Accepted paper:

Japanese Impressions of World War I, Perceptions of a Future War during the 1920s, and Their Effect on Treatment of POWs


Rotem Kowner (The University of Haifa)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation analyzes Japanese impressions of World War I and perceptions of a future war during the 1920s in order to demonstrate their effect on the treatment of POWs in the final wars of Imperial Japan during the 1930s and 1940s.

Paper long abstract:

World War I was a watershed in Japan's treatment of its POWs, Western/European POWs in particular. During the Russo-Japanese War and World War I, Japanese treatment of POWs was relatively benevolent and the prisoners' mortality rate was low. During the wars in which Japan took part in later years, that is the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45) and the Pacific War (1941-45), Japan's treatment of it POWs deteriorated substantially while their mortality rate soared. In this presentation, I argue that the reports of Japanese observers during World War I and the subsequent expectations of a future total war in which Japan would be involved, changed radically the view of human resources and affected the ensuing treatment of enemy soldiers. During the interwar era, the local customs in regard to POWs became gradually stricter, and from the late 1920s adherence to international conventions became steadily weaker, thereby enfeebling the moral pressure of the Geneva Convention. It is no wonder than, that in 1929 the Japanese government was reluctant to adopt the Third Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, on the grounds that it contradicted Japanese law.

panel S7_07
The Circulation of Ideas between Japan and Northeast Asia: Possibilities and Limits of Global History