In a Nutshell
In April 1942, the Allied forces in Bataan fell to the Japanese after a four-month siege. The following 105-kilometer (65 mi) death march became one of the best-known atrocities of the war, as harsh conditions and sadistic guards killed up to 10,000 prisoners.
The Whole Bushel
Some events are so inhuman they etch themselves into our collective unconsciousness. With its litany of horrors, casual brutality, and quiet despair, the Bataan Death March is one such event. Having captured the Allied forces stationed in the Philippines in April 1942, the Japanese army decided the prisoners should march the 105 kilometers (65 mi) to San Fernado for transfer to an internment camp. What followed was a nine-day ordeal of unthinkable brutality.
The march commenced in blistering heat. The prisoners, already malnourished and fatigued, were forced to walk long distances each day along a track, lacking shade, shelter, or water. It was here the horror began. No one was allowed to stop—to stop for any reason meant death. Eyewitness accounts report men who collapsed from exhaustion being executed. People suffering the effects of dysentery who stopped to relieve themselves were likewise killed. Those with malaria, those who paused to drink, and those who tried to help comrades were all judged to have “stopped.” They were stabbed, shot, decapitated, or buried alive.
For the guards, the march was like sport. They fractured skulls with their rifles to see if those hit would stop walking. They administered beatings and ran over prisoners with tanks. Over 10,000 died in nine short days, and those who survived face many more hells: from the fatally overheated boxcars that transported them to the prison camps, to the camps themselves—festering pits of disease and squalor. As one soldier later said, to be on the march was “to come to the end of civilization.” The walkers entered a twilight world without humanity, empathy or hope—a world we should never allow ourselves to forget.