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0223 | The Coast Watchers – Eric Feldt

Context: finished this off at the desk where I’m doing my research job downstairs at 77 Field View.

This book tells the story of the Coast Watchers, a group of heroic men who played a key role in stopping the Japanese advance through New Guinea and eventually seeing them defeated there during WW2. As a rule, I like military history, and the subject matter that Commander Feldt has at his disposal is the stuff of legend. Detailed exploits of hundreds of individuals who battle against the odds to live or die on the wings of chance. Seeing as Feldt actually commanded the whole operation, he was in a perfect place to write a classic.

Unfortunately, not only can he not write for toffee, the poor man needs counselling.

I’ve never in my life read such an overtly racist non-fiction book. It’s truly a product of its time published, as it was, in 1947 in Australia. Now, I know the Australians don’t beat around the bush much and quite frankly aren’t reknowned for their etiquette. But this is going a bit far:

Of course, the Nip should have realised how the radioed warnings were ausing the defeat of his Air Force but he did not do so. Basically, he is a stupid little animal.

Well, I’ve got a ton of Japanese friends and, let me tell you Commander Feldt, they’re neither stupid nor animals and, what’s more, some of them are actually women.

Throughout the book, Feldt refers to the Japanese as either “the Jap” or “the Nip.” Even in adjective form, it’s “Nip this” or “Jap that.” It’s almost as if he was limited by the letter. This would also account for the incredible number of acronyms that are scattered throughout. perhaps he felt a sense of duty to put the rank and association of every single person who took part alongside their name.

And to make readability matters worse, he has no sense of coherence. He starts a story, introduces several people. Off they go somewhere, mentions a few more, starts an anecdote, whips back to the main story. Nothing happens. Then he finishes the story and you hear nothing more about these characters for 400 pages when he refers to them again. Bonkers. I couldn’t follow half of it.

There are some great episodes in here with some truly amazing war stories. But Feldt messes them all up with his cackhanded style and racist comments. And he also litters the book with irrelevancies. So much so that I felt if he’d left them out, half the book would have vanished. One example: he concludes chapter 20 with the one-liner

With the New Year, I was awarded the O.B.E.

Yeah… not the Nobel Prize for Literature.

So, one to avoid if you want a good read of what actually happened and one to look out for if you want a really bad read of what actually happened.




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2 comments… add one
  • Dean Bain 6 January, 2010, 8:21 am

    I’ll buy that edition off you.

    I like his writing.

    Ask the Chinese about Racism in the 1930’s and 40’s, they may not share your sympathies.

    None of the Japanese pilots, soldiers or naval personnel murdering Coast Watchers, P.O.W’s, non-combatants, women and missionaries were women. He didn’t have the advantage of a relatively secure world to hone his political correctness.

    As for the counselling comment, I am sure many good people probably needed it in 1946.

    By all means keep reading and learning, but try to show some respect for those that busied themselves ‘doing’.

    ps. If you like the history it tries to recount, perhaps read ‘Lonely Vigil’.

    • Arukiyomi 11 January, 2010, 2:16 pm

      Hi Dean, thanks for the comment. It’s a library book so I can’t sell it to you unfortunately. When Feldt accuses “the Jap” of being an animal, I don’t think he’s referring explicitly to the male gender. And there are plenty of examples of allied forces “murdering” POWs, non-combatants, women and missionaries… and it continues today in Afghanistan and Iraq whereas the Japanese “animals” seem to have been tamed.

      My point is, that history is written by the victors and on their terms. I wish that the authors would realise it. It’s hard to respect what they do without respecting how they express themselves or the values that motivated them.

      Lonely Vigil… I’ll look out for it… thanks.

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