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In Session: Reassessing Modern Japanese Military History as Method and Framework
2: Dying in the Green Hell: The Ethno-Racial Soldiers and Laborers Undergirding the Japanese Military in New Guinea
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
Kirsten L. Ziomek
Adelphi University, United States
The aim of the paper is to examine the experiences of the forgotten ethno-racial peoples whose sweat and blood enabled the Japanese military to move across the mountains and jungles of New Guinea. It is not a story limited to labor, or being ancillary to the main forces. It is a story of extremities; what happens when pushed to the brink of exhaustion, starvation, and fear? The answers are bravery and depravity, cannibalism and gyokusai, the latter occurring before what official narratives state as happening in June 1943 in Attu. This paper focuses on the start of the New Guinea campaign from July 1942 to January 1943. Initially the campaign revolved around preventing the Japanese from taking Port Moresby, Australia’s crucial supply link to support the Allies in the Pacific theater. New Guinea was called a green hell due to its extreme climate, topography and diseases. It was notoriously difficult to see the enemy in the jungle–the enemy was everywhere but nowhere. Troops had to traverse mountain ranges with elevations up to 8000 feet carrying the wounded, heavy artillery, food and ammunition. Thus, forced laborers–Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese, Okinawans, Micronesians and several thousand local Papua New Guineans–became a critical piece to the movement of men and materiel while enduring horrific brutalities. Several hundred Indigenous Taiwanese volunteer soldiers known as Takasago giyutai also fought and died in large numbers alongside Japanese soldiers.