Thesis: German POW's Treatment by Americans During WWII

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German POW's Treatment by Americans During WWII

German POWs: Their Treatment by Americans During WWII

Officially beginning in 1941 and ending in 1945, World War II saw an onslaught of technology, much of which had not previously been widely used. The main advances were in planes and small weapons. Unfortunately, the way that people looked at one another and how they treated one another did not evolve in the same way that technology did. Some of the technology that was used at the end of the war had not been available at the beginning, and was therefore important in the war effort to those that get their hands on it and supply their armies. Some of it was also used for torture and to keep prisoners of war. Without the technology that was available, the war might have actually been much longer, although some of the more advanced technology did result in the loss of more lives, both during the actual war and through the way that prisoners were treated by some of the countries.

Most of the people who thought that prisoners were mistreated during WWII by Germany are actually mistaking POWs for the people who were sent to the concentration camps. These are not the same thing, and the Germans actually treated the people that they captured from other countries like the United States rather humanely. How the United States treated the German POWs, though, was another matter entirely. To really understand what was taking place it is important to know a bit about the war and how it unfolded.

There were plenty of men in the armies, and the women often took over factory and other traditionally male jobs while the men were away fighting. Women did many things in the war, including working as nurses and even flying planes (Wilson, 1996). Since so many countries were involved in the war, some of the countries had technology different from others, and were willing to share at the time to see the enemy stopped. The enemy was, of course, dependent on whose side one was on. A lot of this was reflected in how POWs were treated by various countries, and that was an issue in WWI, as well (Americanization, 1925).

Timeline of WWII detailed timeline of what actually occurred in WWII, as well as what occurred before the war officially started, would be too long to reprint for purposes of this paper. However, some chronological understanding seems important, and therefore below are the most significant events that occurred in WWII (AP Mod, 2003):

German Invasion of Russia

Attack on pearl Harbor and other targets

US and Britain enter WWII

1942-1944

Allied Landing in Africa

German defeat at Stalingrad

Allied Landing in Normandy

Yalta Conference

Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Germany and Japan Surrender

Nuremberg trials begin

Vietnam becomes independent

United Nations created

The creation of the United Nations became a very important focus for many people after the war ended (Korten, 2001). This was due to the fact that the UN was designed to help all countries work together and have an equal voice, which was something that had not previously been seen in the world. Because of this, the UN ended up being more of a forum for debate than anything else, but this was still significant. It allowed countries to air their grievances and talk them out instead of resorting to painful and disastrous consequences, such as occurred during WWII (Korten, 2001).

Along with the UN came other important institutions, such as the World Trade Organization, which was conceived in the postwar period. This organization would work for and encourage trade with all different countries, and help to further the work of the UN in this way. Unfortunately, for it as well as for society, it was not actually created until the middle of the 1990's, so it did nothing to help the prisoners who were captured and detained while the war was actually taking place. (Albert, 2003).

The Prisoners of War

Elie Wiesel was born in 1928 (Wiesel, 1995). He was in Hitler's death camps during the Holocaust and survived it, moving on to write over 40 books, speak publicly, and show the world that there is still human dignity available, even after the pain and humiliation that he endured in those camps (Wiesel, 1999). The work that he created from the pain that he had been through was very admirable, and undoubtedly would have been important to philosophers and others as well (Wallerstein, 1974). The reason for this is that many philosophers were very involved with the ethics of life and society, and therefore would likely have been very interested in Wiesel and the way that he took his experiences in Hitler's death camps out into the sunlight and helped both himself and the world learn from them (Wallerstein, 1974).

While he was not a POW in the same way as an enemy soldier, he was still a prisoner because of the war. It showed that Germany did not necessarily treat everyone unfairly. As an American-Jewish novelist, Wiesel's work has helped countless individuals understand not only the pain that he went through but also the pain that can be endured and survived so that joy can be later found (Fine, 1982). He is an inspiration to many individuals and therefore highly significant, not only for Jewish people but for all people that need to be reminded of the importance of their lives and the way that they treat others (Fine, 1982).

Many actual POWs were not so lucky, but this was seen much more with Germans who were captured by the Americas as opposed to Americans who were captured by the Germans (Keeling, 1947; Kelsen, 1945). While the Germans followed international rules as to how prisoners of war should be treated, the Americans and some of the other Allied forces did not take these rules as seriously (Gaddis, 1997). Many German POWs were tortured, shot, and otherwise killed or maimed simply because they were on the 'wrong side.'

This was done instead of holding them prisoner and treating them decently so that it could be determined what would be done with them after the war was over. They often slept in tents on the freezing ground, were beaten, and were given little to eat. This was not how prisoners of war were supposed to be treated, but much of it was covered up at the time to make American forces look better and make the Germans and their allies look bad (Gaddis, 1997; Barnes, 1970; Giardina, 1999).

Germany's Problems From the Past

When WWI ended, Germany found that it was not in a good position, and that there was much it was being forced to do to make restitution to other countries. Two decades later, when WWII started, much of the reason behind that war was from the animosity that was created between Germany and other countries when WWI was ended through the signing of the Armistice Agreement (Vincent, 1985).

Germany was strongly against the Treaty of Versailles, because the Treaty called for Germany to give up so much, including one-quarter of the fishing fleet that it had, all of the merchant ships that it owned and that were over 1,600 tons, and huge quantities of natural resources such as coal tar, coal, Benzol, and ammonium sulfate (Vincent, 1985). All of these had to be given over to the allies through the Treaty. A large portion of the livestock that Germany owned also had to be given over to the allies as well, despite the fact that Germany was experiencing famine conditions due to the war and other problems. Basically, the Treaty would have left Germany with nothing. An assessment of the damage that Germany had done was also conducted, with the total coming in at 132 billion gold marks (Vincent, 1985).

These reparations were basically somewhat harsh, and grossly unfair in the minds of the Germans. The main reason for this belief was that they not only punished the German people, many of whom were innocent, but the future generations as well, that had done nothing wrong and were not even born when the War took place. The reparations also stopped Germany from continuing to grow and from being able to feed its people, which would have devastated the country completely. All of the means of survival that Germany had were essentially taken away by the Treaty. Naturally, the German government fought this and did not agree with the assessment of others that the War had been entirely the fault of the Germans because of their issues with the Balkans (Vincent, 1985). When WWII started, primarily from the tension that was already in the world between Germany and other countries, the strength of the animosity against Germany could have been what led the Americans to treat German POWs so much more harshly than what would have been required or expected.

Conclusion - the Significance of Technology

There was a great… [END OF PREVIEW]

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