A group of 307 Japanese POWs who surrendered during the last 24 hours of the Battle of Okinawa, June 1945. Wikimedia Commons.
2. Allied soldiers often refused to accept the surrender of Japanese troops, instead of engaging in the widespread and unlawful executions of POWs
Whilst the atrocities committed by the Japanese against POWs during the Second World War is common knowledge, the conduct of Allied soldiers towards Japanese prisoners is less so. Due to the horrific nature of the combat which occurred in the Pacific theater, front-line Allied troops grew to intensely hate their Japanese adversaries, which, in conjunction with propaganda exploiting the belief that Allied soldiers got little mercy from the Japanese, resulted in the mass preference to ignore their government’s stated commitments to uphold the Geneva Convention and to execute rather than accept the surrender of Japanese troops; it has also been suggested this was a strategic choice among U.S. senior officers, who “opposed the taking of prisoners on the grounds that it needlessly exposed American troops to risks” from Japanese soldiers feigning surrender to launch suicide attacks.
As a result of this attitude, by late 1944 the ratio of Japanese prisoners to dead reached 1:100 and despite efforts, including an extensive educational program and offers of ice cream by the U.S. military to encourage adherence to international law, at the Battle of Okinawa in April-June 1945 it remained a repeatedly observed practice to refuse quarter. By the end of the war the Japanese Government’s POW Information Bureau estimated just 42,543 Japanese had successfully surrendered to the Allies, contrasted with military deaths amounting to 2.1-2.3 million; to place this figure in context, 93,941 Americans were POWs just under German control in Europe during World War II.
Not isolated to American soldiers, historian Mark Johnson has detailed how “the killing of unarmed Japanese was common” at the hands of Australians fighting in the Pacific. In spite of attempts by Australian military command to take prisoners, “it often proved difficult to prevent [the soldiers] from killing captured Japanese before they could be interrogated” and the 1943 diary of Eddie Stanton, stationed at the time at Goodenough Island, near Papua New Guinea, reported that “Japanese are still being shot all over the place…Nippo soldiers are just so much machine-gun practice”. Major General Paul Cullen subsequently detailed how the killing of Japanese prisoners during the Kokoda Track Campaign was not uncommon, accounting that at the battle of Gorari “the leading platoon captured five or seven Japanese and moved on to the next battle. The next platoon came along and bayoneted these Japanese.”