China Diaries

By Major Van Harl USAF Ret.

Millions of Chinese in the eastern part of that country lived and died under forced occupation by the Japanese Empire in the 1930s and during WW II. The new book China Diaries by author Louis Stannard is historical-fiction, a "must read" on this forgotten subject.

I could not put this book down! In fact my daughter kept telling me to stop reading and talk to her, this from a teenager. I have personally known American and Allied military members who were POWs of the Japanese, so I went looking for this book.

The Holocaust in Europe continues to be well documented in both the press and Hollywood, but not the barbaric atrocities that the Japanese inflicted on China. For the most part the Japanese got a get-out-of-jail-free pass from General MacArthur. He told the occupational forces that controlled Japan after the war to be nice to the Japanese and do not make them feel bad about things like war crimes.

To this day Japan still makes a major effort to ignore their past. There is next to nothing about their war crimes taught in the Japanese educational system. Japan is winning with their efforts to hide their dirty secret. Most of the world does not know or care about the horrors that this small island nation delivered onto millions of their fellow Asians, but reminding the world of Japans crimes of death and destruction is the underlying theme of the China Diaries.

China Diaries is a fast paced book with a great story that holds the reader's attention. But more importantly, it is an important history lesson. China Diaries is historical fiction, but the events surrounding the story, unfortunately, are very true.

As I read the book I found myself doing Internet web searches on different points of history in the book, and the author Louis Stannard, got it right. After speaking at length with the author I learned he was an Air Force pilot for eight years, and then flew for Pan American Airlines for 26 years.

His book China Diaries is about a naval aviator turned Pan Am pilot. That naval aviator, Alex, meets and marries Anna, a White Russian woman, who lives in Hong Kong and also works for Pan Am, just prior to Pearl Harbor. Anna's Russian parents are living in Japanese occupied Shanghai, and she is trying to secure their safety. She is the central figure of the book and I have no doubt her story will appeal to female readers.

This is not to scare off the male, military-enthusiast readers. There is more than enough in this book for all, especially WW II veterans who fought in the Pacific. There are great detailed descriptions of the Pan Am "Clippers" and that contribution to 1930s world travel by air. These giant flying boats connected the US and China in a matter of a few days travel where before it had taken weeks by ship.

The story illustrates the efforts that Pan Am made to support the US military in the early days of WW II. The mission of the US Marine Corps in China prior to Pearl Harbor is another active part of this story, a bit of history that is not well known.

I write this with two purposes in mind. First as a review of a well researched and written book that is great entertainment. There is enough "boy-meets-girl," action, suspense and love to hold almost any reader's attention. It is, however, the political side of the book that holds my attention even beyond the enjoyment of a good read.

Japan has been allowed to ignore what they did in China. They were there killing, destroying, and subjugating millions of people for almost ten years prior to the US entering WW II. Their hate directed violence toward all things not Japanese did not stop until the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki.

The failure of the Allies (read General MacArthur) to try the Emperor of Japan for war crimes and hold that island nation accountable for their atrocities has allowed them to go unpunished for the millions they killed. But the US Marine Corp has not forgotten and the memory of Japan's brutality is a primary reason that on any given day approximately one third of the world's finest infantry organization is posted on Japanese soil.

Read Louis Stannard's China Diaries ( It is very entertaining, but more importantly, it is part of our history.

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.