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Monday, July 30, 2018

The Great Escape

In The Great Escape, Paul Brickhill  details the time spent by him and other Allied air force officers being held by German forces during World War II.  Given the subject matter, it is surprisingly light hearted and comedic.  Having read Unbroken, which tells the story of an American POW in Japan, I was bracing myself for some grim reading.  It does get dark, but it's a fairly small portion of the book.

Image result for the great escape paul brickhill

Brickhill has a fairly dry style that isn't very engaging.  The book can also seem to randomly jump topics at times which made for a chrology that wasn't always clear.  It should tell you how fascinating I found the content that I really enjoyed the book despite all of that.  What these officers were able to accomplish in a prison camp is astounding.  It was pretty funny at times as well.  Perhaps it's silly of me, but I was really surprised at how strong the military hierarchy was for the prisoners.  I can't imagine any other circumstance where you have a large organization of prisoners working toward an escape that each of them only has a small chance to be part of.  Escaping generally didn't seem to be motivated entirely, or perhaps even mostly, by a desire to be free.  The book would lead one to believe that the prisoners had an obligation to try to escape and that the escape's goal and effect was to pull troops away from the front.  Other reading I've done has indicated that this obligation was, at most, unstated and that the escaped prisoners were dealt with only using forces that were already engaged domestically.

This is the fourth book I've read in the last few years about World War II.  Only one of them has failed to really reshape my thinking about that event.  Unbroken opened my eyes to the massive human rights abuses and atrocities committed by Japan, which seem to have been eclipsed by what Germany did.  When compared to that account, The Great Escape makes German prison camps look like Club Med compared to what POWs suffered in Japan.  Until it came to retaliating for escape attempts, one would think the only negative was being given far too little food.  I don't want to downplay how terrible it would be to experience that kind of hunger all the time, but in terms of treating prisoners poorly that could have been more the result of a lack of resources than intent.  Even if completely accurate, this isn't to say that Germany didn't do horrible things.  That's well documented.  You can't even take this as representative of the experience of POWs.  The book is clear that American and British air force officers received the best treatment possible.

As I said above, I enjoyed reading this book and I'd recommend it.

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