Bridge Over the River Kwai: Geneva Convention Q

(not a Cafe Society question)

I watched the classic movie, Bridge Over the River Kwai, last night for the first time (finally). Great flick, but it left me with a question:

Why does the Geneva Convention specify that military officers who become prisoners of war may not be required to perform physical labor? Captured enlisted men can be forced to do physical work, but not the officers.

I suspect it has something to do with allowing POWs to maintain morale, but help me out here :slight_smile:

Heh. When I was enlisted, my morale would have been helped by having my officers working. :dubious: Well, had I ever been a POW, that is.

I really can’t offer help, though, other than to suggest that officers probably negotiated the Convention without enlisted input.

Balthisar hints at what I was going to say - the Geneva conventions have a long history, and some of the things they say are clearly intended for a bygone age. The ‘obvious’ distinction between officers and ‘the rest’ isn’t so clear today, and it’s one aspect of the conventions that should be under scrutiny.

(I’m not saying that such an approach should be scrapped entirely - retaining the structure of a captured army can easily be regarded as essential to retaining their dignity. Plus, it can be helpful in keeping them under control.)

This page contains the text of the Third Geneva Convention (“Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva, 12 August 1949”). Part III, Section III (“Labour of Prisoners of War”) seems to be most relevant to this discussion.

So it looks like forced labor for officers is definitely out, although there doesn’t seem to be any sort of rationale for this in the Convention itself.

Actually, I’m not even sure that officers have to make their own beds, let alone participate in forced labor. If I’m reading Part III, Section II, Chapter VII correctly, I think officers get to have low-ranking prisoners assigned to them as orderlies.

Because it offends the officer’s dignity and harms discipline, which I think Gorillaman mentions.

The 1949 Geneva Convention did not apply during World War 2, but the 1929 Geneva Convention did. That Convention says:

It should be noted that Japan failed to ratify the Geneva Convention of 1929, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war (although Japan gave a qualified promise in 1942 to abide by the Geneva rules), hence the contempt the commandant shows when the subject is brought up.

This all leads to an obvious follow-up question: Was the Geneva Convention of 1929 written by officers, or former officers? :slight_smile:

Probably by diplomats with the advice and consent of military officers. I don’t think the military input was necessary to preserve the distinction between various ranks though. Diplomats have just as keen a sense of position as anybody, and mayber keener.

Nitpick: It’s Bridge on the River Kwai not Over.

Thanks for the answers, Dopers :slight_smile:

Something else occurs to me: if some of the things I read in James Clavell’s book, King Rat, were accurate, I think British officers (and probably other officers from other European countries) tended to come from the upper classes, while the enlisted ranks were made up of the “common” folk. That could explain a lot, too. The officers were accustomed to being served, not serving themselves.

Maybe it was actually written by enlisted men who didn’t want the officers screwing up the job and making twice the work.

The movie title had “on”. The English translation of the novel title had “over”. The original title in French was Le pont de la rivière Kwaî. It was written by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote Planète Des Singes (first translated as Monkey Planet and later as Planet of the Apes) and several other novels.

The 1954 U.S. edition of the novel was titled Bridge Over the River Kwai, while the 1954 U.K. edition was titled Bridge on the River Kwai.