The importance of the Geneva Conventions in WW2

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Freeman Dyson reviews Armageddon: The Battle For Germany, by Max Hastings, in The New York Review of Books, April 28, 2005

The history of WW2 teaches us several lessons that are still valid today. First is the immense importance of the Geneva Conventions on humane treatment of prisoners in mitigating the human costs of war. [In Hastings’ book] we see a stark contrast between two kinds of war, the war in the West following the Geneva rules and the war in the East fought without rules…In the Western war, soldiers who reached the prison camps were treated in a civilized fashion, with some supervision by delegates of the International Red Cross. They were neither starved nor tortured.

At the same time, on the eastern side of the war, brutality was the rule and the IRC had no voice. Civilians were routinely raped and murdered, and prisoners of war were starved…It is not possible to calculate the numbers of lives saved in the West and lost in the East by following and not following the Geneva rules…Americans who are trying today to weaken or evade the Geneva rules are acting shortsightedly as well as immorally.

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