Join 3,421 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


A Different Age
September 25, 2013 10:00 AM   Subscribe

In 1914, Captain Robert Campbell was taken captive by the German Army. In 1916, he got word that his mother back in England was dying. He was given a laissez-passer to visit her on condition that he return to captivity as soon as practicable. An officer and a gentleman, he did exactly that.

Seems the world of Grand Illusion existed after all.
posted by IndigoJones (56 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ah yes, World War I, a jolly old time for all.
posted by kmz at 10:09 AM on September 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Sorry, that was more snarky that warranted. (Though being careless and clicking on a Daily Mail link also made me snippy.)

I guess this would fall somewhere in the same category as the Christmas Truce, a small measure of humanity in the middle of hell. Though, I'd also note that notions of "honor" and "duty" were pretty darn responsible for the war in the first place.
posted by kmz at 10:16 AM on September 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


Not that the American Civil War was any more of a jolly time, but it was not uncommon then for captured soldiers to be released on parole -- that is, on the prisoner giving his word he would not take up arms again after release.
posted by Gelatin at 10:16 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also the story of the SMS Seeadler and Felix von Luckner for more of this kind of thing.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 10:23 AM on September 25, 2013


In earlier wars the idea of parole was taken pretty seriously, and if you returned to fighting you could be prosecuted after the war and forced to pay an indemnity.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:28 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


See also No Picnic on Mt Kenya, the story of 3 Italian WWII POWs who escaped, climbed Mt. Kenya (almost)...and then returned to the POW camp.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:29 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


That form of honor seems so far removed from modern warfare. :(
posted by fairmettle at 10:32 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm almost more surprised that the British let him go back to the POW camp.
posted by schmod at 10:35 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


In earlier wars the idea of parole was taken pretty seriously, and if you returned to fighting you could be prosecuted after the war and forced to pay an indemnity.

Indeed. Any instances of this actually happening?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2013


I'm suspicious (without good reason) that this would be a useful thing for a spy to be able to do.
posted by hanoixan at 10:37 AM on September 25, 2013


Reminds me of the ROLEX watches for prisoners of war.
posted by mrbill at 10:37 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


A modern US soldier wouldn't be able to take advantage of this, if offered. Article III of the Code of Conduct states:
ARTICLE III.
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.
The Code was only enacted in 1955, arguably well after the expectation of honorable, gentlemanly behavior had been extinguished from warfare.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:39 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


That makes sense, since to accept parole from the enemy is to accept that they have the authority to order you to stop fighting in the first place.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:44 AM on September 25, 2013


Indeed. Any instances of this actually happening?

I seem to recall reading something about, during the Napoleonic Wars, an official complaint could be lodged between one belligerent government and another, about breaking parole, with the offending officer or soldier being tried by a courts martial of his own side.

I suppose there were a lot of conventions regarding warfare back then that were indeed recognized by the higher-ups - there was not Total War back then - and there was a need to preserve some civility between opposing armies.

Cities, on the other hand, would be sacked.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:47 AM on September 25, 2013


Couldn't (resistance by any means) + (every effort to escape) possibly = accept parole and then go on the lam? Pick up the nearest available rifle and resume shooting as soon as you're out of their dastardly clutches?

I guess what I'm saying is that that Article contains at least one inconsistency and needs to be corrected before we start programming it into the new generation of robotic soldiers, lest their circuits burn out and all their android heads explode.
posted by penduluum at 10:47 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Are people seriously arguing that things were more honorable and gentlemanly 100 years ago? These armies that are being discussed here had a long history and were still engaged in not just dishonorable warfare but flat out genocidal warfare throughout much of the world. Just to mention one example, particularly relevant, German armies had recently eliminated up to three fourths of the population in areas they controlled in Africa. There were no prisoners on parole, because there were no prisoners. What's being expressed here is not honor, it's just good old-fashioned colonialist racism.
posted by williampratt at 10:50 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


I suppose there were a lot of conventions regarding warfare back then that were indeed recognized by the higher-ups - there was not Total War back then - and there was a need to preserve some civility between opposing armies.

Parole was not necessarily done out of benevolence, but for the tangible benefit of relieving the captors of the obligation to feed the captured enemy while providing some assurance they would not resume their combatant role. The incentive for the other side is that by honoring the system they lessened the chance of prisoners being held, only to die of malnutrition or disease in a camp.
posted by Gelatin at 10:52 AM on September 25, 2013


Are people seriously arguing that things were more honorable and gentlemanly 100 years ago?

Most examples of honor and gentlemanly behavior you can find are between aristocrats in the officer corp. As a conscript or an enlisted man (or civilian) you're probably out of luck but the class solidarity of the rich transcends borders.
posted by ghharr at 10:56 AM on September 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


Well, there was the famous Christmas Truce in World War I, but that was a spontaneous and unofficial thing, and in fact the higher-ups explicitly warned soldiers not to repeat the practice the next year.
posted by savetheclocktower at 11:05 AM on September 25, 2013


What's being expressed here is not honor, it's just good old-fashioned colonialist racism.

Armies behaved differently in Europe than they did in the rest of the world.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Armies behaved differently in Europe than they did in the rest of the world.

Yes, and that was Hitler's greatest crime, to bring colonial warfare to the continent.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:11 AM on September 25, 2013 [5 favorites]


accept parole and then go on the lam?

No, the fact that one accepts parole would subsequently lead to an inquest into the facts and circumstances leading up to said parole. Meaning that you'd better have all of your ducks lined up with both your captors and fellow internees. Otherwise you could face accusations of crimes under the UCMJ that could have them imprisoned or shot.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:14 AM on September 25, 2013


>Yes, and that was Hitler's greatest crime, to bring colonial warfare to the continent.

Before we Godwin the hell out of this thread, my comments were about the Napoleonic Wars, which was before the era of Total Warfare.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:18 AM on September 25, 2013


Yes, and that was Hitler's greatest crime, to bring colonial warfare to the continent.

I disagree. The Holocaust/Shoah was the culmination of centuries of prejudice against Jewish people in Europe. Hitler industrialized anti-Semitism, refined it, and probably would have automated it. The Holocaust is a unique event in human history.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:20 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Code was only enacted in 1955, arguably well after the expectation of honorable, gentlemanly behavior had been extinguished from warfare.

I might venture to guess this was because of tactics used against GIs captured in Korea?
posted by ocschwar at 11:21 AM on September 25, 2013



Parole was not necessarily done out of benevolence, but for the tangible benefit of relieving the captors of the obligation to feed the captured enemy while providing some assurance they would not resume their combatant role.


In the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army used the strategy of capturing Redcoats, marching them far from the lines, and paroling them so extensively it was arguably their main modus operandi, and a particularly apt one given the ideological nature of the war.
posted by ocschwar at 11:23 AM on September 25, 2013


I'm going to go ahead and suggest that if you need to use Hitler in your reply here, it's probably a derail.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would like to take this opportunity to recommend A World Undone, which is one of the better histories I've read in general and certainly the best on the subject of WW1.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:30 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


"If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting." - Curtis LeMay bluntly outlining the principle by which war works.
posted by Artw at 11:44 AM on September 25, 2013


> Before we Godwin the hell out of this thread, my comments were about the Napoleonic Wars, which was before the era of Total Warfare.

Not true: the Napoleonic Wars saw the beginning of Total Warfare. I highly recommend The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It, by David A. Bell, which is an eye-opener in many ways.

You know, I hate the ruling class and colonialism and the pre-WWI system of rule as much as any of you, but I can't tell you how tired it makes me to think that we can't even respond to a story like this without saying IT SUCKS BECAUSE IT'S PART OF AN EVIL SYSTEM BOO HISS. The guy made a promise and kept it; can't we admire that one little thing without dumping the weight of aristocracy and colonialism on his back? Are we not allowed to admire anything or anyone having anything to do with that era? And: are we so perfect? Sheesh.
posted by languagehat at 12:00 PM on September 25, 2013 [24 favorites]


Is decontextualizing things healthy?
posted by entropone at 12:01 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting." - Curtis LeMay bluntly outlining the principle by which war works.

Well, LeMay was a lunatic but this has plainly not been true since Vietnam at least unless you want to engage in genocidal extermination. And you could argue even before that given the massive Soviet casualties in WWII.

Are we not allowed to admire anything or anyone having anything to do with that era? And: are we so perfect? Sheesh.

There's a thing among the social justice oriented where if you're not constantly on guard against injustice and shrieking about it at the top of your lungs, then you are a bad social justice person and have dishonored yourself, like a disgraced samurai. It's part of why people, myself included, can find social justice warriors so exhausting even when we agree with them. It's actually why I got out of social justice work, just tired of having to constantly be on guard because one slip was a massive disgrace and destroyed my social justice honor.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:12 PM on September 25, 2013 [12 favorites]


I take a dark pleasure in imagining how Fox News would have treated a story in 2003 of a Guantanamo Bay internee writing a letter to George W, Bush, asking to go home for a couple of weeks for compassionate reasons but promising he would come back.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:45 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Code was only enacted in 1955, arguably well after the expectation of honorable, gentlemanly behavior had been extinguished from warfare.

The culture that expected the honorable behaviour exemplified by the story here pretty much ended with WWI, in part because of the sheer number of gentlemen extinguished by the war.

A generation of Blackadders, Darlings, and Georges (and their French, German, etc. counterparts) wiped out by generals who thought they could use tactics from the Napoleonic era to wage mechanized warfare.
 
posted by Herodios at 12:51 PM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also, that culture typically consisted of privileged officers and conscripts. Parole didn't exactly apply to the latter. This probably has more to do with the history of European warfare, where the participants were related, by blood or contract to one another, in a complex web that basically meant you had to be civil even when trying to bash each others' heads in on the battlefield.

I wonder how one decided between ransom and parole? Though I think ransom was an older norm and parole replaced it?
posted by linux at 1:04 PM on September 25, 2013


that culture typically consisted of privileged officers and conscripts.

Other than providing yet another opportunity to cite "privilege" on Metafilter, so what?
 
posted by Herodios at 1:12 PM on September 25, 2013


Apparently nobody here understands them old fashioned morals.
posted by Segundus at 1:25 PM on September 25, 2013


The idea of "gentlemanly" "honorable" warfare is pretty much absurd on its face.
posted by kmz at 1:26 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other than providing yet another opportunity to cite "privilege" on Metafilter, so what?

Use whatever word you want if that one offends. I'm saying these folks had their own rules of war versus the regular soldiers they commanded. The foot soldier had no such option as ransom or parole. Today's world provides no such option for the commanding officers speaks more about the democratization of war than the killing off of a generation of gentlemen.
posted by linux at 1:35 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not true: the Napoleonic Wars saw the beginning of Total Warfare. I highly recommend The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It, by David A. Bell, which is an eye-opener in many ways.

Good point, but I was thinking more in terms of the "total war" we saw during World War II (or maybe the American Civil War under Grant and Sherman), where there was deliberate targeting of civilians, really state-sponsored terrorism.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:55 PM on September 25, 2013


The modern notion of an army of professional soldiers belonging to the state, rather than mercenary units and peasant conscripts, came from the Napoleonic Wars and the rise of nationalism. Total warfare has sort of always existed -- I guess the combination with massively destructive weaponry sort of makes it look more total today.

From then to WWI you have that gradual shift where peerage and class no longer defined the stratification of rank in an army. WWI is interesting, though, since the nobles almost en masse went to the air corps as a kind of last hurrah of the idea of "knightly warfare" -- well, at least certainly for the Germans they did.
posted by linux at 2:02 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gelatin: "Not that the American Civil War was any more of a jolly time, but it was not uncommon then for captured soldiers to be released on parole -- that is, on the prisoner giving his word he would not take up arms again after release."

Those that weren't starved to death in ghastly POW camps, excepted.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:07 PM on September 25, 2013


> Good point, but I was thinking more in terms of the "total war" we saw during World War II (or maybe the American Civil War under Grant and Sherman), where there was deliberate targeting of civilians, really state-sponsored terrorism.

That goes back to the Napoleonic Wars. Seriously, if you're interested in this stuff, read the book. (Warning: parts of it are pretty grim.)
posted by languagehat at 2:28 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Civilians have always been targeted and terrorized. The qualifier "state-sponsored" instead of "house-sponsored" points out the distinction defined in the Napoleonic Wars: nationalism and the rise of the state army over the personal army.

That book sounds intriguing. Maybe I'll read that and intersperse it with "light reading" of Hornblower and Aubrey.
posted by linux at 2:42 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Seriously, if you're interested in this stuff, read the book.

I certainly will, thanks for the recommendation.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:55 PM on September 25, 2013


I'll pop in here with another book recommendation, pursuant to MartinWisse's comment: Isabel Hull's Absolute Destruction, about the German army's experiences of colonial warfare in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:59 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The culture that expected the honorable behaviour exemplified by the story here pretty much ended with WWI, in part because of the sheer number of gentlemen extinguished by the war.

This is something I've always been in awe of. Several small villages around here just plain ceased to exist because every able bodied male in the village between 16 and 50 something went to war and didn't come back. The land holdings reverted back to absentee landlords in England and the continuity that made the places going concerns ended.
posted by Mitheral at 3:07 PM on September 25, 2013


For those who might be interested in how hellish European war was long before the age of Napoleon, I suggest Furies: War in Europe, 1450-1700, by Lauro Martines.

Until modern times. armies lived off the food extracted from the inhabitants of the territory though which they passed, leaving pestilence behind when and if they departed. Even if typhus, typhoid, or other epidemics did not ensue, the destruction of standing crops, seed stocks, draft animals, pigs and poultry left an agrarian peasantry wholly without resources--if, of course, they were not raped or murdered for being Protestant/Catholic, depending on the brand of Christianity professed by the "owners" of the armies in question.

Some of the "rules of war" were intended to mitigate the impact of this fact on hapless civilian populations. Unfortunately, the genie of Mars rarely stays in the bottle.
posted by rdone at 3:46 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


More years ago then I care to remember (1962), I had a German language High School teacher who was a pilot for the German Air Force during WWII. I think I learned more about the War from the German perspective than I learned German.

He
was a prisoner of war after the end of hostilities, but needed to register in college soon and without papers he couldn't legally travel, purchase food, find housing. He saved food, went over the wires, registered and returned to wait for release.
posted by jgaiser at 4:51 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Today's world provides no such option for the commanding officers speaks more about the democratization of war than the killing off of a generation of gentlemen.

Not hardly. The majority of non-pedigreed officers have entered the democratized military, but those in the 1% still are cossetted and protected, or they don't bother to serve at all. Let me reference the illustrious career of ex-POTUS Bush.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:21 PM on September 25, 2013


Yes, and that was Hitler's greatest crime, to bring colonial warfare to the continent.

I came for the colonialism bashers, I stayed for the casual Hitler apologists.
posted by Behemoth at 6:00 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Atilla's, and later Genghis' greatest crime was to bring colonial warfare to the continent. That, and their patent anachronism.
posted by perhapsolutely at 6:59 PM on September 25, 2013


Bush being protected is a new model that does not advertise itself as the norm. The norm is that ransom and parole are no longer regular practice for the elite.
posted by linux at 8:26 PM on September 25, 2013


The Daily Mail, never one to let us forget what a spiffing time we had fighting those silly old Germans.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:31 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Daily Mail, never one to let us forget what a spiffing time we had fighting those silly old Germans.

Would you rather they not have published this, and if not, why not?
posted by IndigoJones at 8:28 AM on September 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


Makes sense really, as one of the pretensions for going to war is to protect civilization. As history has shown, we always need a copious stock of pretensions.
posted by Twang at 9:49 AM on September 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


« Older “Honey, you’re 300 sandwiches away from an engagem...  |  "The midi-trigger’s connected ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments