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A War of Words: Allied Captivity and Swiss Neutrality in the Pacific, 1941-1945
Sarah Kovner, Associate Professor of History at University of Florida
This talk explores the work of Swiss diplomats and Red Cross delegates to explain the experience of Allied POWs and civilian internees in the Pacific War. As the only foreigners allowed into both POW and internee camps, and the only ones to work in Japan as well as Allied countries, they were uniquely positioned to record the flow of information between the two sides, the attempts to deliver material and financial aid, and the intensifying exchange of recrimination and threats. Washington and Tokyo made claims and counter-claims about the observance or non-observance of the Geneva Conventions. Both sides threatened and carried out reprisals and made their observance of international law conditional on the conduct of the enemy. While life was far worse for Allied captives than for their Japanese counterparts, it was not because of a deliberate policy of cruelty. Instead, senior Japanese officials never developed clear policy guidance for POWs and failed to provide adequate logistical and administrative support. The few Japanese officials who oversaw the camp system lacked any authority over individual commanders. Even so, the Swiss may well have helped prevent a bad situation from becoming even worse.
Monday, January 27, 2014 | 12:00 pm — 1:30 pm