Looking down the warpath

June 24, 2013

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Murdoch University’s World Wars Research Group (WWRG) held its first Colloquium on June 17–18, delving into decisions belligerent nations made in the lead up to the First and Second World Wars.

Preparing for War, 1914–1945 saw academics from Australia, the US and UK present papers ranging from French leaders weighing up their chances of victory over Germany in 1911 to the Soviet Union’s level of preparedness in the run-up to the Second World War.

Organiser Dr James Crossland said the colloquium was a chance for researchers to explore unconsidered trends and forms of planning leading up to the wars and examine their consequences.

“The enthusiasm and level of insight generated over the past two days has been extraordinary, though not surprising considering our participants,” Dr Crossland said.

“It was an honour to host esteemed researchers and authors such as Dr Elizabeth Greenhalgh from the UNSW Canberra, Associate Professor Janis Mimura from Stony Brook University in New York and Professor Joe Maiolo from King’s College London, as well as local and Murdoch-based participants.

“This has advanced the WWRG’s commitment to fostering links with leading war researchers here and abroad and sets the standard for future colloquiums.”

Murdoch WWRG presenters included Dr Andrew Webster, Dr Dean Aszkielowicz and Professor Sandra Wilson as well as Dr Crossland, who presented his paper ‘Forgotten Soldiers and Exploitable Assets: Prisoners of War Policy in Britain and Germany, 1914–1945’.

Dr Crossland’s talk focussed on British and German failure to uphold the Hague Convention terms for the humane treatment of prisoners of war (POWs) in the First World War.

He said that while both nations ratified the Convention, the reality of 1914 revealed their lack of foresight and planning.

“In the first months of the war, Germany held a large number of POWs in open fields with no access to running water and inadequate shelter, while the British in a throwback to the Napoleonic wars housed many of their prisoners on disused ships,” he said.

“Initially, POWs were seen as a novel burden, a view that would shift over time as they were deployed in labour companies in agriculture, mining and even the munitions industries, which was a violation of international law.

“One of the lessons from the First World War was that the Hague Convention hadn’t worked; unfortunately the treatment of POWs in subsequent conflicts has shown that these lessons weren’t learned.”

Formed in 2012, the WWRG brings together Murdoch’s strong research into the First and Second World Wars, including several ARC-funded projects. For more information, go here.

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