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Michael Norman

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Sergeant Michael Norman, USMC, is a Marine Corps combat veteran of Vietnam (Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines) and “a former reporter for The New York Times who teaches narrative journalism at New York University. Elizabeth M. Norman, the author of two books about war, teaches at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education.  The Normans are the authors of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath. Michael Norman is the author of These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War.

According to the book description of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, “Tears in the Darkness is a major new book about World War II, in the tradition of All Quiet on the Western Front and Hiroshima.  For the first four months of 1942, American, Filipino, and Japanese soldiers fought what was to become America's first major land battle of World War II: the battle for the tiny Philippine peninsula of Bataan. The brutal fight ended with the surrender of 76,000 Filipinos and Americans, the single largest defeat in American military history.

The defeat, though, was only the beginning, as Michael and Elizabeth M. Norman make dramatically clear in this powerfully original book. From April 1942 until the Japanese surrendered in August 1945, the prisoners of war suffered an ordeal of unparalleled cruelty and savagery: forty-one months of starvation, dehydration, hard labor, deadly disease, torture and murder, and journeys on "hell ships" to the enemy's home land.

The Normans bring to this story remarkable feats of reportage and literary empathy. Their protagonist, Ben Steele, is a figure out of Hemingway: a young cowboy and aspiring sketch artist from Montana who joined the army to see the world and ended up on a death march, and worse.  In the end, his is a story that goes beyond survival, a story of how one man's abiding humanity sustained him.

Juxtaposed against Steele's story and the sobering tale of the death march and its aftermath are the heretofore untold accounts of a number of Japanese soldiers, the common hohei who struggle to maintain their humanity while carrying out their superiors' inhuman commands. The result is a brave, beautifully written, and deeply affecting book: an altogether new look at World War II that exposes the myths of war and shows the extent of suffering and loss on both sides.”


Booklist said of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, “Unlike historians who have spotlighted the titans - MacArthur and Wainwright, Yamashita and Homma - who matched strategies in the Philippines in 1942, the Normans focus on the ordinary soldiers who bore the brunt of the wartime savagery. At the center of this searing narrative stands Ben Steele, a Montana cowboy remarkable for the fortitude that sustains him through fierce combat, humiliating surrender, and then the infamous Bataan Death March into imprisonment: four years of unrelenting slave labor, starvation, torture, beatings, and disease. Because Steele went on in his postwar life to capture his wartime ordeal in harrowing drawings (here reproduced), readers confront in both image and word the brutality of war and the desperation of captivity. Readers learn how news of Japanese atrocities inflamed an American passion for vengeance and justified horrific bombing raids - incendiary and then nuclear - against Japanese cities. But readers will find it hard to view such raids as fitting punishment of a bestial enemy after reading the Normans’ chronicle of the bitter experiences of very human and often guilt-wracked Japanese soldiers. The narrative even humanizes the anguished Japanese commanders condemned by a victors’ justice that held them accountable for offenses of out-of-control subordinates. An indispensable addition to every World War II collection.” (Bryce Christensen)


The Library Journal said of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, “The battle of Bataan in the Philippines in 1942 resulted in the Japanese taking about 75,000 American and Filipino prisoners of war, America's worst military defeat ever. The prisoners were transferred across the Philippines, and treated horrifically in the process, in what became known as the Bataan Death March. The authors conducted 400 interviews with survivors and have put together an exhaustive narrative. They focus chiefly on Ben Steele, who survived the Philippine battles, the march, and 41 months in the slave labor camps. As much as a military history, this is the biography of a Montana cowboy transformed by great events.” (Edwin Burgess)


Publisher’s Weekly said of These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War, “For former Marine Norman, the Corps is a brotherhood that instills a strong sense of clan in its members. So, 16 years after a Viet Cong ambush on a bridge, he set out to track down 11 survivors of his platoon. One motive behind his quest was a desire to find out whether, as a 20-year-old radio commander, he left a man to die on that fatal day in 1968. His search brought absolution and a renewal of bonds of comradeship. Each ex-buddy had changed in a different way. One, an insurance executive, turned his wartime experiences into an "incessant monologue," a "series of comic skits." Another, a supervisor in a maximum-security prison infirmary, suffered an emotional breakdown just before freelance reporter Norman caught up with him. Told in simple, lean prose, this wistful Vietnam memoir is both personal catharsis and meditation on the anger, grief and loss caused by war.”


One reader of These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War said, “I came upon this book while searching for something to read for the period at school. I found myself entranced in the book and checked it and finished it that night. This is truly a great book which opened my eyes up to a side of war I never really thought about. War after all is said and done the different things which men go through. I recommend this book for anyone Interested in the grunt life of a Marine in Vietnam and also the psychological effects of The Vietnam War. Excuse my typing. Mike Norman Thank You for writing a great book.”

Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
Michael Norman  More Info

These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War
Michael Norman  More Info

Kirkus reviews said of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, “Assiduous account of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines in World War II and the fate of the American garrison there. The “death march” after Bataan fell in April 1942 has been a byword for the worst warfare can bring to a soldier. Some 76,000 American and Filipino soldiers surrendered, and their Japanese enemies despised them for doing so. The surrender was, write the Normans (New York Univ.), “the single largest defeat in American military history.” The subsequent forced march of the prisoners, many of them ill and wounded and all of them malnourished, led to more than 10,000 deaths. By the authors’ account, the Americans were a mixed lot, poorly equipped, trained and led - which does not square with many other accounts of the early war in the Philippines, and which will doubtless excite discussion in military-history circles. What is certain is that the Japanese soldiers were little better off, short on rations, beaten and abused by their officers and marching everywhere, since, their doctrine stated, “a drop of gas is as precious as a drop of blood.” The Normans take pains to present the Japanese side of the story, and some readers with direct memories of events may find their account too sympathetic, especially their portrayal of the commanding general, Homma Masaharu, who was executed for war crimes after the Allied victory. Yet their story says a great deal about the inglorious - and rightly unglorified - aspects of war, from the sense of shame that settled on the American commander at the moment of surrender to the terrible years that lay ahead. Drawing on the memories of participants on both sides, the Normans provide a careful history of a ghastly episode that still reverberates. Highly recommended for students of the Pacific War.”


Publisher’s Weekly said of Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath, “This grimly absorbing history revisits the worst ordeal Americans experienced during WWII. Michael Norman, a former New York Times reporter, and Elizabeth Norman (Women at War) pen a gripping narrative of the 1942 battle for the Bataan peninsula in the Philippines, the surrender of 76,000 Americans and Filipinos to the Japanese and the infamous death march that introduced the captives to the starvation, dehydration and murderous Japanese brutality that would become routine for the next three years. Focusing intermittently on American POW Ben Steele, whose sketches adorn the book, the narrative follows the prisoners through the hell of Japanese prison and labor camps. (The lowest circle is the suffocating prison ship where men went mad with thirst and battened on their comrades’ blood.) The authors are unsparing but sympathetic in telling the Japanese side of the story; indeed, they are much harder on the complacent, arrogant American commander Douglas MacArthur than on his Japanese counterpart. There’s sorrow but not much pity in this story; as all human aspiration shrivels to a primal obsession with food and water, flashes of compassion and artistic remembrance only occasionally light the gloom.”


The Library Journal said of These Good Men: Friendships Forged from War, “Former Marine Norman was not at a bloody ambush at a bridge over the Quang Tri River because he had taken over another duty, but the other members of his squad were, and they were riddled with bullets and shrapnel. The ones who survived were contacted by him 18 years later to see how they had fared after their combat experience, and they show how resilient the human spirit can be. Those wounded were now dealing with their lives as handicapped, and the untouched physically, like Norman himself, were reliving the guilt and pain daily. Norman's account of his journey to rebuild friendships with his squad mates is powerful, touching and knowing, and filled with personalities more deftly sketched than those in many novels. It is also as solid a document as reader's will find describing the human debris of war, and the strength of character of its survivors. Good work.

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