by Jeremy Young | 11/11/2007 05:58:00 PM
Reader Hevallo notes in comments that the eight Turkish POWs were arrested on unspecified charges upon reentering Turkey from Kurdistan. He asks whether there is any historical precedent for this shameful treatment of Turkey's own soldiers by their mother country.

My own guess would Because the only reason you'd imprison your own soldiers would be because they had somehow aided in the enemy's military or propaganda efforts. If the first, then the "capture" wasn't authentic in the first place, so it doesn't count. If the second, that would only have happened in the years since WWII, when war propaganda became internationally available through the medium of television.

In Vietnam, a few of the American prisoners were given the option of early release in exchange for telling the media when they got home that they had been well-treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions (which was far from the truth). Three men, led by Air Force Col. Norris Overly, took the early release and fed the pre-programmed lies to the media; in doing so they almost certainly hurt the American war effort. Nevertheless, not only were these men not disciplined by the military when they returned, they were not even dishonorably discharged. What they did was almost exactly what the Turkish soldiers are being charged with doing.

There's probably precedent for incarcerating "captured" soldiers who were really informants, or sending former prisoners who have gone mad to a mental hospital, but that's not what's going on here.

Readers with more military history background than I (Curtis, ZP, I'm talking to you) -- am I right? Is this the first incident in recorded history in which former POWs were court-martialed by their own country for, basically, not resisting enough while prisoners?



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Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/11/2007 7:48 PM:

It's certainly not the first time in history that the question has been raised and suspicion cast on POWs as failures and possible malingerers, if not outright collaborators.

The Japanese military was notorious in this regard.

The "Manchurian Candidate" narrative gave voice to concerns about American servicemen who'd been POWs under communist regimes.

Those are the off-the-top-of-my-head examples, but none of them quite rise to the level you've cited.


Blogger Gordon Taylor on 11/11/2007 11:38 PM:

I think the reference to the Japanese army is apt. But it goes beyond that. The Turkish Army simply does not care what precedents have been set elsewhere. They rule their world absolutely, without any civilian oversight, and they will do what they want to do. Fairness, the good opinion of others--these simply do not concern them. And they certainly don't care about individual human beings. They will crush anyone who gets in the way of their perceived mission: the maintenance of the honor (i.e., the fearsome reputation) of the Army, the memory of Ataturk the Holy, and the preservation of the monolithic, inviolable Turkish State. Nothing that an individual has--his home, his village, his life--is of any importance if it gets in the way of the Army. So obviously these eight soldiers also mean nothing. Their big mistake: they didn't die.

This is why the Turkish Army--that is, the Army Officer Corps--is at the heart of what Turkish observers call the "Derin Devleti," the "Deep State." On the surface are genial, popularly-elected politicians like Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul. (And, yes, the not-so-genial idiots like the Justice Minister, Mr. Shahin.) Beneath the surface, maintained for the benefit of Americans who want to call Turkey a democracy, is the Deep State: the huge security apparatus of Armed Forces, paramilitary gendarmes, police, and the MIT--the Milli Istihbarat Teskilati, or National Intelligence Organization. These are the guys--and yes, they are virtually all men--who really run the show.


Anonymous zenpundit on 11/13/2007 5:04 PM:


In Imperial Japan, becoming a POW was more of an extreme social disgrace that shamed one's entire family. This is one reason reason for the suicidal banzai charges favored by the Army - death in battle allowed one's parents to still hold their heads high.

Stalin's policy for returning Soviet POWs after WWII was to give them all 25 years in the Gulag. Even getting separated from your Red Army unit in the fog of battle was politically risky and those brave souls who escaped German POW camps were usually imprisoned or shot as traitors and spies (the latter was handled by a particularly sinister organization, even by Stalinist standards, known as SMERSH, headed by Abakumov).

Considering the democidal treatment Soviet POWs had received at Nazi hands, this is probably the worst record of any military in the modern period (though I have not reviewed the literature on North Korea).


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/14/2007 11:37 AM:

Thanks, ZP -- I knew you'd have more complete knowledge on this than I do.