Wednesday, 7 April 2010

MAKING VS CONVERTING ENEMIES

I have been looking at photos of former Guantanamo inmates who are now Al Qaida leaders determined to make us suffer. Shave off the beards and they do not look all that fearsome. Has Guantanamo failed us by creating uncompromising enemies?

Back in 1939-1943 I had no reason to respect the Luftwaffe. I knew of Guernica, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Bath, Coventry et al and endured being bombed by them. I dug dead friends out of rubble they created, and I lost hundreds of good friends to them. Then I was shot down, not at all a pleasant experience. However . . . .

The score of civilians, mostly women, who captured me were all friendly, curious, and puzzled that Canada would want to attack them. They walked me some distance to the police who were polite and respectful as they searched me then walked me several blocks to a Luftwaffe station, giving me a conducted tour en route. Four Luftwaffe officers were polite in questioning me and the two soldats who guarded me all night on wooden benches were curious and full of questions about Canada. In the morning a Luftwaffe officer gave me a conducted tour en route from Hamburg to Frankfurt for interrogation. I was never handcuffed or hooded. A hungry week of uncomfortable solitary confinement included polite questioning by a succession of 4 officers before I was shipped off to POW camps that would become four in number.

I was to have a few run-ins with Gestapo and SS but in each instance was protected by the Luftwaffe who seemed to have the same opinion of them as we did.

In those horrible final months of the war when we had to make our way from one end of Germany to the other I was mixed in with many German military and civilians. We were all cold, hungry, exhausted, and strafed and bombed by Allied aircraft. No German showed any animosity towards us with the sole exception of SS in the Munich rail yard.

I ended the war with high respect for the Luftwaffe and sympathy for the common German people.

After the war I met in Canada former Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine officers who had been POWs in Canada where the respectful treatment they had received persuaded them to return years later to Canada as valued immigrants.

It all makes me wonder about the inhumane interrogation and imprisonment techniques used in such places as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. If the Luftwaffe example was followed might not a few converts be made rather than increasing the hatred of enemies and creating more enemies among those who learn of such inhumanity?

I am also sure that those thousands of soldiers from a score of countries who take pains, and risks, to intermingle with and help civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing immense good both for them and for us. Ways must be found to give this temporary help and goodwill some permanence. Respect is the vital ingredient in altering enemy mindsets.

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