KYLE THOMPSON'S ACCOUNT OF LT. COL. NAGATOMO'S SPEECH TO ALLIED PRISONERS OF WAR.

From "A Thousand Cups of Rice: Building the Death Railway"
Kyle Thompson 1994
Reprinted by Permission

Our stay at Thanbyuzayat was not a long one, but several memorable events keep this, our first camp on the railroad, etched in my mind. Shortly after debarking from the train, we marched into camp. Leaving our gear in our assigned spaces, we assembled on the adjacent, dusty parade ground. Lieutenant Colonel Nagatomo, Japanese commander of Branches Three and Five work forces, strutted, samurai sword at his side, to a platform in a preview of things to come. After uttering a series of glowing praises for the Emperor, Nagatomo, in his high-pitched, sing-song voice, addressed the prisoners before him:

You are only a few remaining skeletons after the invasion of East Asia [by the Western civilizations] for the past few centuries, and are pitiful victims. It is not your fault, but until your governments wake up from their dreams and discontinue their resistance, all of you will not be released. However, I shall not treat you badly for the sake of humanity as you have no fighting power left at all.

His voice rose shrilly as he praised the "inestimable thoughts and infinite favors of His Imperial Majesty," telling us we should "weep with gratitude at the greatness of them." Then, stating his desire to correct our "misleading and improper anti Japanese ideas," he declared:

We will build the railroad if we have to build it over the white man's body. It gives me great pleasure to have a fast-moving defeated nation in my power. You are merely rubble but I will not feel bad because it is [the fault of ] your rulers. If you want anything, you will have to come through me . . . and there will be many of you who will not see your homes again. Work cheerfully at my command.

Then, after warning that any attempt to escape would be met with execution, the pint-sized colonel told us what an honor it was to be involved in the important task of linking Thailand and Burma by a rail line. He concluded by ordering us to work earnestly and confidently, swaggered to his nearby automobile and was driven away in a cloud of dust.

We stood on the hot, dry parade ground, silent and stunned by the words of this enemy officer. He had hurled a series of orders and threats at us, none designed to assure our well-being. His speech had rambled and carried some inconsistencies, but many of his threats proved prophetic.

SPEECH DELIVERED BY LT. COL. Y NAGATOMO TO ALLIED PRISONERS OF WAR AT THANBYUZAYAT, BURMA, ON 28 OCTOBER 1942

It is a great pleasure to me to see you at this place as I am appointed Chief of the war prisoners camp obedient to the Imperial Command issued by His Majesty the Emperor. The great East Asiatic war has broken out due to the rising of the East Asiatic Nations whose hearts were burnt with the desire to live and preserve their nations on account of the intrusion of the British and Americans for the past many years.

There is, therefore, no other reason for Japan to drive out the Anti-Asiatic powers of the arrogant and insolent British and Americans from East Asia in co-operation with our neighbors of China and other East Asiatic Nations and establish the Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere for the benefit of all human beings and establish lasting great peace in the world. During the past few centuries, Nippon has made great sacrifices and extreme endeavors to become the leader of the East Asiatic Nations, who were mercilessly and pitifully treated by the outside forces of the British and Americans, and the Nippon Army, without disgracing anybody, has been doing her best until now for fostering Nippon's real power.

You are only a few remaining skeletons after the invasion of East Asia for the past few centuries, and are pitiful victims. It is not your fault, but until your governments do not [sic] wake up from their dreams and discontinue their resistance, all of you will not be released. However, I shall not treat you badly for the sake of humanity as you have no fighting power left at all.

His Majesty the Emperor has been deeply anxious about all prisoners of war, and has ordered us to enable the operating of War Prisoner camps at almost all the places in the SW [southwest] countries.

The Imperial Thoughts are unestimable and the Imperial Favors are infinite and, as such, you should weep with gratitude at the greatness of them. I shall correct or mend the misleading and improper Anti Japanese ideas. I shall meet with you hereafter and at the beginning I shall require of you the four following points:

(1) 1 heard that you complain about the insufficiency of various items. Although there may be lack of materials it is difficult to meet your requirements. Just turn your eyes to the present conditions of the world. It is entirely different from the pre-war times. In all lands and countries materials are considerably short and it is not easy to obtain even a small piece of cigarette and the present position is such that it is not possible even for needy women and children to get sufficient food. Needless to say, therefore, at such inconvenient places even our respectable Imperial Army is also not able to get mosquito nets, foodstuffs, medicines and cigarettes. As conditions are such, how can you expect me to treat you better than the Imperial Army? I do not prosecute according to my own wishes and it is not due to the expense but due to the shortage of materials at such difficult places. In spite of our wishes to meet their requirements, I cannot do so with money. I shall supply you, however, if I can do so with my best efforts and I hope you will rely upon me and render your wishes before me. We will build the railroad if we have to built [sic] it over the white man's body. It gives me great pleasure to have a fast-moving defeated nation in my power. You are merely rubble but I will not feel bad because it is [the fault of] your rulers. If you want anything you will have to come through me for same and there will be many of you who will not see your homes again. Work cheerfully at my command.

(2) I shall strictly manage all of your going out, coming back, meeting with friends, communications. Possessions of money shall be limited, living manners, deportment, salutation, and attitude shall be strictly according to the rules of the Nippon Army, because it is only possible to manage you all, who are merely rabble, by the order of military regulations. By this time I shall issue separate pamphlets of house rules of War prisoners and you are required to act strictly in accordance with these rules and you shall not infringe on them by any means.

(3) My biggest requirement from you is escape. The rules of escape shall naturally be severe. This rule may be quite useless and only binding to some of the war prisoners, but it is most important for all of you in the management of the camp. You should, therefore, be contented accordingly. If there is a man here who has at least 1% of a chance of escape, we shall make him face the extreme penalty. If there is one foolish man who is trying to escape, he shall see big jungles toward the East which are impossible for communication. Towards the West he shall see boundless ocean and, above all, in the main points of the North, South, our Nippon Armies are guarding. You will easily understand the difficulty of complete escape. A few such cases of ill-omened matters which happened in Singapore [execution of over a thousand Chinese civilians] shall prove the above and you should not repeat such foolish things although it is a lost chance after great embarrassment.

(4) Hereafter, I shall require all of you to work as nobody is permitted to do nothing and eat at the present. In addition, the Imperial Japanese have great work to promote at the places newly occupied by them, and this is an essential and important matter. At the time of such shortness of materials your lives are preserved by the military, and all of you must award them with your labor. By the hand of the Nippon Army Railway Construction Corps to connect Thailand and Burma, the work has started to the great interest of the world. There are deep jungles where no man ever came to clear them by cutting the trees. There are also countless difficulties and suffering, but you shall have the honor to join in this great work which was never done before, and you shall also do your best effort. I shall investigate and check carefully about your coming back, attendance so that all of you except those who are unable to work shall be taken out for labor. At the same time I shall expect all of you to work earnestly and confidently henceforth you shall be guided by this motto.

Y. Nagatomo Lieutenant Colonel
Nippon Expeditionary Force
Chief No. 3 Branch Thailand POW Administration


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