I had a meeting in the city today, after which I went to a small movie theater in Greenwich Village to see the film Behind Bayonets and Barbed Wire. It is a documentary about the Bataan Death March. What made it more immediate was that we interviewed one of the subjects this past summer at Governors Island. The film is a joint U.S./Chinese production and so focused in part on the often overlooked Sino experience during the Second World War. One can imagine that with China playing an ever larger role on the economic and political stage that this will be a more common thing. The interviews with the survivors are always riveting without lapsing into bathos, and the documentary even ends on something of an uplifting note.
The film’s major drawback was the unfortunate decision to re-enact scene from the Bataan march and the later POW experiences at the Mukden Prison Camp. I cannot express how distracting the re-creations are, or the extent to which they cheapen the film. The re-enctments may lessen the movie but they can’t take away from the events themselves; the Bataan/Mukden story is too powerful for that. With all that said, the filmmakers did the historical record a great service by interviewing these people before it was too late. If you have a chance, try to see the film if you can. I’m sure it will be available via streaming in the near future.
(image/Associated Press via National Archives)