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The Politics of Surrender: Canadian Soldiers and the Killing of Prisoners in the Great War

From: The Journal of Military History
Volume 70, Number 3, July 2006
pp. 637-665 | 10.1353/jmh.2006.0158

Abstract

This article explores the act of surrender on the Western Front during the Great War, focusing on the behavior of Canadian soldiers toward surrendering Germans. Informal rules and symbolic gestures governed actions on the battlefield, and those who successfully negotiated the politics of surrender often survived the murderous first contact between attacking forces. But during the grey area between combat and capitulation, prisoners were frequently executed. The article also examines the politics of memory surrounding the killing of prisoners and, using the soldiers' discourse, analyzes why soldiers freely admitted and accepted these acts on the battlefield.