I can’t know what it was really like during World War II and I don’t know anyone personally that was held prisoner by the Japanese but I am really having a hard time keeping an open mind about things that I read. When I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, I found myself pounding my fist or or needing to keep a box of tissues nearby. It is the same today when I found the subject for today’s post.
On August 29, 1942, the international humanitarian agency, the Red Cross, revealed that Japan had refused free passage of ships carrying food, medicine, and other necessities for American POWs held by Japan.
In January 1941, the U.S. government requested that the American Red Cross begin a blood-donor program to provide ready and ample supplies of blood plasma and serum albumin for transfusions for wounded soldiers. More than 13 million donations (each about a pint) were collected.
Among other grassroots efforts organized by local Red Cross chapters were bandage-making “assembly lines,” working out of local churches, synagogues, and town halls. Abroad, volunteers worked in military hospitals, reading and writing letters for the wounded.
Tens of millions of food packages were prepared and funneled to Allied POWs through Geneva, which served as a clearinghouse. But getting such packages to prisoners in Japan proved particularly difficult. Japan refused to allow even “neutral” ships to enter Japanese waters, even those on humanitarian errands. Despite protests by the Red Cross, Japan allowed just one-tenth of what POWs elsewhere received to reach prisoners in their territories.
As the war came to a close, the Red Cross followed on the heels of liberating military forces to supply relief and aid to those suffering from the ravages of battle. Approximately 20,000 professional Red Cross workers served during the war, along with countless other volunteers.