Prisoner of the British: Yuji Aida. Translated from the Japanese by Hide Ishiguro and Louis Allen. The Cresset Press. 30s.
Professor Aida’s book is of great interest: he was imprisoned by the British in a camp near Rangoon, for two years after the end of the war. A vast number of books have portrayed the British as prisoners—from the schoolboyish chronicles (written by officers) of escapes from Germany to accounts of the much more intolerable experience (for the British armed forces at least) of being prisoners of the Japanese. Much of Aida’s book consists of the small change of pow life anywhere: thieving, petty sabotage, desperate efforts to construct a reasonable life out of the most nugatory materials. But he sustains throughout the book an energetic and resolute dislike of the British; not so much for acts of physical cruelty, though there were some, but more for the way in which the British, utilitarians of the most subtle description, reduced the Japanese to a work force deprived of the status of civilized human beings.
Like many people confronted by the British he accords them either superhuman cunning or subhuman stupidity. Class divisions in the British army he found easy to detect, the officers always larger and more confident and sportive looking than the men. Paradigmatic of his experience of the British seems to have been a sergeant, nicknamed the ‘Buzzard’ who employed Japanese prisoners to guard him during his tireless tractations with a Burmese girl: the Japanese had to sit and observe his manoeuvres, ‘his sunken blue eyes gleaming’, while the local Burmese threw sticks and stones through the window and fired the occasional shot. The British have been singularly unrevealed by war-literature—their own is surely the most impoverished of all the European participants—and Aida’s book, though often trivial and at times unintelligent, is a contribution not only to the history of the Second World War, but also, indirectly, to the history and psychology of imperialism as well.