Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


The various Geneva Conventions were designed to protect both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary suffering during wartime. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nations developed treaties like the Red Cross Treaty of 1929 to outlaw unacceptable actions and behaviors during war and to alleviate suffering during war. The Hague Convention of 1907 specifically outlined nontraditional forms of warfare considered inhumane and the responsibility of occupational forces. Nonetheless, the historical record reveals that both combatants and noncombatants alike have suffered barbarism and degradation during wartime. In the Second World War, the Japanese neglected and refused to implement these laws which resulted in countless atrocities against allied POWs in the Japanese occupied territories. Though a signatory to the 1929 Geneva Convention concerning sick and injured POWs, the Japanese government did not ratify the convention. In its place, the Japanese established their own laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to prisoners of war that emerged from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. These regulations, while not as liberal as the Geneva Convention, did outline the proper treatment that prisoners should receive while incarcerated. Nevertheless, throughout the Second World War Japan often violated these regulations while simultaneously claiming that POWs received proper treatment. Beginning in December 1937, the Japanese military began an unprecedented campaign of military expansion into China, killing hundreds of thousands of both Chinese civilian and military personnel. Japan circumvented the Geneva Convention during this time by declaring their campaign not as an invasion, but rather an "incident" depriving captured Chinese soldiers the right to use the ICRC for aid. The Japanese military authorities labeled captured Chinese soldiers as "rebels" and "bandits" thus depriving them of access to the Red Cross. In 1941, the United States entered the war against Japan and Allied service men hoped that they would receive humane treatment. However, after the fall of Hong Kong, Malaya, and the Philippines, Japanese forces marched the majority of captured servicemen into prison and labor camps, where they effectively became slave labor for their captors. The prison camps exhibited brutality, inhumane treatment, malnourishment, harsh labor conditions, widespread disease, and inadequate medical supplies. More Allied servicemen died from malnutrition, disease, and exhaustion while prisoners than from combat itself. While regulations concerning disciplinary measures remained strictly enforced, other areas remained ignored or disregarded. Japanese regulations described explicitly the treatment prisoners were to receive concerning housing, food, medical treatment, working conditions, and visits by relief organizations. These regulations were enforced rarely and Allied prisoners did not have access to them to understand their rights. Yuki Tanaka argued that the basis for this disregard of regulations was that POW's were seen and treated as military supplies by the Japanese military. At the beginning of the war between Japan and the allied powers the Swiss Legation and the ICRC became primary players in the plight of Allied prisoners of war. Throughout the war, the Swiss Legation and the ICRC became intermediaries between the allied powers and Japan. Early in the war, Japan publicly pledged to the allied powers to observe the Geneva Convention. Acting as intermediaries between the warring powers, the Allied nations used both the Swiss Legation and the ICRC to continually point out Japanese violations of the Geneva Convention against allied POWs. Despite this pledge, Japan's leaders would not allow either the Swiss Legation or the ICRC to intervene on behalf of the prisoners. Throughout the war, Japan continually refused to allow full access to the prison camps for inspection by neutral observers. Despite repeated protests and ample physical evidence of brutality and various atrocities that took place in Japanese controlled areas the Japanese refused to believe them. Consequently the laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to the fair treatment of POWs established by the Japanese government and military were ignored resulting in the deaths of thousands of Allied prisoners of war. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the Japanese POW regulations and to gain an understanding of why these regulations were neglected and how Allied POWs were reflected by those decisions during the War.


Robert Rook

Date of Award

Summer 2002

Document Type

Thesis - campus only access


© 2002 Dale L. Harwood


For questions contact

Off Campus FHSU Users Click Here