Book Discussion: Eaten by the Japanese

The featured image for this post is an old photograph taken during World War 2 in the jungles of East Asia. It shows armed Japanese soldiers in firing position. In front of them is a line of Indian PoWs they are using for target practice. Even in the long and terrible history of war, there is special horror for the atrocities committed by the Japanese in Asia.

Some years ago, a remarkable autobiography came out in India, it was titled Eaten by the Japanese. John Baptist Crasta young Indian NCO in the British Army was captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore. During the next few years, he lived as a prisoner of war. After the Japanese were defeated, he returned to his home in South India. He never spoke about his experiences to his family. But privately, he kept a record, noting down everything that he remembered about those terrible days.

Much later, his son Richard discovered these papers and published them. He sent copies of it to the Indian government and the army. No response came, no support was offered and certainly no-one asked any apology from the Japanese who India was keen to cultivate in the growing China-centric Asian environment.

There were many reasons for this lack of acknowledgement. The hierarchical nature of the armed services does not put too much on the word of an old NCO. Governments have their own contemporary policies to think of. Finally, there are some myths that we as a nation cherish too much to question.

The most shocking revelation of the book was the frank and unadorned description of the methods the Japanese employed on their prisoners and the casual cruelty they inflicted. To complete their intimidation, the Japanese even ate the flesh of some of the dead captives. The author’s son describes in an after note how he himself could not believe this part. The idea of soldiers descending to cannibalism was surely a mistake, some prison camp rumour started to frighten the captives. It was only later, when he met an American GI who essentially confirmed the same thing that he could come to terms with what his father had witnessed.

The other revelation was about the nature of the Azad Hind Fauj (also called the Indian National Army or INA). During World War 2, Indian nationalist leader Subhash Chandra Bose co-operated with the Japanese to raise battalions of Indian soldiers to fight for Indian independence in the form of the INA. These soldiers were drawn from captured Indian soldiers from the British Indian Army. The INA managed to wrest parts of Eastern India from British control before being defeated. The trial of captured INA officers was a sensation in pre-independence India.


Subhash Chandra Bose (front row, third from left) with members of the INA

Today, Bose is a national hero and the INA is a part of Indian martial pride. Its marching song Kadam Kadam is played regularly at military parades and at schools.

The book reveals a much uglier side of the INA. The author reveals that initially after their capture very few soldiers were receptive to the idea of changing allegiances against their former British commanders. However, the Japanese implemented a campaign of terror against anyone who refused to enlist. It started with starvation. The INA recruits always received rations while other prisoners went hungry. Torture and punishment were common, medical care almost non-existent, so mortality was high among the PoWs. Most people he knew who joined the INA did so not because of any nationalist sentiment but because they could see no other way to save their live.

If you want to see more of this book, please go here.



2 responses to “Book Discussion: Eaten by the Japanese

  1. Interesting. I think the Japanese have been hit harder with the “apology stick” since the 40’s than say the Allies who also perpetrated horrors on the peoples they ruled during WW2.
    With regards to the INA, of course it wasn’t driven purely by nationalist sentiment, just as the freedom movement was not driven by any exceedingly lofty ideals.

  2. I agree there has been a relentless demand for Japanese apology, long after the presumed perpetrators have passed on to higher judgement. There are now, the predictable denials and backlashes such demands eventually provoke.
    Regarding the Indian freedom movement, reading a diverse number of sources results in understanding diverse motivations. In India, it is particularly difficult to have nuanced views. To take the good with the bad is the anathema of polarization, so in the hurly-burly of debate no-one supports that.
    I do believe there were people driven by lofty ideals. There were also opportunists and power hungry politicians. To consider one without the other is to have a one eyed view of human nature.

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