Sunday, May 04, 2008

It doesn't have to be that way ...

The _________ generally treated the _________ as inferiors who ought to be grateful for _________ 's willingness to lead the struggle against _________ and to establish a new order across _________ under its leadership. ... The _________ cruelly mistreated _________ prisoners. ... Operating on the pretense that _________ was involved in an "incident" rather than a war, the government generally left handling of POWs to subordinate unit commanders. ... Few records of the fate of _________ POWs were maintained, and inspections of POW camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross were not permitted.

Did this read to you like a description of the U.S. "war on terror" in Afghanistan, or perhaps Iraq? It did to me, but that's not the subject described here. This paragraph recounts the behavior of Japanese forces invading and subjugating China in the 1930's. See the bottom of the post to read the original paragraph.

Apparently armies that consider themselves superior to those they conquer tend to indulge in similar excesses toward the defeated -- unless some wiser authority enforces better behavior.

But it doesn't have to be that way ...

Ulrich Strauss, a retired U.S. diplomat long resident in Japan, has published a rich account of the interior struggles of the few Japanese who became prisoners of U.S. forces during the Pacific conflict in World War II. Its title, The Anguish of Surrender, refers to the Japanese soldiers' strongly held conviction that they must never allow themselves to be captured -- to do so would be the ultimate betrayal of their country. Yet despite this belief, a few were taken prisoner. And because their captors rapidly figured out that good treatment by Japanese speaking interrogators would melt their resistance, these POWs frequently provided useful intelligence to U.S. forces.

Many POWs, ill and starving after days wandering in the jungles or hiding out in caves, were astonished at the superior quality of food and medical treatment they received. Contrary to expectations, most Japanese POWs, psychologically unprepared to deal with interrogations, provided information to their captors. Trained Allied linguists, especially Japanese Americans, learned how to extract intelligence by treating the POWs humanely. Allied intelligence personnel took advantage of lax Japanese security precautions to gain extensive information from captured documents. A few POWs, recognizing Japan's certain defeat, even assisted the Allied war effort to shorten the war.

The U.S.-Japanese war was a brutal and racist conflict. For more on this, see historian John Dower's War Without Mercy. Each side thought the other racially inferior.

Yet U.S. military leaders understood that humane treatment of prisoners benefited their forces. They restrained troops who might have executed enemies and chose to obey the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war even though Japan famously was violating these norms. And restraint paid off, in a shorter war and a peace in which the defeated could recover their self-respect and dignity.
***


Here's the paragraph quoted above with the blanks filled in.

The Japanese generally treated the Chinese as inferiors who ought to be grateful for Japan's willingness to lead the struggle against Western colonialism and to establish a new order across East Asia under its leadership. ... The Japanese cruelly mistreated Chinese prisoners. ....Operating on the pretense that Japan was involved in an "incident" rather than a war, the government generally left handling of POWs to subordinate unit commanders. ... Few records of the fate of Chinese POWs were maintained, and inspections of POW camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross were not permitted.


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