Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

The Geneva Convention -

You may be tired of hearing me on this subject of torture, but my father was captured by the Germans during WWII when his plane was shot down.   He said he was well-treated.   There was not a lot of food because there wasn't a lot of food for anyone.  They survived because of the Red Cross packages.  They sometimes shared what they received in the Red Cross packages with the guards.  I read a book on a man who was in charge of interrogation of fighter pilots.    He was gentle and kind, and stayed friends with many of those he "interviewed" after it was over.    The information changes so fast, there was not much of value to be gotten anyway.   The victory Bush has won is wrong and we are allowing him to continue to destroy what this country has stood for, and for no reason.   How very sad this is.      I offer another piece from the NY Times today.

Op-Ed Contributor

Firing Potent Words, From a Tank

Published: September 25, 2006

I’M pleased that President Bush has said he will enforce the letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. I hope he stays true to his word.

My great respect for the conventions developed not from afar, but from the ground, in the Second World War, at the dirty-boot level, where the bullet meets the soldier.

As a young Army lieutenant, I had the job of making clear to the enemy, via loud speaker or leaflet-filled artillery shells, that the accords would be honored. Over and over, from Normandy to the Elbe, in tanks and in foxholes, my sergeants and I would say in German, “You will be well handled according to the Geneva Conventions.”

How did I find myself in this line of work? I started out with the Tank Destroyer Forces. But in one of Gen. George Marshall’s few mistakes, the destroyers were disbanded. Noting that I spoke some German, the Army then placed me as a second lieutenant in a German-speaking unit. Some of us made broadcasts; others interviewed captured German soldiers to discover ways to damage their morale.

This work was new to us and the Army, and we made up our rules as we went along. Through interviews with prisoners, we soon discovered that reminding Germans that they would be treated according to the Geneva Conventions was one of the most effective ways to persuade them to surrender.

Our broadcasts, then, took on the following structure: first, we’d outline what we knew about the German position; second, we’d describe the weight of artillery and air power that was about to fall on them; finally, we’d end with assurances that those troops who surrendered would be well treated under the Geneva Conventions.

Loudspeaker missions were not popular, as the Germans most often tried to shut them up with heavy fire. Initially, we’d place our speakers near the front lines and then run cables to the relative safety of the foxhole from which we’d broadcast.

Having trained as a “tanker,” I hoped to get loudspeakers off the ground and mounted on tanks, where they would be mobile and infinitely more effective during an attack. It was a wish that would not be fulfilled overnight: I was a young lieutenant in the position of having to persuade a tank general to give up a fighting vehicle for a loudspeaker.

Eventually, and somewhat to my surprise, I succeeded. After the Battle of the Bulge, I received the O.K. to mount a loudspeaker on a light tank of the Second Armored Division. At the same time an O.S.S. agent placed a loudspeaker on a Third Armored Division tank. He unfortunately was soon killed. This left my “talking tank,” as the Second Armored Division tank became known, as a pioneer.

At last, we could broadcast our message during an attack. This was an advantage because the enemy was more likely to surrender during an attack than after the battle had quieted down.

The jury-rigged tank also worked remarkably well. The loudspeaker itself was mounted on the forward slope of the turret and partly covered by a metal casing that resisted light machine-gun fire. The generator was set over the engine in the rear, totally covered. All the tank’s weapons could operate, though the wires attached to the speaker limited turret motion. Some of the ammunition racks inside the tank were removed and the amplifiers for the loudspeaker fastened to the steel insides.

We broadcasters lived in the turret, the tank driver was forward in the driver’s compartment and the electrician who maintained the loudspeaker and electronic equipment occupied the assistant driver’s seat.

Having trained as a tanker, I was familiar with tank combat. I could work the radios and fire the guns. I usually placed the tank as No. 3 in an attack column. There, it could broadcast immediately without interfering with the two point tanks as they checked right and left.

We were a success. In three weeks fighting beyond the Rhine in 1945, the Second Armored Division credited the talking tank for the surrender of 5,000 prisoners. The actions of the other tankers were also crucial. Their willingness to hold their fire gave surrenders a chance to happen. Germans had time to weigh the alternatives: an attack from our tanks versus imprisonment under the Geneva Conventions. In this way, American and German lives were saved.

The British had a similar strategy, though they did not use loudspeakers. They had a truck-drawn trailer with a radio broadcast studio and station inside. Led by Marius Goring (famous, later, as the hero of “The Red Shoes”), this unit would interview cooperative German prisoners and broadcast their reactions to their capture into Germany. In these broadcasts Goring would get prisoners to stress that while being a prisoner was no pleasure, they were treated fairly under the Geneva Conventions.

Yes, times have changed. Yes, we face a different enemy from the one we faced half a century ago. But I’ve seen firsthand the power of Geneva Conventions, both to compel surrenders and to broadcast, for the world, our determination to live up to our highest ideals.

Arthur T. Hadley, a former assistant executive editor at The New York Herald Tribune, is the author of a forthcoming memoir, “Heads or Tales.”


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