The Pacific War: Prisoners of War (Pows)

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In the Second World War, the Japanese captured approximately 3 million prisoners of war. The sufferings of these people were horrific, with an extremely high death rate. This essay will compare and contrast the treatment of Prisoners of War between Japan and the Allied forces during the Pacific War. Prisoners of the Japanese, including Australians were treated much worse than those of the Allies because provisions in Japanese camps were low and Red Cross packages were denied, and the rate of death was extremely high due to the harsh treatment and conditions of the prisoners in the camps. Investigation of provisions provided by the prison camps, statistics on the number of prisoners in each country and the general treatment of prisoners of war is included.

The Third Geneva Convention is part of an international treaty which defines the humanitarian protections for prisoners of war. It clearly states “an impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.” (Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) During the Second World War, the nations of Western Europe allowed the Red Cross carried out its work of supporting those who had been taken prisoner. A typical parcel would contain food items such as powdered milk, dried nut bars and tins of food. The contents of each parcel varied, but prisoners could swap what they didn’t like with their fellow prisoners. Other provisions in camps were minimal but acceptable; mainly bread, water and vegetables. In Britain, German prisoners of war were allocated the same food ration as British servicemen and given access to medical care. However With minor and inevitable exceptions on the lower levels, the United States and Great Britain generally honoured the Geneva Convention throughout the conflict.

The same was not as true with those unlucky enough to be sent to a Japanese prison camp. 22,000 Australians were captured by the Japanese in the Pacific War: soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians. They were imprisoned in various camps throughout Japanese-occupied territories in Borneo, Korea, Manchuria, Hainan, Rabaul, Ambon, Singapore, Timor, Java, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam and also Japan itself. (Australia's War 1939 - 1945) Japan never signed the Geneva Convention, so they didn’t follow the rules on how captured personnel should be treated, including the distribution of Red Cross items. At the Changi camp run by the Japanese in Singapore, on average, a prisoner received a fraction of one food parcel sent by the Red Cross in the three-and-a half years that the camp was open. (The Red Cross and World War Two) Many other POW camps received no Red Cross supplies at all. In August 1942 the Japanese restricted all neutral ships entering Japanese waters, even those flying the flag of the Red Cross. The majority of prisoners survived on barley, green stew, meat or fish once a month and seaweed stew, which was just enough to keep them alive for labour. Prisoners were basically treated and considered as “disposable economic units” (Ray, 1999) who performed for long hours in appalling conditions.

Although relatively well looked after, many German prisoners of war suffered mentally. They had no information about their families, the state of their country or when they would be released. In the Allied camps, there were activities such as lectures, concerts and English lessons, football and other sports. The range of alternative activities such as these varied from camp to camp. The terms of the Geneva Convention specified that prisoners of war should not be forced to work while in captivity. However, many German prisoners of war chose to work rather than sit around the camp doing nothing. Some chose to worked on farms harvesting, rebuilding homes damaged by bombing, or clearing bomb damage. When the war ended, the Allies designed a re-education programme for German...
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