Review: Women Heroes of World War II, The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood

After reading the previous Women of Action books by Kathryn J. Atwood, I was particularly interested in reading her latest book, Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival.

I'll confess another reason I agreed to review this book for the publisher. Many years ago, I lived in Okinawa, and I traveled to the Philippine Islands, Taiwan, and South Korea.

I loved my Okinawan neighbors and co-workers. I thought the Japanese were friendly, hard-working, and family-oriented. I still think that.

I hope--pray--that the climate that existed in the years leading up to World War II in which business/industry leaders aligned with powerful politicians and leaders of the Imperial Army will never be repeated.

Living History

I've seen the jungles where the Resistance fighters hid in World War II. I've seen the bunkers scarred by grenades as Japanese officers committed suicide, the battlefields, the hangers for the kamikaze planes that still existed when I first arrived on Okinawa, the tombs where the Okinawan citizens sheltered during the American invasion.

I've seen the hatred in an elderly woman's eyes as she looked upon a Japanese tourist--even affluent young Japanese men and women who probably knew no more about what the Imperial Japanese Army did in those countries than an American teen. As I traveled into villages and high in the mountains in Taiwan and the Philippines, that hatred was expressed by the women spitting at the feet of people they saw as their mortal enemies simply by virtue of the tourists being from Japan.

My Review

Hardcover: 235 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1st edition
Book Size: Trade Size

Women Heroes of World War II, The Pacific Theater by Kathryn J. Atwood contains 15 amazing stories about ordinary women and girls caught up in the horror of war. The way they responded to the circumstances in which they found themselves turned them into extraordinary women. They were heroes by any definition of that often overused word.

The target audience for this book is Young Teens (14 and up). Because of this, the book is written without sensationalism or descriptive emotional response to the horrific events contained in the book. Nothing is airbrushed or withheld when it comes to the history of that era in that part of the world. Facts are stated clearly and without emotionalism, but that doesn't lessen the horror.

Powerful Heart-Wrenching Story

When one reads Maria Rosa Henson's story, it's impossible to feel unemotional. At fourteen years old, Maria was foraging for food and firewood when 2 Japanese soldiers grabbed her. A Japanese officer approached and berated them. They released Maria, but instead of being saved, the officer raped her. Then the 2 soldiers did. They left her in the dirt--bloodied and in such pain she couldn't move.

Rescued by a farmer, she was tended by his wife until she could go to her mother. Still needing food, Maria went foraging again with her uncles. The same Japanese officer saw her and, in full view of her uncles, threw her down and raped her again.

Maria's story is one of the 15 in the book. It's one story of rape in a time when tens of thousands of women in occupied countries were raped. It's estimated that more than 200,000 women were enslaved by the Japanese military in so-called "comfort stations." Let's call them what they really were: rape stations. In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, there were 17 rape stations for soldiers, staffed by more than a thousand enslaved women.

Horror Upon Horror

Yes, these facts are presented unemotionally in an effort to acquaint the target audience, without horrifying them, with not only the horrors of the last world war but also the fate of women in the countries conquered by a ruthless army of occupation. Starvation, torture, rape, illness, and death all awaited women--not just those who resisted or tried to help those who resisted yet that did not stop women from doing what they could to tend to the sick and wounded, to comfort the dying, and to fight in any way they could.

In the European theater, women resistance fighters and covert operatives were at risk, but in the Pacific theater, all women were considered fair game by the Imperial Army, not just those they suspected of being resistance fighters. Every female regardless of age was at risk of starvation, imprisonment, torture, and rape.

Why Read This Book

Ms. Atwood has done a thorough job of research into this era. She also offers insight into why many average Japanese citizens disavow the stories of "comfort women" and other atrocities. I urge you to read some of the other books she cites at the end of each chapter. I think the additional reading will enrich your knowledge of these amazing women and what they endured to help others.

World War II is fading from memory, and most people probably didn't know as much about the Pacific Theater as the war in Europe. The Pacific front was more horrific in many ways, and I think it's important to recognize the women whose lives and deaths are spotlighted by the book. There are women still alive today who had their souls shattered by the event in the Pacific Theater. If nothing else, honor them by knowing what they endured.

Although more US soldiers were killed in the European theater, there were longer, more pitched battles in the Pacific. Often those battles were hand to hand combat. I know when the Allied Forces tried to capture Okinawa, the bloodiest battle of the Pacific war, the Americans fought and died by the hundred for every yard they captured, and much of that fighting was bloody hand to hand.

If you never knew much about what happened in the world outside of Europe during World War II, this is your chance to learn. I cannot recommend this book highly enough for anyone who wants to know more about the world, and why it is the way it is today.

I cannot imagine a woman reading this without feeling an incredible respect and reverence for the women whose stories are told.

I urge you to read Women Heroes of World War II: The Pacific Theater: 15 Stories of Resistance, Rescue, Sabotage, and Survival, and you'll be proud of the women heroes wherever or whenever they may have lived.

Takeaway Truth

I strongly feel that the lessons of the past, our world's history, should always be acknowledged--never whitewashed--lest history repeat itself.

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