Enemy at the Gates: the Prisoner of War Experience in the 20th Century

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Meaghan Dalby


Being a Prisoner of War (POW) is a mentally and physically trying event for any soldier who has to experience it. Many captured soldiers are forced to live in horrid conditions, where they may be required for intensive labour, suffer from malnutrition, are often tortured, and in some cases, unable to contact their family. For some, they returned home after surviving these trying conditions only to be accused of being weak or “brainwashed” by the enemy to sympathize with foreign agendas. In the 1950’s, after many World War II POWs were returning home, this was a very popular subject in media, which only exacerbated the public opinion of weakness among the soldiers. The fear of explicit indoctrination by captors can cause panic in the public sphere during times of war, leading to a misunderstanding of soldiers who have returned home from POW camps. However, this paper will prove there is a tendency among soldiers who returned to be more understanding and tolerant of other cultures, without being a threat to their own country. With a focus on soldiers who fought in the 20th century, this paper will explore the process of indoctrination or re-education, how media influences the public response to POWs, and case studies of soldiers who returned home without feelings of disdain for their captors. Beyond all the negativity, and despite the Prisoner of War survivors living through generally horrible conditions, because exposure to different cultures, few of them retained negative feelings towards their captors after they have been released.

Article Details

Session I: Prisons
Author Biography

Meaghan Dalby, Department of History

Moderator: Dr. Pam Dickey Young, Religious Studies