5 Things I Learnt from Paul Ham’s Sandakan – Review

17674593Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches by Paul Ham, 2013, Trade Paperback, 656p.

Sandakan by Paul Ham, not an easy book to read, but very enlightening and moving. It is a nonfic work that recounts the Sandakan death marches in Borneo during WWII. Sandakan is deep and thoroughly researched, detailing the little discussed massacre of thousands of POWs. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Pacific War, Australian Diggers or Death Marches. I had knots in my stomach the whole time I was reading this book, so maybe not a good choice for those with a weak stomach.

The biggest shock however were the things that I learnt or were made clearer to me by reading this book.

1. The dropping of the atomic bomb did not end the war in the Pacific. 

This piece of propaganda is still believed by so many people but does not really hold up to historical research. As Ham states, 66 other cities had been razed by firebombing raids, killing many civilians. The loss of two more cities was merely a drop in the ocean for the Japanese leaders. The naval blockade and other economic factors influenced the surrender more. Japan was happy to present the notion they were ‘saving’ the world from nuclear disaster and America was happy to legitimise using the atomic bomb by claiming it ended the war!

2. Allied bombing of Borneo caused mistreatment of Australian and English POWs on ANZAC day.

This little nugget of historical fact is never pulled from the vault on ANZAC day, it certainly doesn’t read very well!

3. The human spirit can take such a beating

I was constantly amazed what these men experienced and still persevered through. Considering the outcome of the Sandakan death marches, the acts of spirit and resistance broke my heart.

4. Not all war criminals were given fair trials

I won’t spoil this just in case you want to read this book and are hungering for the chapters dedicated to the war crimes trials – I know I was – but things don’t really work out as they should. Depends on your point of view.

5. Heritage and the truth mean so much to the families of those who were murdered. 

The most shocking thing to me was the extent Australian and British Government went to hide the massive loss of POWs in Borneo. The families of those involved often embarked on long and oft-stonewalled journeys to find out what actually happened to their loved ones.

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