Tears in the Darkness is an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides.
For the first four months of 1942, U.S., Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was America's first major land battle of World War II, the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. It ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history.
The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From then until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: forty-one months of captivity, starvation rations, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, and torture—far from the machinations of General Douglas MacArthur.
The Normans bring to the story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy turned sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world. Juxtaposed against Steele's story and the sobering tale of the Death March and its aftermath is the story of a number of Japanese soldiers.
“Deeply researched and finely documented, Tears in the Darkness is written brilliantly in lucid prose. . . . A model of excellence in historical bookmaking . . . I couldn't put it down.” —Philip Kopper, The Washington Times
“An extremely detailed and thoroughly chilling treatment that, given the passage of time and thinning of ranks, could serve as popular history's final say on the subject.” —Richard Pyle, Associated Press
“Balanced, beautifully written . . . Many books have examined World War II in the Philippines, but none of them pack the punch of or are as beautifully written as this compelling volume. . . . A superb book about the unspeakable tragedy of war and the triumph of the human spirit.” —Terry Hartle, The Christian Science Monitor
“A lean, moving account...many books have described the atrocities. Prisoners were starved, beaten, and killed. This is different . . . Powerful.” —USA Today
“A searing narrative [and] an indispensable addition to every World War II collection.” —Bryce Christensen, Booklist
“No aspect of this battle or the infamous march that followed seems to have been overlooked. It is possible to buy volumes devoted to Bataan's nurses, its military chaplains and, in Hampton Sides's best-selling 2001 book, Ghost Soldiers, the men who rescued its survivors. It was not clear that this wall needed another brick. But then you pick up Michael Norman and Elizabeth M. Norman's calm, stirring and humane Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, and you think: yes, we needed another brick. Tears in the Darkness is authoritative history. Ten years in the making, it is based on hundreds of interviews with American, Filipino and Japanese combatants. But it is also a narrative achievement. The book seamlessly blends a wide-angle view with the stories of many individual participants. And at this book's beating emotional heart is the tale of just one American soldier, a young cowboy and aspiring artist out of Montana named Ben Steele . . . Mr. Norman is a Vietnam veteran and formerly a reporter for The New York Times; Ms. Norman's books include Women at War: The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam. In this book they step back, at regular intervals, to explain dispassionately what it was like to undergo the experiences these men went through. What are the physics of suffocation? How does a bomb blast actually kill a person? What exactly does lack of water do to a human body? Tears in the Darkness is a grim and comprehensive catalog of man's inhumanity to man. In the end, though, Tears in the Darkness is a book about heroism and survival. All along you are glued, out of the corner of your eye, to one story, Ben Steele's. If you aren't weeping openly by the book's final scenes, when he is at last able to call home and let his family know that he is still alive after more than three years 'missing in action,' during which time this thin young man lost 50 pounds, then you have a hard crust of salt around your soul.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Ben Steele, a young cowboy on his home range in Montana who had enlisted as a soldier in World War II, was caught up in the battle for Bataan in the Philippines, then in the ensuing death march as a prisoner of the Japanese, which he barely survived. Beginning with harrowing sketches of that experience, and in the course of various adventures and misadventures, he continued to draw and paint, and has since become a truly distinguished artist of the West. Tears in the Darkness is a well-told, well-researched, and moving narrative.” —Peter Matthiessen, author of Shadow Country
“Assiduous account of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines in World War II and the fate of the American garrison there. The 'death march' after Bataan fell in April 1942 has been a byword for the worst warfare can bring to a soldier. Some 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered, and their Japanese enemies despised them for doing so. The surrender was, write the Normans, 'the single largest defeat in American military history.' The subsequent forced march of the prisoners, many of them ill and wounded and all of them malnourished, led to more than 10,000 deaths. By the authors' account, the Americans were a mixed lot, poorly equipped, trained and led-which does not square with many other accounts of the early war in the Philippines, and which will doubtless excite discussion in military-history circles. What is certain is that the Japanese soldiers were little better off, short on rations, beaten and abused by their officers and marching everywhere, since, their doctrine stated, 'a drop of gas is as precious as a drop of blood.' . . . [The Normans'] story says a great deal about the inglorious-and rightly unglorified-aspects of war, from the sense of shame that settled on the American commander at the moment of surrender to the terrible years that lay ahead. Drawing on the memories of participants on both sides, the Normans provide a careful history of a ghastly episode that still reverberates. Highly recommended for students of the Pacific War.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The battle of Bataan in the Philippines in 1942 resulted in the Japanese taking about 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war, America's worst military defeat ever. The prisoners were transferred across the Philippines, and treated horrifically in the process, in what became known as the Bataan Death March. The authors conducted 400 interviews with survivors and have put together an exhaustive narrative. They focus chiefly on Ben Steele, who survived the Philippine battles, the march, and 41 months in the slave labor camps. As much as a military history, this is the biography of a Montana cowboy transformed by great events.” —Edwin Burgess, Library Journal