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Falkland Islands: a gentleman's war

By
JOHN USHER

UNITED NATIONS -- The Anglo-Argentine clash over the Falkland Islands appears to be a gentlemanly affair so far with military commanders dispatching 'enemy' prisoners back to their homelands in record time.

While politicians and diplomats thumbed their noses at one another, there were reports from South Georgia that Argentine prisoners from the surrendered Argentine garrison at Grytviken were entertained in the officers' mess aboard one of the British task force ships.

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Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, reporting the surrender of the Argentine garrison on South Georgia Island to the British Parliament, promised that the 180 Argentinian troops captured in the assault would be returned to Argentina.

British marine commandos seized by Argentine troops on the Falkland Islands three weeks ago were home via Uruguay within two weeks -- a speed rarely seen in any warfare. Those who shot down two helicopters and killed several Argentine soldiers were included.

It was not always so.

In pre-Christian times prisoners were rarely taken -- vanquished survivors were butchered on the battlefield.

History also lists a shameful record among people considered more civilized: British ill-treatment of American revolutionary captives; American abuse of Americans during the Civil War.

Some two million German soldiers captured by the Russians were not allowed home until the mid-1950s, a decade after World War II.

However, Britain and Germany during World War II repatriated prisoners too seriously wounded to fight again -- the same type repatriation seen recently in the exchanges of soldiers severely wounded in the Iran-Iraq war.

Even after the Geneva Conventions of 1929 and 1949 -- under which POWs are supposed to be protected against violence, intimidation, insults and public scrutiny -- there were atrocities.

Thousands of captured GIs died in the Bataan death march to Japanese prisoner of war camps in the Philippines in 1942. The abuse of Allied POWs in the Japanese camps is well documented.

In the Korean War, hundreds of American and British soldiers were starved and beaten by their North Korean and Chinese captors. Allied troops were 'brain-washed' by communist interrogators trying to change their political outlook.

U.S. prisoners of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong suffered cruel treatment throughout the Vietnamese war. Many Americans, particularly pilots shot down on bombing raids, have never been accounted for and are now recorded as MIAs -- Missing In Action.

The reason for Anglo-Argentine gentility so far might be that the two countries have not declared war on one another. But then neither did the United States and North Vietnam.

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