Most Americans under the age of seventy do not remember that America housed 370,000 German prisoners of war in nearly five hundred camps spread throughout this continent during WW II. These men were killers of Americans, and they, too, like the men at Guantanamo, had been schooled in racial hatred. Yet, we did not treat those thousands of men then like the prisoners at Guantanamo have been treated, bound and shackled, who hate every American they come into contact with. Our government had a different frame of mind then–not an “eye for an eye” retribution of Mr. Cheney. These Germans were humanely treated, with every effort to stay within the bounds of the Geneva Conventions, which outlines the treatment of prisoners of war.
They were fed well, housed in decent camps, shown American movies, read American books, and worked at a myriad of jobs–picking crops, harvesting lumber, or stuffing olives with sweet peppers in canning factories. In fact, after a while, the American public was distressed about the POWs receiving such good food, while they were dealing with ration books. But the War Department fought back the naysayers because Roosevelt’s Administration wanted to influence the Third Reich to treat captured Americans the same way.
After our victory over Germany and Japan, about twenty thousand of these POWs were put through a six-day reeducation seminar at Fort Eustis, Virginia, where they were taught about democracy. The hope was this education and their time in the United States where they saw the living example of democracy would give them the taste of freedom that Hitler’s National Socialism never did. There was great hope among the staff of the Special Projects Division that these Germans would bring those values home to a broken Germany.
Let us be straight about the climate in those POW camps. The men were prisoners, and prisoners develop a close-knit society of “us versus them.” There were hardened Nazis inside, mostly officers and NCO’s who wanted to keep the men in line with the tenets of the Third Reich. Men were killed in the POW camps who did not toe the line, but slowly and surely, quietly with films and reading material and opportunities to interface with Americans as they worked out in the fields and factories, these men went home and built the Federal Republic of Germany.
To Mr. Cheney and his comment that President Obama has “contrived indignation and phony moralizing” over the issue of detainee interrogations, I ask the American public to look at what we have done at Guantanamo under the Bush Administration and then look at the results of our imprisonment of thousands of Germans who went home to build a viable republic. Would that have happened under Dick Cheney? I think we all know the answer.
Copyright, Geraldine Birch. All rights reserved.