The Enemy in Our Hands: America's Treatment of Enemy Prisoners of War, from the Revolution to the War on Terror

By Robert C. Doyle | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Over There and Over Here
Enemy Prisoners of War and
Prisoners of State in the Great War

It was everywhere noticeable that whether in prison or at work, the
German soldier always retained his military bearing and his excel-
lent discipline.

—General John J. Pershing

By the end of the nineteenth century, Americans began to worry more about populist threats to their democratic institutions and economic opportunities and less about the frontier.1 By the twentieth century, Americans saw themselves as noble and moral crusaders for liberal democratic traditions that included the rule of law, progress, freedom, and individual rights. With this kind of liberalism firmly in control of the American vision of itself, President Woodrow Wilson took pride in keeping the United States out of the Great War until 1917. To the deep chagrin of the British and former president Theodore Roosevelt, who advocated military readiness, the Wilson administration kept up its resistance to engagement by saying it was too proud to fight, while at the same time providing millions of dollars worth of military supplies to the Allies. America grew wealthy during the Great War, capitalizing on Europe’s pain. The American economy lifted from the recession of 1913–1914, factories hummed at nearly full production, and corporate profits soared.2 After all, to Americans from 1914 to 1917, much like the Federalists of the 1812–1814 era, business was business, even in wartime, as long as the war took place somewhere else.

In 1917, when the United States went to war against Imperial Germany, the use of prison hulks was long past; international rules for the treatment of POWs were in place; the Red Cross had come to the aid of American POWs in German hands; and, during hostilities, aside from the usual complaints about the food, there were virtually no serious problems to contend with, at least on the surface. In Room 40 at Naval Headquarters in London, the home of British cryptanalysts, the American and German diplomatic codes were broken easily. On 17 January

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