The author in Olongapo, PI. The hull of a World War II Japanese patrol boat can be seen breaking the waters of Subic Bay.
Courtesy Arvin Quintos.
John A. Glusman is Vice President and Executive Editor of Harmony Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group at Random House, Inc. He received his B.A. from Columbia College in 1978, and an M.A. from the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Columbia University in 1980. He has taught at the New School for Social Research, the graduate writing program at Columbia University, and he has written for numerous publications, among them, the Virginia Quarterly Review, The Economist, Rolling Stone, Washington Journalism Review, and Travel + Leisure. In 2001 he visited the Philippines with his father, Murray Glusman, and that trip marked the beginning of his field research for Conduct Under Fire. He lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, with his wife and three children.
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Operating in War's Theater
Publishers Weekly Talks with John Glusman
Your father was one of four doctors in a Philippine POW camp. Along with those of the others, how did you decide to tell his story?
I was approaching the age of 30 and my father had a mild heart attack, and I remember accompanying him to the hospital thinking, I don't know this man very well. He was nearly 30 when he returned from the war, so I began to think about him as a young man and realized that he rarely spoke about his POW experiences at all. I published an essay about it then, around 1990. I was encouraged to develop it into a book; I said I had no interest in that whatsoever. But in the fall of 2000, my father was invited back to the Philippines, back to Corregidor, and I asked if I could accompany him.
Did the book change your relationship?
It did. My father died this past January at the age of 90, but he had read the book in its entirety. We developed a very, very close relationship as a result of it because I was uncovering stories in some cases that he hadn't thought about, addressed or recalled in decades. In some cases it involved tracking down people whom he hadn't known in 60 years. He was a very tough reader. He initially didn't think I should write the book at all—he said, "We did nothing extraordinary; we lived in extraordinary times."
So do you think that Conduct raises issues that apply to conflicts generally?
I absolutely do. How we behave in wartime. How one treats, for example, prisoners of war. Conduct under fire in terms of a clash of cultures. The Pacific War was very much a clash of cultures, very much a race war. These men were not just prisoners of war; they were doctors who were caring for other people, so their conduct had to be exemplary. Was it always? No. But they worked extremely well together and were extremely competent—they did the best they could under horrific conditions. They were very lucky to survive, and in fact one of them didn't.
You're a veteran editor, but this is your first book. How do you feel?
As anxious as any first-time novelist, which amuses me vastly—but it doesn't help me get over it.