In only five months after Pearl Harbor Japan captured more than 140,000 Allied POWs and 130,000 civilian internees. More than a third of American servicemen did not survive, and more Australians died in captivity than were killed in combat. This has been the subject of countless books and films, but few have asked why so many endured such horrendous treatment. Kovner explains how much of the worst treatment resulted from a lack of planning, poor training, and bureaucratic incompetence rather than any policy to abuse prisoners. The lessons have important implications for how America treats its own captives.
Sarah Kovner is a Senior Research Scholar at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. She has been a Fellow in International Security Studies at Yale University and an Associate Professor of History at the University of Florida.
Kovner’s first book, Occupying Power: Sex Workers and Servicemen in Postwar Japan, was a Choice Outstanding Academic Title, and won the best book prize of the Southeast Conference Association for Asian Studies. Her new book, Prisoners of the Empire: POWs and Their Captors in the Pacific, was published by Harvard University Press in September 2020. Her work has been published in the Journal of Asian Studies, the Journal of Women’s History, and Diplomatic History, and has also been translated into Japanese and Chinese.
Kovner received her A.B. from Princeton University and her Ph.D. from Columbia. She also studied at Kyoto University and the University of Tokyo.