prisoners of war. (The navy had a military police force of its own, and the Tokko "thought police" had the primary responsibility for keeping the Japanese themselves in line, but neither of these had the size or reach of the Kempeitai. Incidentally, that's pronounced more or less as kem-pay-tie.)

Unfortunately, Lamont-Brown is a professional writer of books, with 50-odd to his credit in a bit more than 30 years--a British Martin Caidin, if you like. Nobody can turn out books at that rate and spend the necessary time in research. As a result, this is mostly a collection of anecdotes and unrelated themes -- whatever Lamont-Brown turned up, he shaped the book around that, or so it seems. So it fails both as a serious history of the Kempeitai and as an indictment of the Japanese way of making war.

But it's the only one we have, and therefore worth reading. However, if your interest lies mostly with the fate of Anglo-American prisoners of war, then a better book to start with is Gavan Daws, Prisoners of the Japanese.

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