WWII POW Cites Treatment by Nazis, Need for Geneva Convention Standards

Friday May 21, 2004

Donald Rumsfeld’s alleged comment (“...consistent with the Geneva Convention.”) is familiar to me, as heard from commanders of POW Stalags in Germany in WW-II. They lied to the International Red Cross Protective Power Teams from Geneva assigned to inspect Allied POW camps. Get used to it people! Military establishments lie, “pass the buck” and lie again when ever it is strategically appropriate for the mission at hand. It has always been so, for thousands of years; it is the nature of the beast. 

I was there, 1944-45, along with approximately 80,000 British and American airmen prisoners of war. The German government had signed the Geneva Accord on prisoner treatment and routinely passed the orders down the ranks. As a POW for one year I observed treatment by Werhmacht and Luftwaffe captors ranging from basically consistent with the Geneva Convention to abusive and life threatening, to fatal. 

The guards at the infamous Frankfurt interrogation headquarters terrorized us by allowing giant snarling mastiff attack dogs to come so close I could feel their hot breath and drivel. In August, 1944 several thousand POWs evacuated from Stalag VI were forced to run from the train depot to Stalag IV. They were bitten by dogs and jabbed with bayonets held by young Nazi Marine Youth commanded by a fanatical S.S. Officer. We heard their cries and I saw the wounds. I would not be here today if top German officers had not been good soldiers and obeyed international law and moral judgment by refusing to kill allied POWs as Hitler and the S.S. had desired. 

Shootings, brutality, overcrowded boxcar trips, and food and water deprivation can be cited. Although most of us POWs lived in minimally tolerable conditions, any degree of reasonable treatment was due to selective compliance of the Geneva Accord by various commanders. The attitude and behavior of the guards towards prisoners mirrored that of higher command. Military establishments learn from the past for how to subdue the enemy and more effectively use force again: that is a historical precedent. Apparently in Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq, under Bush’s military-industrial-complex (MIC) team, the standards of prisoner treatment have been sharpened to a vengeful ideological zeal: nothing new. 

The Bush higher-ups knew what was going on with the Geneva Convention and prisoner treatment long enough ago to act. Those insults are added to the ineptness and inadequacy of the occupation of Iraqi and Afghanistan that has increasingly turned the Iraqi and Arab society against the U.S. thus adding to the death rate of soldiers and civilians. The abuse and humiliation of Arab captives in a volatile Islamic region may be a calculated strategy and a deliberate ploy to fuel another terrorist act against the U.S.A. at home or elsewhere: exactly what the MIC is expecting before the national elections. We must remove our troops now and turn the rebuilding job over to an United Nations international contingent. 


Berkeley resident Ken Norwood served in aerial combat in World War II.