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

ELEVEN
After the Victory
Optimism, Justice, or Vengeance?

We also enjoyed the benevolence of guards who now and then
allowed us a rummage through their garbage-cans in search of
eatables. This saved us from starvation.

—Walter F. Greiner

No war in modern history took more military and civilian lives than World War II. The United States lost 293,121 killed in action on all fronts and 115,185 nonhostile deaths. In general terms, about 11 million civilians and 4.5 million soldiers perished on all sides in the Pacific theater of operations. In Europe, approximately 28 million civilians and 14 million soldiers perished. In the Holocaust, approximately 12 million people died, including 5.7 million Jews intentionally murdered by the Nazis from 1939 to 1945.1 Amid the joy of victory and optimism for the future that certainly existed in 1945, some semblance of justice had to be brought to bear on those individuals who inflicted so much death on the world. The question was how.

A second question was what to do with all the German soldiers who surrendered at the end of the war. Keeping bona fide enemy prisoners of war was a requirement of all belligerent signatories to the 1929 Geneva Convention, but handling so many soldiers in 1945, many of them boys and old men, strained Allied assets in Europe to the breaking point until the U.S. Army and the other Allies devised a plan of action to deal with them. The third question in Europe was what to do with the “surviving remnant” of the Holocaust, and under what military or civilian statutes could the perpetrators of this horror be brought to justice? The fourth question was similar to the third but had to do with the Japanese perpetrators of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere that terrorized millions of people.

Before dealing with postwar problems, the U.S. Army dealt with some old business: what to do with fifteen German EPWs convicted by courts-martial in 1944 of murdering fellow prisoners and held for ex-

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