(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
In Their Finest Hour, the second volume of his World War II memoirs, Churchill notes the English Channel posed problems for the Luftwaffe as it sought to destroy the RAF and win control of the airspace over the Channel and the South of England, a necessary condition for an invasion.
Churchill then relates the Germans' initial response to one of those problems and how the British dealt with it:
[The Germans sought] to organize an efficient Sea Rescue Service. German transport planes, marked with the Red Cross, began to appear in some numbers over the Channel in July and August whenever there was an air fight.Regular series readers know I don’t often editorialize in series posts on current events.
We did not recognize this means of rescuing enemy pilots who had been shot down in action, in order that they might come and bomb our civil population again.
We rescued them ourselves whenever it was possible, and made them prisoners of war.
But all German air ambulances were forced or shot down by our fighters on definite orders approved by the War Cabinet.
The German crews and doctors on these machines proclaimed astonishment at being treated in this way, and protested that it was contrary to the Geneva Convention, which had not contemplated this form of warfare. The Germans were not it a strong position to complain, in view of all the treaties, laws of war, and solemn agreements which they had violated without compunction whenever it suited them.
They soon abandoned the experiment, and the work of sea rescue for both sides was carried out by our small craft, on which of course the Germans fired on every occasion. …
However, I can’t let this post pass without saying that we are making a terrible mistake by granting terrorists the protections of the Geneva Convention.
The Convention was meant to provide certain basic protections to military and civilians who observed certain rules. Soldiers in uniform are generally accorded prisoner of war status. But that same soldier in battle in civilian clothes or wearing the uniform of the enemy loses the Convention protections and can be treated as a spy.
During the Battle of the Bulge a hand-picked, specially-trained group of German soldiers fluent in American English and familiar with American pop culture donned American uniforms. They then infiltrated our lines and sowed confusion by spreading rumors, switching road signs, and the like. They also sought to gain the confidence of sentries so and then kill them.
Any of those actions were acceptable under the “rules of war” for soldiers in uniform; and the Germans, if captured in their own uniforms, would have been entitled to POW status.
But out of uniform and in American uniforms, they could be treated as spies and they were.
I believe all such Germans captured during the Bulge (I think they numbered about a hundred) were summarily executed. I’m sure at least the great majority were.
Today, we allow terrorist in civilian clothes and uniforms of organizations they’re not members of to move through those groups spreading havoc and death.
If the terrorist are captured they’re accorded the rights of the Geneva Convention which was never intended to protect such monsters.
The Geneva Convention was meant to protect their victims.
We in the West are making a mockery of the Convention.
Moving now to end this post, I wish each of you a good weekend.
The Churchill extract is found on pgs. 322-323 of Their Finest Hour. (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1949)