Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When honor still meant something . . .

I was surprised to read that the honor system of parole was still functioning in at least one case during World War I.  The Telegraph reports:

Capt [Robert] Campbell had languished in the Magdeburg prisoner of war camp for two years when he received word that his mother, Louise Campbell, had cancer and was close to death.

He wrote to Kaiser Wilhelm II, begging to be allowed home to visit her one final time.

And incredibly, the German leader granted his request, allowing him two weeks leave, including two days travelling each way by boat and train, as long as he returned.

The only bond he placed on him was Capt Campbell's “word” as an Army officer.

The young soldier returned to his family home in Gravesend, Kent, in December 1916 and spent time with his mother before returning to the camp, where he was held until the war ended in 1918.

There's more at the link.

Sadly, the concept of personal honor has largely fallen by the wayside in today's materialistic, "if-it-feels-good-do-it" world.  I daresay that if a present-day US officer gave his parole and was permitted by an enemy to return home under similar circumstances (unlikely though that is), the US authorities would probably refuse to allow him to return.  That's a sad commentary on our modern world, IMHO.

(Why, yes, I have been accused of being a cultural dinosaur on occasion.  Personally, I attribute it to early-onset curmudgeonhood!)



lotta joy said...

There IS no honor among thieves, and today we're under the "street rule".

The few of us whose word is our bond, can't gain trust due to the lack of other people like us in existence.

We ARE judged due to the majority of garbage in mankind today.

My dad pounded it into me that what I say, is what I do. Plus that a firm handshake is necessary to build trust.

I still shake hands like a lumberjack.

Anonymous said...

If I remember my "Law of Armed Conflict" briefing(it has been 13 years since I retired)giving parole is actually a violation and is prohibited. Your hypothetical officer would not be able to return because he/she would be having charges pressed.

BobF said...

And what of the duty to escape?

Peter said...

@BobF: Yes, there's a duty to escape - but not if you've given your parole. Up to and including World War II, parole was authorized for Allied officers - there are many accounts, for example, of RAF officer prisoners giving their parole, and being allowed to walk in local villages and even buy produce at farmers' markets using their POW pay. As soon as they returned to their camp, their parole was withdrawn, and they could then legitimately work on their escape schemes. In the same way, the Germans provided tools to construct camp theaters, chapels, etc. under the parole system, where the prisoners gave their word that the tools would not be used for escape purposes. AFAIK, those promises were kept.

BobF said...

Unless it has changed since I retired, one article of the Code of Conduct for US Military members states "If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy."

Mike Doyle said...

BobF is quite correct. Article III of the Code of Conduct expressly forbids accepting parole, and remains in effect as a General Order to this day. Any US Officer, Noncommissioned Officer, or Enlisted Person accepting an offer of parole, even under the humanitarian circumstances of Captain Campbell and Kaiser Wilhelm, would find himself confined pending court-martial.

On the other hand, I note that the US Armed Forces have not been engaged against an enemy who consistently abides by the Geneva and Hague Conventions, let alone traditional concepts of honor, since 1945 - and, arguably, not even in the Second World War (Malmedy and Bataan come to mind as the most obvious examples). Wish they did, and admire the honor shown by all concerned in this anecdote, and I, too, mourn the loss of the concept of personal honor... but that ship has sailed, never to return in this so-called modern age, I fear.