Prisoners of War

February 2, 1942

Report Outline
United States, Japan, and War Prisoners
Regulations Relating to Prisoners of War
Treatment of Prisoners in World War I
War Prisoners in the Present World War

United States, Japan, and War Prisoners

Tokyo broadcasts in mid-January announced the arrival in Japan of 442 Americans captured at Guam and 1,235 Americans captured at Wake Island. The two groups included 923 civilians and 754 members of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps. The civilians have been interned as enemy aliens, the fighting men as prisoners of war. In addition, Japan holds as prisoners of war 183 United States marines taken into custody at Peiping and Tientsin soon after the attack at Pearl Harbor, and an undisclosed number of members of the armed forces in the Philippines. American citizens have thus been added to the vast assemblage of prisoners taken in the present war, estimated to number as high as five million men, of whom probably more than 3,000,000 are held by Germany alone.

Factors Operating for Humane Treatment of Captives

The treatment to be accorded prisoners of war is prescribed in detail by an international convention concluded at Geneva in 1929 and ratified or adhered to by some 40 nations. Although Japan never ratified this convention, the Tokyo government announced, January 15, that it would abide by its terms. The only other major belligerent not a party to the convention is Soviet Russia, which did not sign it in the first place. While Japan and Russia are not legally bound by the Geneva provisions, it is to their interest to observe them in order to assure, so far as possible, reciprocal treatment of their nationals in enemy hands. This factor is strongly operative in the case of Russia, since Germany took many Soviet captives in the drive into Russia last summer. It will provide less of an incentive in the case of Japan, until there is a turn in the tide of battle in the Southwest Pacific and the forces of the United Nations are able to make war prisoners of substantial numbers of Japanese.

While the Geneva convention forbids measures of reprisal against prisoners, it is virtually certain that failure of one belligerent to accord proper treatment will result eventually in deterioration in some way of the condition of its nationals held prisoner by the other belligerent. It has been noted, during the present war, that the convention has operated most satisfactorily as between opposing belligerents each of whom holds nationals of the other as prisoners of war. Thus British prisoners in Germany and German prisoners in Britain have fared comparatively well, but in the case of French and Polish prisoners in Germany, without counterparts in their native lands and without governments in position effectively to represent their interests, it has been a different story. However, except in the case of the Poles, to whom the Reich government has claimed the Geneva convention no longer applies, Germany's record in observance of the convention has been on the -whole favorable. It is one treaty which the Nazis have found it to their interest to live up to.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Ethics in War
Sep. 16, 2022  The War in Ukraine
Jul. 13, 2012  Privatizing the Military
Aug. 06, 2010  Drone Warfare Updated
May 2010  Confronting Rape as a War Crime
Jan. 2010  Truth Commissions
Feb. 27, 2009  Closing Guantánamo Updated
Jul. 2008  Child Soldiers
Sep. 2007  Torture Debate
Aug. 25, 2006  Treatment of Detainees
Apr. 18, 2003  Torture
Dec. 13, 2002  Ethics of War
Sep. 13, 2002  New Defense Priorities
Jul. 07, 1995  War Crimes
Apr. 26, 1972  Status of War Prisoners
Oct. 07, 1970  Military Justice
Jul. 12, 1967  Treatment of War Prisoners
Dec. 03, 1952  War Prisoner Repatriation
Sep. 07, 1948  War Trials and Future Peace
Jul. 07, 1945  Enemy Property
Nov. 20, 1943  Courts-Martial and Military Law
Mar. 15, 1943  War Guilt Trials
Mar. 30, 1942  War Atrocities
Feb. 02, 1942  Prisoners of War
Aug. 11, 1938  Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations
General Defense and National Security
International Law and Agreements
War and Conflict
World War I
World War II