Review: The Indomitable Florence Finch

This is a pretty straightforward history of war from a ground level. Specifically it is mostly a history of Florence Finch’s extraordinary efforts to support American POWs when the Philippines were overrun in World War II. Robert Mrazak does a great job bringing in other people’s histories and general context that makes the scope very clear.

War is always terrible for people caught up in it and the events in the Philippines that Mrazak centers on bring that into focus. Americans know that the loss of Pearl Harbor basically destroyed the US Pacific Fleet. This book turns that academic statement into real events and effects. And they’re horrible events.

The US presence in the Philippines lost any support it had. The Philippines were basically a US colony at the time and the loss of the fleet meant that there was no way to supply the islands externally. The Philippines have resources of their own, of course, but they didn’t include things like arms production or reinforcements. Removing the access those was Japan’s point and they took control of the islands.

Again, that sounds very academic. Mrazak brings that all to life. The fears of the people – military and civilian – in the line of fire. Personal losses as the fighting commences. The loss of control as well: soldiers fought bravely, but their backs were to the wall. They couldn’t get out of harm’s way if they wanted to. Occupation includes both general privations and the horrors of POW camps. The risks that Florence runs to help fellow civilians and soldiers are remarkable here.

As the tide turns, the conditions for all concerned get worse and Mrazak doesn’t look away. It can be a harrowing read, but it illuminates the horror of war and the valor of people in the middle of it.

It’s well researched, but I didn’t find the writing extraordinary. Actually, though, in the best parts, the spare prose gets out of the way and lets the peoples’ stories speak.


Comments are closed.