After a three-week journey full of beatings, Louie and Phil arrive in Yokohama, Japan. The Japanese blindfold Louie, separate him from Phil, and bring him to a room where he meets his old college friend Jimmie Sasaki. Although Louie remains quiet, Jimmie reminisces about their college days and boasts that he is the lead interrogator in the Japanese POW system.
Reenter the book’s man of mystery: Jimmie Sasaki. Though Jimmie’s presumed high position in the Japanese army might suggest that he was, in fact, a spy, he also speaks about his life in America with great fondness. We shouldn’t be too quick to judge his true, hidden allegiances – his inner motivations and feelings – because they’ll soon appear to shift again.
A guard leads Louie outside to a large compound with several one-story buildings surrounded by a high fence topped with barbed wire. Two hundred skinny Allied soldiers stand quietly in the compound. Louie sees Phil far away sitting alone. A captive approaches Louie and explains that this place is an interrogation center called Ofuna, which is not a POW camp registered with the Red Cross. He tells Louie that he cannot speak or communicate with the other two hundred captured soldiers and must obey all the rules exactly or else the guards will beat him.
The guards continue their relentless dehumanization of the prisoners. The forced silence of the prisoners deprives them of the fundamental human need to communicate. It seems especially cruel to herd the men together like animals and prevent them from asserting their humanity in the most human of all activities: talking, telling stories, sharing their experiences as a way of coping with the trauma.
At the camp, everyday is the same. At 6 a.m., Louie rises, falls into line outside with the other men, counts off, bows in the direction of Emperor Hirohito’s palace, and then returns to the barracks for a meal consisting of a watery slop. For the rest of the day the guards force the men to clean the camp and exercise. The only change in the routine occurs when they hear screams coming from the interrogation room.
A tedious and soul-sucking routine like the prisoners’ can slowly chip away at their resilience and identities. If, every day, the guards force the men to carry out the same set of actions, the men have no way to distinguish themselves from each other or one day from the next. This daily routine threatens to alienate the men from themselves, zapping their individuality and breaking their spirit.
The guards mercilessly beat Louie and the other prisoners for the smallest infractions like folding one’s arms. Japanese society at the time valued beatings as a way of molding soldiers, so many of the guards at the camp did not see any problem with disciplining the prisoners. The Japanese people also believed they were the most superior race, which contributed to the ease with which they dehumanized the Allied soldiers. Other guards may have tried to cope with the unsettling experience of depriving the POWs of basic human rights by dehumanizing the men even further, reassuring themselves that they were hurting beasts and not humans.
The theme of dignity continues with Hillenbrand’s investigation into the motivations for the guards’ cruelty. In the last reason she gives, she argues that the war transformed essentially good Japanese men, who did not want to hurt their fellow human beings, into cruel guards. This transformation illustrates how war, a violent and cruel affair, alters the identities of peopled forced to carry out that violence and cruelty, turning them into heartless monsters.
The POWs fear most the announcement of a “kill-all” rule. If the Japanese thought the Allied forces would be able to rescue the POWs, then they would issue the order to kill all of the prisoners. Louie thinks that most of the guards would carry out this order with pleasure.
….Thus, the guards, who must also be aware of the possibility of a kill-all order, might have been depriving the prisoners of their human dignity in order to mentally prepare themselves for the ultimate inhumanity: taking another’s life. What looks like pleasure to Louie might be the guards’ coping mechanism for anticipating such terrible violence. Yet all this also shows how people give up themselves and their dignity as a way to protect themselves.