Category Archives: war

The Idea Factory for POW Reeducation

From Nebraska POW Camps: A History of World War II Prisoners in the Heartland, by Melissa Amateis Marsh (History Press, 2014), Kindle pp. 41-44:

Located at Fort Kearny, Rhode Island, the Idea Factory consisted of German POWs who were carefully screened for their anti-Nazi tendencies and then selected after they filled out questionnaires. These prisoners were then separated from the rest of their comrades at their camp to await transport to Fort Kearny. Although this selection was not foolproof, the Americans did have an advantage. Hitler’s impending defeat had soured many Germans against Nazism. Others had never been ardent admirers of Nazism. Still, at the time the reeducation program appeared, many of the German POWs had been prisoners for two or three years, offering them ample opportunity to think about Germany’s status in the world. These prisoners were involved in the experimental phase of the reeducation program. Although pro-Nazism was still a problem in the camps, this group was determined to do something about it.

The Special Projects staff then assembled a division of “specially-qualified” German prisoners—writers, professors and linguists who were dedicated anti-Nazis. All were volunteers, all were officers and all renounced their Wehrmacht ranks. Due to this special assignment, these prisoners enjoyed far more freedom at Fort Kearny than they had had at their respective camps. No guards or towers policed their movements, and they even took the ferry to Jamestown in army trucks to pick up their supplies.

However, this rather elite group of individuals was perhaps not the most prudent choice. Although the group was happy to be among other intellectuals, Ron Robin believed the group did not understand the tastes of the average prisoner. According to Robin, this would come to negatively affect the program. The Idea Factory was separated into subdivisions, which included review sections for film and government agency material, translation sections for the school curriculum and a camp newspaper section. This last section monitored around seventy POW camp newspapers as well as produced its own nationwide camp newspaper called Der Ruf (The Call). The goals of the newspaper were to “reflect the experience of being a German PW in America, but also stimulate democratic thinking.” The first issue appeared in the spring of 1945.

When Germany fell and victory was proclaimed in Europe in May 1945, many of the ordinary classes POWs had been taking were eliminated. Instead, the essentials—English, history, geography and others that stressed democracy—were emphasized. Now the men at the Idea Factory in New York concentrated on reviewing and preparing materials for the new reeducation program. They focused on two areas: censorship and translations. Books that were to be considered for class use, libraries and for sale in the POW canteen all had to be read, analyzed and evaluated before they would be declared “suitable” for the POWs.

With so many diversions already in place before the reeducation program went into effect, it remained imperative that the Special War Projects Division find U.S. officers capable of implementing the program. The requirements were stiff. The men were expected to be experts on German and American journalism, film and literature; be fluent in German; and have previous experience in a POW camp and education. These assistant executive officers were trained at conferences in Fort Slocum, New York, in late 1944 and early 1945.

The importance of intelligence officers to the program’s success could not be overstated. Yet more often than not, they met with more opposition from their own officers and American servicemen than from the prisoners themselves. Alfred Thompson suggests that the program did not receive the support and cooperation it should have at the camp level because of the intense secrecy surrounding it. Because it was a top secret program, they could not even tell their fellow officers just what they were doing. “One went so far as to tell his commanding officers that he was under secret orders and could not reveal his mission even to him. Some of the AEO’s had enough brains to recognize the difficulties which would be involved in such complete secrecy and lack of confidence in co-workers, but the majority was not so intelligent.” In fact, Thompson and other officers found themselves ostracized by their own co-workers. “We were called ‘Junior Dick Tracys’ or ‘Super Sleuths’ to the point where it hurt.”

This attitude originated from the very top. The supervising officer of the assistant executive officers, Major Paul A. Neuland, felt that the lack of contact between the officers in the field and the Special Projects Division chain of command was having a detrimental effect on the program itself. Even though he tried to pass along the critical comments of the officers to division headquarters, he succeeded only in alienating himself further from his fellow officers. Neuland was upset by the continual rejection of the officers’ comments “by a man in the New York Office…doesn’t make sense.” But unfortunately, to his fellow Special War Projects Division officers, Neuland’s criticism only pointed to a lack of loyalty.

These intelligence officers’ responsibility carried further than merely implementing the reeducation program. They were also required to keep morale and special service activities “maintained and improved” for the American military personnel at the camps. They were ordered to distribute the War Department pamphlets 19-1 “What about the German Prisoners?” and 19-2 “Facts vs. Fantasy” to help in this endeavor. Yet with the majority of the responsibility of the program falling on their shoulders, it is difficult to understand why the commanders in the Special Projects Division office did not listen more to their thoughts on the matter.

Yet the very nature of those in charge, who were mostly from academia, might offer a clue. As Ron Robin states in The Barbed-Wire College, “They represented an alienated intelligentsia, who never bothered to hide their contempt for the rank and file within the camps.”

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Origins of Japanese POW Reeducation

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1284-1310:

Despite the terrifying power of America’s military campaign in the Pacific, few people in the U.S. government believed that the war against Japan would be over in a matter of months. In fact, Japanese soldiers and civilians had regularly fought to the death or committed suicide rather than surrender to American forces. At Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands, for instance, only eight of 2,600 Japanese soldiers had survived the U.S. attack. Then, later, on Saipan in the Mariana Islands, hundreds of Japanese civilians had jumped from cliffs to kill themselves in acts of desperation to avoid capture by American forces. This tragic tactic was also embraced by more than 1,900 kamikaze pilots who sacrificed themselves in suicide attacks against the American fleet off Okinawa in May 1945, seeking to halt the U.S. effort there. Although this strategy ultimately failed, it confirmed the widely-held American belief that Japanese soldiers and civilians would stop at nothing to defend their honor and homeland. More ominously, it also demonstrated how arduous and costly an American invasion of the Japanese home islands was likely to be.

As American military leaders planned the final stages of the war against Japan, a variety of U.S. diplomatic and academic experts analyzed the enemy’s behavior in an attempt to coordinate both the end of the war and the planning of the post-war era. Following the lead of influential thinkers, like Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, and Ruth Benedict, anthropologists of the period encouraged policy makers to reject commonly held American stereotypes that portrayed the Japanese as mindless drones following their god-emperor, and to instead view them as devoted warriors who were products of their own educational, political, and cultural surroundings. This new interpretation of the Japanese, historian John Dower has written, provided that their national character was not racially fixed or permanent, but was, like the American character, open to change based upon new experiences and educational opportunities.

A long-time disciple of this view, John Emmerson of the U.S. State Department, spent the period from October to December 1944, in the new communist capital of China, Yan’an, in support of the U.S. Army’s Observation Group (or Dixie Mission), which was gathering intelligence and making connections with the revolutionary leaders of China. After meeting the top communists leaders, including Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong, and General Chu Teh, Emmerson spent most of his time in the area with Chinese and Japanese communists who were re-educating Japanese POWs. Chief among the Japanese leaders in Yan’an was Nosaka Sanzo, a native of Yamaguchi prefecture, who had been orphaned at 14, before becoming an outspoken critic of the Japanese oligarchy and its apparent disregard for the concerns of the working people. As a young man, Sanzo attended Tokyo’s Keio University and the London School of Economics, and he became a cosmopolitan Marxist theorist, who served as a founding member of both the Japanese Communist Party and the Japanese People’s Emancipation League. The later organization ran a Workers and Peasants School in the caves of Yan’an to transform Japanese POWs into good communists. It was this school—with its enlightened procedures and successful indoctrination—that Emmerson hoped to emulate with Japanese POWs in the United States. Based on his first-hand experience at the school, Emmerson began to devise a plan that called for the American government to select the most compliant of the 5,000 Japanese POWs in the U.S., teach them about western-style democracy, and then persuade them to help shape the “pacification” effort and post-war “political orientation” of a democratic Japan.

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From Penal Division to POW Camp

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 838-865:

At the height of the 1943 Nazi- and anti-Nazi crisis, Camp Huntsville proved to be a particularly important spot within the national POW system. At Huntsville, the general population of Afrika Korps non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and enlisted men were mixed with political prisoners, criminals, and anti-Nazis. Some of these prisoners likely came from the 999th Light Afrika Division, which contained the majority of anti-Nazis captured early in the war. Originally created as a penal brigade in 1942 in France, the unit expanded into a Division and began deployment into North Africa in early 1943. The defeat of German forces in North Africa interrupted the deployment, however, and many of the unit’s members quickly surrendered without a fight to the first Americans they encountered. Such actions did not endear them to their fellow POWs who viewed them as deserters and traitors. Despite the obvious divisions between these German prisoners, the POW camps in North Africa did not attempt to organize the prisoners, but rather mixed them all together in large compounds. This led to a number of problems with identification and organization. It also meant that the prisoners from the 999th were scattered throughout the early POW population and camp system.

The enlisted members of the unit were primarily communists, traditional socialists, anti-Nazis, and criminals, while their non-commissioned officers and officers were trusted party men. Just as the non-commissioned officers of the Afrika Korps tended to be the most ardent Nazis, the enlisted men of the 999th tended to be the most radical anti-Nazis. Much of the 999th’s more senior non-commissioned officers and leadership were confirmed Nazis and included Gestapo men, who were put in place to “keep watch” over their radical troops. Thus, the stage was set for violence whenever these two forces found themselves occupying the same camp in significant numbers.

In his account of his time at Camp Huntsville, former POW Rudolf Thill identifies twelve of the anti-Nazis who arrived with him as part of the first batch of prisoners who had been released from concentration camps to serve in the penal battalions of units like the 999th. These men had a particular problem in that their arms bore the telltale number tattoos of concentration camp prisoners. This made it nearly impossible for them to blend in with the prisoner population, even if they wanted to, which by all appearances they did not. Eventually, following an attack on two prisoners, the twelve anti-Nazis along with Thill, who had taken a job working with the Americans, were transferred to another camp after being segregated from the other prisoners and placed in the stockade for their own protection. More transfers and violence would follow.

In fact, disagreements among the “German” soldiers proved to be the greatest disruptive force at Camp Huntsville. This was, in large part, because the German military was not nearly as homogeneous as it has often been portrayed. In addition to a large number of Austrians pressed into service, it included Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Lithuanians, and any number of Balkan partisans who found themselves serving in the Wehrmacht or in specially organized foreign units. The U.S. generally treated all of these men as “German” on the basis that they were captured in German uniform, at least until later in the war.

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Nazi vs. Anti-Nazi POWs in Texas

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 804-837:

Interestingly, in 1943, administrators at Camp Huntsville and the Eighth Service Command seem to have been primarily concerned with ridding the camps of the anti-Nazis who were viewed as a “potential source of disturbance” and “trouble-makers,” rather than the die-hard Nazis. Yet, the problems at Camp Huntsville and other sites ran deeper than a few outspoken anti-Nazis. The reasons for Huntsville’s continued problems dated to its inception. The majority of the men at the camp were from the Afrika Korps captured during operations early in the war. Unlike many of the prisoners captured in Italy and Europe, who would later populate the camp, these men were part of the professional German Army, and included a significant proportion of political Nazis, SS, and Gestapo men. The United States, despite admonishment from the more experienced British, had failed to screen the majority of its POW population. As a result, a minority of anti-Nazis mixed with this much larger general population of prisoners. That minority would come under regular attack throughout the war, but Huntsville was an especially bad place to be an anti-Nazi.

The anti-Nazis did little to help their own cause with the Americans, however. Many were radicals who were aligned with left-wing elements that had been suppressed in Germany in 1919 by returning members of the army after the November 11 Armistice. Others were former political prisoners with communist leanings or avowed members of the communist party. Their radicalism sometimes led to counter-productive behavior, like refusals to salute American officers as part of a general rejection of militarism and not just Nazism. In contrast, Nazis appear to have relished delivering their stiff armed salute to the Americans. Both the refusal to salute and the Nazi salute were essentially political acts, but the Nazi salute, in context, was a proper rendering of military courtesy, whereas the Americans viewed the refusal to salute as subversive and unbecoming of a military member.

Anti-Nazis also considered themselves “free” of past constraints; Freiheit hinter Staacheldraht (freedom behind barbed wire) as they called it. This led to outspoken behavior in which they freely discussed the downfall of the Hitler regime and preached their political beliefs. They also considered the Americans allies and wanted to help them, which they usually did by informing on their fellow prisoners. Consequently, their fellow prisoners, even those who were not ardent Nazis, viewed anti-Nazis as traitors, deserters, and snitches, and they were a constant source of trouble within camps where their numbers offered them a degree of safety.

It should not be surprising, then, that American guards generally viewed the anti-Nazis through a similar lens as the Nazis—many of the anti-Nazis were traitors and snitches to their own side, and generally disruptive in many cases. Anti-Nazis, like defectors, spies, or snitches, were greeted with suspicion and a certain amount of distaste, even when they provided valuable information. However noble their motives, the consequence of their actions meant their captors often treated anti-Nazis with a degree of suspicion.

In any case, camp administrators were more concerned with order and discipline within their camps than with any political argument between Germans, who were, as a group, viewed as the “enemy.” Any anti-Nazi attempting to cozy up to guards, demanding special treatment, or causing trouble, was a problem, no matter the political reasoning behind it. Until the development of the re-education program later in the war, which channeled the activities of the anti-Nazis into a U.S. coordinated program, the activities of most anti-Nazis within their respective camps caused problems and garnered few converts to their cause.

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Adapting Rations for German POWs

From The Enemy Within Never Did Without: German and Japanese Prisoners of War At Camp Huntsville, Texas, 1942-1945, by Jeffrey L. Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford (Texas Review Press, 2015), Kindle Loc. 579-608:

The Geneva Convention placed very strict stipulations on the availability and quality of food served to the prisoners. Specifically, Article 11 directed that the food rations provided to the POWs must be equal to that supplied to American troops. To make certain that such provisions were carried out, inspection teams were assigned to report on the implementation of the Geneva Convention on a regular basis. The quantity of food served at meals never seemed to be in question during the first three years of the war. A POW from Camp Huntsville was quoted as saying, “On the first evening and on the first days, we were hungry, but we were soon provided with sufficient meals. We received good and adequate food. According to our orders to do damage to your enemy wherever you can, we naturally were always asking for everything we could get.”

The acquisition and delivery of food to the camp for prisoners and staff proved to be a considerable task. Many of the goods came into the camp from the train station in Riverside, Texas. Box cars filled with loads of rice, beans, potatoes and various dry goods circulated into the camp and were divided amongst the compounds. Necessary foods, such as cheese, butter, and meat went directly to cold storage units. Other goods were stored in the kitchens, many of which ran 24 hours a day. As Titus Fields later reported, “I have never seen so many potatoes in my life!”

Careful attention was paid to the food preferences of native Germans and efforts were made to appeal to their tastes in order to reduce food waste. A POW Menu and Mess Guide was published in 1944 and catered to German prisoners’ food preferences. The menu provided the POWs with various foods such as frankfurters, salami, bologna, cheese, potatoes, sauerkraut and bread. Cabbage was required to be served a minimum of three times per week. Foods that were unpopular, such as American style soups, frozen fruits and vegetables, and peanut butter were removed from the menu completely. The Germans also refused to eat corn, calling it “Swine Food.” Former Huntsville resident Linda Evans recalled meeting two POWs from Camp Huntsville while visiting Germany in the 1970s. One of them, Herr Pfieffer, mentioned to her that his treatment at the camp was “OK,” but some of the food was terrible. On Thanksgiving, the traditional American turkey dinner was served, and the prisoners were told that it was very good. Pfieffer said, in truth, to the Germans it was terrible, and they could not eat it. Any dish containing oysters, celery, green peppers and canned juices were also removed from the menu because the Germans were said to be unfamiliar with these types of foods. To help reduce waste from the breakfast meal, bacon, eggs, ham, potatoes, and sausage were removed from the prisoners’ diet and substituted with fruit, cereal, and bread because the Germans traditionally preferred a lighter breakfast. Beef was also to be served less frequently with a substitution of salt pork in its place. All of these efforts lead to a reduction in waste and aided many German POWs in adapting to their surroundings.

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Operation Yo-Yo, Korea, 1950

From On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle, by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2018), Kindle pp. 71-72:

The troopships of X Corps departed Inchon in mid-October and sailed down the coast through the Yellow Sea. The convoy of more than seventy vessels passed Kunsan and Mokpo and rounded the peninsular horn, swerving through a confusion of coastal islands and then turning into the Korea Strait. From the railings, off the port side, the men could see the liberated siege grounds of Pusan, site of so much brutal fighting only a little over a month earlier. Then the transports turned into the stormy Sea of Japan and worked their way up the east coast, past Yeongdeok and Samcheok, past Donghae and Yangyang. Finally they crossed into North Korean waters and steamed for Wonsan, a port city of 75,000 people tucked into a large bay a little more than a hundred miles north of the thirty-eighth parallel.

But as they approached Wonsan, to the men’s consternation, the ships turned around and started sailing back down the coast for Pusan. No one seemed to know why. Had their orders changed? Was the war over? Were they going home? Then the ships turned around once again, resuming their northward crawl—only to be followed by yet another turn. The Marines and soldiers of X Corps, crammed into their vessels, didn’t understand what was happening.

Eventually the word sifted through the ranks: The North Koreans, working with Russian experts, had mined the waters off Wonsan. Having anticipated that the U.N. forces might land here, they had gone out into the harbor in diverse local craft—barges, junks, tugboats, fishing sampans—and sown the waters with explosives, mostly Russian-made. The harbor was infested: Thousands of contact mines and magnetic mines bobbed just beneath the surface.

So American minesweepers, along with teams of Navy frogmen, were brought in to clear the approaches to the harbor. More than two dozen of these peculiar vessels went to work, often with helicopters buzzing overhead to serve as spotters. Minesweepers had elaborate wire structures, extending far out from the bows, that were equipped with various floats, depressors, and cutters strong enough to sever the steel cables that often moored mines to the seabed. The sweepers plied the harbor, clearing one long channel at a time, even as North Korean artillery shelled them from shore.

It was tedious but also perilous work: On October 10, two American minesweepers missed their quarry and were blown apart. Twelve men died in the explosions, and dozens more were wounded. A week later, a South Korean minesweeper was also destroyed. The men found one mine—also Russian-made—that had a particularly diabolical design. A dozen ships could pass over it without incident, but the thirteenth ship would cause it to detonate. “It took a curious sort of mind to come up with a notion like that,” wrote one Marine, wondering if the number thirteen had a “sinister connotation for Russians as it did in the States.”

Given the dangers in the harbor, the X Corps landing obviously would have to be delayed until the sweepers had completed their painstaking task. And so the troopships churned back and forth along the coast—changing direction every twelve hours. The Marines dubbed this endless backtracking the “Sail to Nowhere” and “Operation Yo-Yo.” For nearly two weeks, they remained at sea with little to do but watch the dull landforms slide by. As food supplies dwindled, the galleys served mustard sandwiches, glops of fish-head chowder, and other highly dubious fare. Joe Owen, of the Seventh Marine Regiment, called it an “ordeal of misery and sickness, malaise and dreariness. The holds stank of unwashed bodies and sweaty clothes.” As one Marine account put it, “Never did time die a harder death.”

What made their seaborne imprisonment more difficult to take was their discovery, by radio, that Wonsan had already been pacified. Republic of Korea troops, working their way overland from Seoul, had arrived in Wonsan and quelled all enemy resistance there. The First Marine Air Wing had set up shop at a nearby airfield, and planeload after planeload of men and supplies had safely landed. The zone around Wonsan was deemed so peaceful, in fact, that the entertainer Bob Hope had already dropped in to perform one of his USO comedy routines for the aviators—during the show, he boasted of how he and his dancing girls had beaten the famed leathernecks ashore.

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Japanese Hamhung, 1930s

From On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War’s Greatest Battle, by Hampton Sides (Doubleday, 2018), Kindle pp. 83-84:

This was the boomtown atmosphere in which Lee Bae-suk had grown up. Throughout the 1930s, Hamhung quickly became, in many respects, a Japanese city—organized, industrialized, modernized, militarized. Korea was living under what came to be called “the black umbrella” of absolute Japanese rule. The occupiers humiliated and exploited Hamhung’s citizens, often brutally, but they also sought to assimilate them—that is, to make them Japanese subjects, slowly eradicating all vestiges of Korean consciousness. As a boy in Hamhung, Lee was taught to bow toward the east, in the direction of the emperor. He prayed to Shinto gods, at Shinto shrines, kneeling in the shadow of red torii gates. At school, he and his classmates were required to recite the Pledge of the Imperial Subjects, promising to “serve the Emperor with united hearts.” Lee, like all citizens, had to forsake his Korean name and adopt a Japanese one. He learned the Japanese language and was forbidden to study Korean in school. The Korean anthem was not to be sung, the Korean flag not to be unfurled, traditional white Korean clothing not to be worn. People were even expected to give up Korean hairstyles, cutting off their braids and topknots.

Everywhere Lee looked, he saw examples of Japanese authority and expertise: Japanese teachers, Japanese civil servants, Japanese soldiers and tax collectors and cops. The mayor was Japanese. So was the provincial governor. Even the city itself was given a Japanese name: Hamhung became Kanko. The Japanese Kempeitai, which many Koreans came to call the “thought police,” tightened its hold on the city, stamping out dissent or expressions of Korean identity. The police organized the citizens into neighborhood associations, each one composed of ten families. These cells, designed to enforce compliance of Japanese laws, had a chilling effect on community relations, effectively turning Korean against Korean, requiring neighbors to spy on one another.

During the late 1930s, the industrial complex of greater Hamhung became an arsenal and a forge for Japan’s deepening war against China. Enormous quantities of explosives were manufactured there. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, operations at Hamhung expanded exponentially. Among other secret projects, Japanese physicists made early attempts to build an atomic weapon. Using uranium reportedly mined from the mountains around the Chosin Reservoir, they constructed a crude cyclotron, produced heavy water, and even began to develop a primitive atomic device.

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