Vocabulary:
prisoners of war: captured soldiers during a war

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More Notes:
Ever since war began, the capture of the enemy was a path to victory. In the "Middle Ages" of Europe, soldiers were held for ransom. As war turned more deadly- and prisoners were taken in large numbers, the problem of keeping that many people under guard grew expensive. World War 1 made us realize that the "traditions" of humane treatment were no longer being followed- and something needed to be done to protect prisoners of war!

Extra Links:
Ever seen the POW Flag? Click here to see it and learn about its history.

More Notes:
Being officially neutral, Switzerland seemed to be a "safe" place for nations to meet. In Geneva, 47 countries signed the accords (at the urge of the League of Nations), which outlined procedures for treating prisoners.

Prisoners were not to be "inhumanely abused". They were to receive food, water, shelter and medical treatment. Prisoners were not to be executed. Any violation of the Geneva Convention would be considered a war crime, and those responsible would be punished.

There was a lot of room for interpretation when it came to the rules- but the general idea was there.

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Extra Links:
You can read the actual document at this link. Any particular "rights" surprising to you?

Vocabulary:
moral codes: refers to a society's beliefs in "right and wrong"- which includes their prejudices

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More Notes:
If a nation has a great deal of prejudice against a particular group of people, they are less likely to treat those prisoners well. Examples would include the Nazis- who viewed the Slavic people of Eastern Europe as a lower form of humans; rather than prisoners of war they were sent to slave labor camps. The Japanese had no respect for the Chinese, and often simply killed them. This was the social belief of these people

Another factor that could contribute to treatment of prisoners would be the "savage nature of the conflict". If a battle is particularly difficult- the winning army is much more likely to treat the prisoners badly than if they surrendered without much resistance!

More Notes:
Because the Japanese were so ferocious on the battlefield, the fighting was much more savage. On top of that, the Japanese believed all other races- including Americans- were below them and no more important that animals. Prisoners in Asia faced harsh and cruel conditions at the hands of the Japanese in World War 2.

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Extra Links:
Take a look at the most deadly weapon the Japanese had during the war, the Kamikaze suicide bomber! (gives some insight on the "no surrender" beliefs)

More Notes:
Early in the war, the Japanese were almost unbeatable. They rolled through the American held Philippines, overwhelming the forces there. When surrounded, our guys had to give up rather than face a futile death. More horrific than the battle was the aftermath, as they endured brutality and inhumanity. The Bataan Death March is appropriately named, as soldiers were shot, beaten to death, starved to death and died of dehydration along a 60 mile march!

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The Bataan Death March

Extra Links:
Here is a great page that goes into more gruesome detail of the Bataan Death March - including a map and more pictures!

More Notes:
Let's explain this a bit more- The Nazis had some level of respect for the British, French and even "Aryan-looking" Americans. To the Nazis, these people had Germanic origins- and were viewed as human equals. But, when it came to the Slavic people, they were treated as captured slaves.


We should also make a point here about the "moral codes" of the Allies. The British and French generally followed the Geneva Convention when it came to the Nazis, BUT the Soviets wanted REVENGE on the Nazis they captured. In fact, in the last days of the war, Nazi regiments fled west, to surrender to British and American forces rather than the Red Army (where they knew they would be treated as badly as they had treated the Russians)!

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Extra Links:
Here's a look at how the Germans treated Allied POW's from America and Britain.

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