Saturday, August 22, 2009
I see nothing!
For me, Hogan's Heroes will always be linked with Fish & Chips. Not the TV programs, Fish and Chips, but rather the meal. When I was a kid Hogan's Heroes was televised on a the same night of the week that my family ate Fish & Chips. So whenever I see Col. Klink, Sgt Schultz, or Hogan himself in reruns I can actually smell and taste greasy battered fish and steaming hot salty chips.
Hogan's Heroes was a very repetitive show. The plots tended to be very similar from episode to episode. But it was fun, well acted for a comedy show, and had lines you could recite in the schoolyard to your friends over and over.
It was a fantasy. Prisoners of war helping the Allied cause by spying and sabotaging the Germans. Far-fetched fun, that seemed to go on longer that the war itself. (There's a theme ... tv shows about wars that lasted longer than the actual war they were set in.)
Yet it turns out it wasn't a fantasy. There really were POWs who spied on their captors. There really were hidden transmitters and receivers (in baseballs, for example). There were even secret departments, MI-9 and MIS-X, dedicated to finding new ways of using POWs to aid the war effort; devising letter writing codes, smuggling in cameras, and so on. There were playing cards with secret maps, compasses inside hollow hairbrushes, magnetized razor blades that pointed north, hollow buttons, and much more.
The whole thing was kept very secret, even after the war, as using POWs in such ways was a direct breach of the Geneva Conventions. Even in 1990, when someone finally broke the silence the Pentagon wanted to suppress the story, because it endangered future POWs, and cast deep shadows on the past.
POWs are, under "the rules of war", considered safe, special, immune, and out of play. Spies, on the other hand can be shot out of hand. By confusing the two the Allies were risking the lives of thousands of their own men.
The POWs risked a firing squad if caught spying, the higher ups risked being war criminals, and they also risked upsetting the international agreements on how POWs were treated. If it had become common knowledge that the US and UK routinely operated POWs as spies then the whole raft of Geneva Conventions might have been ignored by all concerned, not just in World War Two, but in later conflicts.
Even basic humanitarian aid, such as the famous Red Cross parcels, was endangered by these departments, as the Allies set up dozens of fake Aid Agencies to ferry their illegal contraband to the prisoners. The Allies always made a big deal about the neutrality of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups, and publicly maintained that they never used them covertly. While the Red Cross may have been above board, many of the groups it turns out were not. In fact, their sole purpose was to ferry in contraband.
All this contrasts nicely with the recent controversy about labeling captured 'terrorists' as not POWs but 'enemy combatants'. Words are powerful. Now I'm going to associate fish and chips with the Geneva Conventions .... Mmmmmm, tasty, tasty articles.