DURING the course of World War II over 430,000 prisoners of war (POWs) embarked on an unforseen journey to the distant, alien land of their most powerful enemy. Upon surrendering to advancing Allied troops, many German, Italian, and Japanese prisoners were removed from the various war theaters and shipped to the continental United States. The largest group of these accidental tourists—some 380,000— were Germans. The sudden and massive presence of enemy captives on American soil led the Pentagon to breach both prevailing military etiquette as well as the Geneva Convention by establishing a reeducation program for these soldiers of the Third Reich. The program's ultimate objective was to provide ideological alternatives to National Socialism for the cross section of the German nation represented in the prison camps.
The enemy POW experience in the United States is by now a dim memory, conjured up occasionally to illustrate a host of other issues. In V Was For Victory, John Morton Blum's seminal study of American society in the war years, the POWs are invoked as an illustration of the irrationality of segregation, when a group of African-American soldiers are denied access to a Kansas diner, while German POWs enter the establishment freely. 1 A recent story in Reader's Digest describes the meeting between an American family and German prisoners as an illustration of the importance of forgiveness in Christianity. 2 Such typical vignettes of POWs in the United States make no mention of the ambitious indoctrination program for enemy captives; reeducation appears to have no part in the public memory of the home front.
To a certain degree, as Barry Katz suggests in his study of another of the war's academic enterprises, the fading of this footnote to the global conflict is understandable. The mobilized humanists who ran such scholarly wartime endeavors “did not engineer a secret weapon, nor can they be said, by any stretch of the imagination, to have made a decisive contribution to the war.” 3 When measured narrowly as just another sideshow of World War II, the reeducation of enemy POWs was of little lasting significance.
Such an assessment of this intellectual venture is however, misleading. To be sure, reeducation neither altered the course of the war nor affected