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Reviewed by:
  • Prisoners of War: A Reference Handbook
  • Robert C. Doyle
Prisoners of War: A Reference Handbook. By Arnold Krammer . Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2008. ISBN 978-0-275-99300-9. Photographs. Illustrations. Appendix. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 192. $55.00.

The book begins with a simple truth: throughout the ages, soldiers have been fortunate to be taken prisoner when the enemy's blood is up. Using examples from ancient to modern wars, Krammer argues that it is much easier and far more convenient to kill surrendered soldiers rather than take the trouble and bear the expense of capture. Women captives have been subject to rape (Desert Storm); other captives have been murdered for political motives (Katyn Forest) or enslaved for economic reasons (Rome/Greece/Crusades/Barbary Pirates).

In the world of captivity, understanding that survival depends on the whim of the captor is essential, but one must step into the arena of laws and codes to make the leap to modernity. Krammer introduces some provisions of the Hammurabic Code relative to wives and children of war prisoners; shows the British concern for prisoners in their civil war of the 1640s, and explains the first significant event in the move toward laws governing war, Hugo Grotius's monumental work, On the Law of War and Peace (1625). Grotius, a Dutch Protestant jurist, saw the Thirty Years War closing around him and witnessed some of its early savage brutality. One of Grotius's revolutionary provisions, as Krammer shows in the Appendix, states that prisoners have rights far above the whim of the captor. But the spirit of Grotius will be put aside, often for specious reasons.

The next major event was the issuance of the Instructions for the Governing of Armies of the United States in April 1863, modified and still in force today as General Order 100, The Laws of Land Warfare. This Civil War document evolved into the Brussels Declaration of 1874, the Hague Conferences of 1899 and 1907, and the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949. The result? Sets of international laws that regulate the treatment of prisoners of war. But Krammer goes a step beyond bone dry legal arguments to show that different kinds of wars — racial, religious, and civil wars, often in combination — form motives that fuel hostilities, and they likewise denigrate the chances of POW survival.

As a reference book, Krammer crosses disciplinary boundaries with discussions of POW movies and novels, and he finishes the text with questions about the status or non-status of prisoners taken after 9/11/2001 (Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and Abu Ghraib), concluding that we need to revisit international law to give better protection to those captured in the asymmetrical fights of the present era.

While this book is not a comprehensive history of the POW experience, it is a first of its kind in terms of simplicity of approach, sequence of topics, historical frankness, and brutal honesty. In addition to his books that comprehensively describe and analyze German World War II POW and internee experiences, Arnold Krammer has created [End Page 541] something really significant for a master scholar: a primer, a place to start for anyone wanting to seriously examine and probe the complexity of captivity through the ages. Without a doubt, this book is a solid and welcome contribution to the field of historical POW studies.

Robert C. Doyle
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Steubenville, Ohio
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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7795
Print ISSN
0899-3718
Pages
pp. 542-543
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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