This episode of the 1950s television series Navy Log, a military drama based on true naval stories, is titled “Dr. Van” and originally aired on CBS on January 10, 1956. Directed by Jean Yarbroug, narrated by Robert Carson, and starring John Archer (the real-life father of actress Anne Archer) as Navy Lt. Commander Vance Crawford, the episode at the the US Naval Hospital in Guam, just two days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii during World War II. As Crawford, a surgeon, works on a patient, three armed Japanese soldiers burst into the operating room at mark 01:10, informing the surgical staff that the island is under Japanese authority. At mark 02:00, the scene shifts to the Japanese prison ship Argentina Maru as it transports captured Naval personnel to a prison camp on the small Japanese island of Shikoku. The prison commandant welcomes his “unwilling guests,” beginning at mark 02:40, and cautions them to follow the prison’s rules and regulations. As the senior officer, Crawford assumes leadership of the men in the Japanese prison camp. After an encounter with a combative guard, Crawford tells the men is his barracks at mark 05:40: “There’s just one thing to do — maybe the only way to stay alive — just stay out of his way.”
The next act of the episode starts at mark 05:50 and is set in the commandant’s office as Crawford meets with his captor, who informs him he was educated in the United States before the war. The commander bristles at the thought of the Japanese taking control of America, and tells him, “You changed the rules of war at Pearl, general. Someday, I think Japan will regret it.”
“War is always regrettable,” the general responds.
As the men walked the grounds of the barracks, a voice over explains at mark 09:18, “For POWs the war never ends. Not really. For there are many enemies. This is only one enemy,” as a guard walk past. “Another is homesickness. And hunger. Always hunger. And cold. And dirt. And sickness.”
When one prisoner develops an abdominal obstruction, Crawford is forced to perform surgery in the barracks. After being denied any morphine at mark 10:55 by the prison commander, he bribes a guard for saki to use as an anesthetic at mark 14:18.
Despite Naval victories in the Pacific Theater, the episode captures the frustration of the prisoners of war, who wonder what is happening on the outside and when they will go home. “The chows getting worse. That means the Japs are getting tight on food. It could mean we’re sinking a lot of their shipping,” one prisoner reasons.
When the guard who had assisted the surgeon earlier in the episode is seriously injured in an accident, the Japanese commandant orders Crawford to operate. He paraphrases the speech delivered by the general earlier. “That wouldn’t be logical. After all, I’m an American. Why should I be concerned with whether a Japanese undergoes a successful operation or not,” he asks at mark 16:38. “Remember your own argument?”
Bound by his oath as a physician, the character prepares for surgery.
As the 1945 flag raising on Iwo Jima is shown at mark 17:20, followed by scenes of victory at Okinawa, the viewer is reminded that the prisoners continue to wonder about the tides of war and treat ill prisoners, with the once tyrannical guard, his life having been saved by Crawford, willing to lend a hand by providing needed medicine to the prisoners. The general catches the transaction, but instead allows him to keep the medication.
“Take it. It’s yours. The world is yours if you want it,” the general says at mark 20:20. “Some time ago you said we Japanese were changing the rules of war … You Americans have changed the entire concept of war.” He then explains the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
“I thought war was a glorious thing. But now I know that it is ashes. That it is tragedy. Waste. Useless. Your atom bomb may have more than just change the nature of war. It may have changed the values of man. We used to think war war logical … but perhaps we were wrong, and you were right. Perhaps humanity is the only hope left,” the general says in a closing speech.
The then says that he and his family are from Hiroshima but are safe only by an act of fate … they had left the city to visit family in another Japanese city: Nagasaki.
Upon hearing of the August 8 attack on that city, the solemn general is shown removing a ceremonial dagger from its sheath and raises it above his head as the episode cuts to the Japanese formal surrender onboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.