Regarding Paul de Vries’ Nov. 16 letter, “Who worked the Burma-Thai rails?” (a response to my book review of Richard Flanagan’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North”): The non-European forced laborers on the Burma-Thailand railway were prisoners of war. Noncombatants who are captured and compelled to do the bidding of their captors are POWs just as enemy soldiers are.
De Vries’ reference to the non-Europeans as “coolies” is a common misnomer. The Japanese referred to them as roumusha (laborers). This is only half the story: They were, in reality, “slave laborers.” Sadly the death rate of roumusha on the railway was considerably higher than that of European POWs, although it is the latter who have received the world’s recognition.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.