A callous disregard for the rules of war doomed the Allied prisoners on a Japanese merchantman to death at the hands of their own countrymen.
During WW II 70,000 or more allied prisoners of war and conscripted Asian laborer were moved in Japanese merchant ships across the vast expanse of the occupied East. These vessels were called “hell ships,” and with good reason. POWs and slave laborers were crammed into stinking holds, filthy with coal dust, congealed sugar syrup and horse manure left over from previous voyages. Without water, or nearly so sick, abuse and neglected, they baked in unimaginable heat inside their steel prisons.
Many died. Some went mad. Others were murdered. Some of the cruelty they experienced was extraordinary even for prisoners of the Japanese. On one ship jammed with prisoners in blazing heat, the water lowered into the holds was far too little and, one POW remembered, “foul and polluted, covered with a thick, greenish scum.” Two more containers sent down from the deck contained only seawater and urine. “You are bred like rats,” the ship’s interpreter sneered, “and you will die like rats.”
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