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To Bataan and Back

The critics have misunderstood The Great Raid's greatness.

12:00 AM, Aug 19, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
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In The Other Nuremberg, Arnold Brackman describes the atrocities committed by the Japanese in the Philippines, including the case of Lucas Doctolero, who was "crucified, nails driven through hands, feet and skull"; "the case of a blind woman who was dragged from her home November 17, 1943, stripped naked, and hanged"; "five Filipinos thrown into a latrine and buried alive." In the Japanese-occupied Philippines alone, at least 131,028 civilians and Allied prisoners of war were murdered. The Japanese committed crimes against Allied POWs and Asians that would be hard for a respectable newspaper to describe even today.

Holden's discomfort with Japanese stereotypes avoids any mention of the underlying reality, perhaps in deference to multicultural dogma. In the acknowledgments to Ghost Soldiers, one of the two books on which The Great Raid is based, Hampton Sides writes:

It was often said after the war that all the men of Bataan could well expect to go to heaven because they'd already served their time in hell. These men suffered enough for a hundred lifetimes, and no one in this country should be allowed to forget it. The veterans of Bataan did not merely serve their country in war; they lived through three years of gratuitous and often surreal mistreatment which, as they've come to the end of their lives, they still cannot fully believe or understand. They're old men now, but sometimes they still wake up in the night, sweaty and scared, tormented by visions.

By the time the survivors of Bataan were rescued in January 1945, more than 2,500 Americans had died at Cabanatuan.

THE GREAT RAID juxtaposes the story of these survivors with the heroism of their rescuers--the charismatic Lt. Col. Henry Mucci, the impossibly young and handsome Capt. Robert Prince, and the band of 120 Rangers they led on a mission behind enemy lines. The impetus for the mission was the certain knowledge that the Japanese would butcher their prisoners before the advancing Americans could liberate them.

The film accurately portrays the difficulties of the mission and the heroics of the Rangers. Prince, to whom Mucci delegated the design of the assault operation, concealed a crippling case of jungle rot that made mere walking painful. The rescue could have been a suicide mission. Yet it succeeded in liberating every one of the American POWs while losing only two members of the rescue team. Audiences inspired by the film to learn more about the men and the mission will not be disappointed by the reality on which it is based.

In the case of The Great Raid, meticulous reenactment merits congratulations and thanks.

Scott Johnson is a contributing writer to THE DAILY STANDARD and a contributor to the blog Power Line.