I have read this excellent answer in which @Semaphore provides sources confirming that German defenders of Tsingtao were treated very well during World War I, which even lead to some tradition in local community.

In World War II Allied POWs (prisoners of war) were treated very badly. There are many examples (one, two, three, four, etc.)

What factors made the Japanese to change their attitude towards POWs?

I was taught it was because they felt surrender is a shame, so a POW loses his honour, he is not a man anymore, so he can be treated as a slave. But Germans of Tsingtao did surrender. It was 20 years earlier than WW2, so the honour-tradition in Japan should be stronger then.

Was it because world-wide brutality and totalitarism (like in Nazi-Germany or Soviet Union)? Or were there other factors?

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    @SamuelRussell I learned this at school, on TV, movies etc. I will be glad to learn something new
    – Voitcus
    May 12, 2015 at 6:02
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    Maybe it would be interesting to know to which point the abuse of prisoners was "official" policy in WWII, In WWI there would have been less prisoners and prison camps, those would have been in mainland Japan, and government was not dominated by the military, so civilian oversight could have been tighter. Just guessing, of course. It would be also interesting (for further comparation) to know how were Russian prisoners treated at 1905. Just guessing about the things that changed between 1917 and 1941.
    – SJuan76
    May 12, 2015 at 7:15
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    After the Great War, Japan was excluded from the Allied Powers when American pressure forced the United Kingdom to let the Anglo-Japanese Alliance lapse. This betrayal/insult, as well as bigotry against Japanese emigrants in the United States in general, created a bitter sense of resentment in Japan that "playing nice" by following Western rules had be an exercise in futility. As ultra nationalism dominated Japan in the following decades, these experiences in turn helped fed into a growing xenophobia and hatred spearheaded by Japan's more militant elements.
    – Semaphore
    May 12, 2015 at 8:06
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    @SJuan76 The number of prisoners (~75k) at Bataan exceeded Japanese expectations by more than two to three times (they thought they were fighting 25k-35k Allied troops). The overall campaign had been so badly delayed that Japanese supply plans were derailed. Conversely, it also meant the physical conditions of the starving and malaria-afflicted Allied forces were worse than anticipated. This is, obviously, no excuse for the displays of brutality from Japanese soldiers, but it is inaccurate to say that it happened too early for supply shortages.
    – Semaphore
    May 12, 2015 at 9:46
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    @Semaphore maybe try to write an answer, will you?
    – Voitcus
    May 12, 2015 at 15:55

3 Answers 3


Well, I happened to be native Japanese.

Simply saying, the answer is because the relationship after the WW1, Japanese Imperial Army aggressively started invading China ( Second-Sino War )., which had them expanded so deep into China, whereas, the U.S and its allies were pressuring more and more on Japanese about it. ( Even Imperial Japan relied heavily on the production of critical materials such as iron through the import from the U.S.

According to here, even at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the difference of the materials produced between Japan and America is as below.

GDP : the U.S 12.7 vs the Imperial Japan 1 ( hereunder same )

Annual volume of production of warships 4.5 vs 1

Airplane 6 vs 1

Raw iron 10 vs 1

Coal 10 vs 1

Electricity 6 vs 1

Oil 740! vs 1.

Due to the huge gap? as well as the difference of opinions on Chinese matters, Japan had become callig Americans and British in Japanese "鬼畜米英", translated, "Americans, British The Fiend".

Probably the most infamous treat by the Japanese Imperial Army of American POWs is Bataan Road Deathmarch, which the Imperial Japanese Army estimated the numbers of POWs should've been 15,000 〜 20,000, whereas the actual number was 80,000. From the start, Japanese Army themselves are not fed enough ------------------

So that, when the Imperial Japanese Army, poorly equipped and thousands of themselves died out of hunger themselves during the Pacific War, it is easy for us to consider that Japanese Imperial Army treated American, or British POWs brutally so. ( But I don't think it is no comparable to Holocaust by Nazi Germany though...... but well, the defeated can not say so much. )

Thank you.

  • Does this suddent accumulation of upvotes on the old ( sorry ) question mean I am requested to add additional info...?
    – user12387
    Apr 17, 2016 at 21:20
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    No, it just means that it took us this long to recognize the value of your answer (because someone else answered the question).
    – Tom Au
    Apr 27, 2016 at 14:35
  • Thank you. I would like to add more detailed stories ( some are good stories ) for further info. Though, at overall, Semaphore is correct. We were faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrr away from the U.S in the term of the "militaristics and as well as economic" power. Probably you don't know there was a "special unit" which was established what would happen if the war against the U.S stareted under the command of the 1937-1940 priminister Konoe, and the result was "we would lose" haha.
    – user12387
    Apr 27, 2016 at 23:04

During Russian-Japan war and WWI the Japan wanted to be a member of the "civilized" nations club. And often behaved according to its rules. During the WWII, Japan already was the member of a very different club, the German-Italy-Japan alliance, that STRUGGLED against that old club and the rules of the later were negated or neglected at best.


In large part, it was due to Japan's choice of allies in the two world wars. (In both cases, Japan was a "junior partner.")

In World War I, Japan's main ally was Britain. That country preached (but didn't always practice), the concept of "fair play." Nevertheless, Japan accepted this "Western" concept in order to fit in, because Britain's allies represented"most of the world."

In World War II, Japan's main ally was Nazi Germany, a country that was fighting against "most of the world," and adopted an "anything goes" policy against most POWs. Germany's views actually coincided more closely with Japan's natural cultural instincts.

It's true that the Germans treated "American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand" prisoners quite well, and that their brutality was toward other prisoners on the eastern front. But Germany did this because it wanted to take on Britain (and possibly America) as junior partners in its "New Order." Japan, on the other hand, wanted to expel the Anglo-Americans from its "Greater Southeast Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere," which is why it treated Australian, English and Americans as badly as they (and Germany) treated "other prisoners.

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    Except that German policy towards British and American POWs -- who were generally treated according to the Geneva conventions -- was much less brutal than Japanese policy. Apr 17, 2016 at 15:01
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    Your argument basically suggests that the Japanese were operating on a "monkey see, monkey do" basis, just aping whatever their current European allies were doing. Which is nonsense. (And, in fact, Japanese army training and doctrine prior to World War I was mostly influenced by the Germans, not the British.) Apr 19, 2016 at 21:10

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