"The evil that men do lives after them," William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar. The magnitude of the human cruelty and violence is often reflected when the events have a name virtually everyone recognizes. One of those is the Bataan Death March, the name given to the Japanese forcing more than 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war to walk up to 60 miles from the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines to a central transfer point in April 1942, the midst of the hottest season, with little or no food or water and subject to being beaten, shot or bayoneted at the whim of their captors. More than 65 years later, that event is explored masterfully in Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath.
The book, written by husband and wife Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman, combines broad perspective and history with specific, personal events from a wide range of observers and participants. The book is made even more powerful by the range of personal perspective it uses. Although the story of Ben Steele of Montana helps provide a framework, the Normans give us viewpoints of a significant number of Americans and Filipinos, as well as Japanese.
Steele, whose drawings illustrate the book, works well as an archetype of the American experience. He joined the Army Air Corps before the war and ended up being stationed in the Philippines. He was among the many U.S. military men on the island who were forced into combat roles for which they hadn't really been trained. He was on the Death March and in the largest prison camp set up after it. He was placed on a road building crew in the middle of the jungle under conditions worse than the prison camp. He spent time in what passed for the central hospital for American prisoners, one the equipment available for a tracheotomy were a piece of rubber tube and a safety pin. He was then was crammed with more than 1,000 others into the hold of tanker and shipped to Japan as forced labor in a coal mine.
Thus, Steele saw virtually the entire spectrum of the Bataan experience. As noted, though, his story is just part of Tears in the Darkness. The Normans do an excellent job relating the events and circumstances leading up to the battle of the Philippines, the battle in the Bataan peninsula and the death march. Likewise, they follow Norman and others home after the war and report on the war crimes trial of Masaharu Homma, the Japanese general who commanded the force that invaded the Philippines.