Warrior Without Weapons

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Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI carries out a review
of a book ‘Le Troiseme Combattant’ on the ICRC rank and file

Warrior Without Weapons
By Dr. Marcel Junod
Translated from the French ‘Le Troiseme Combattant’ by Edward Fitzgerald Jonathan Cape Ltd London Reprinted by the International Committee of the Red Cross Geneva-1982.

The book under review is a lean volume - but covers some of the most memorable incidents which Dr. Junod had to come across while he worked as a Delegate of ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross - Geneva). It is not lean in contents. Dr Junod was lucky to work for the ICRC - and for its lofty ideals - and in the words of Max Huber (one time President of the ICRC) - for the convincing impressions of the nobility and grandeur of Red Cross work. The author had the good fortune of working and covering one of the most volatile periods of current history - and his experiences (as a delegate) covering the Abyssinian War, the Spanish Civil War, and the Second World War. His visit to Japan and the visit to the PW (Prisoner of War camps) is most touching. He provides a most compelling account of post atomic attack condition in Japan (August 1945).

The diversity of these events notwithstanding, the author has pieced together a most readable account of the very special problems which he had to face as a neutral delegate - where his main job was to assuage all human distress - and help the most vulnerable people - especially those affected by war. Be it known that the Red Cross in fact is the product of the battleground - and it enjoys a special protection in the international law.

So, more or less, using the word coined by Dr. Junod, Red Cross may be considered as a ‘third combatant’ in a conflict - a combatant who fights his war without weapons - but fights all the same.

At the historical and philosophical levels the spirit of ‘Le Troiseme Combattant’ must not in any way be confined to the citizens or the institutions of neutral countries, and fortunately, it is not. The dominant idea and the essence of the Geneva Convention is equality of treatment for all sick and wounded men irrespective of whether they are friends or enemies. It is the fulfilment of the cry of Solferina : ‘Siamo tutti fratelli’.

It is not easy to be a successful delegate - and of sure a delegate who is in fact troops of the ICRC must possess certain essential character traits - both moral and physical (as these come out very clearly in the account of Dr Junod.). A delegate must be stubborn in his purpose, and show extreme courage in the face of danger. He is very often hated, despised and most of the time is defenceless. ‘And finally like a military commander, a delegate must possess the necessary ability to take quick decisions, often of the gravest nature, on his own responsibility, because often he will not be in a position to turn to Geneva for special instructions.’ He must have staunchest fidelity to his cause - and ideals of the Red Cross and very often he will need diplomatic skills, tact, discretion, firmness and a sense of proportion.

In the closing stages of the Second World War, according to Dr Junod - there were some 103 camps where the Allied POWs were kept by the Japanese. The total number of POWs revealed by the Japanese in August 1945 to the delegate was about 34,000.

Dr. Junod describes his long journey to Japan from Europe via Tehran and Moscow/Kremlin by rail. He also happens to visit a couple of PW camps en route to Japan. He laments that the officers posted to command these camps never really allowed him and his compatriot any chance to evaluate the living conditions of the internees or to talk to them in detail. Their visits were confined to the shortest possible time.

The delegate was clearly interested to meet General Wainwright and the British Gen Percival (who happened to be senior to Gen Wainwright) in the Seihan Camp.The camp commandant Col Matsuda was rather reluctant to arrange this visit - and eventually allowed him to see Gen Wainwright for two minutes only.

This two minute encounter - full of emotions as it is, is reproduced below as best as it can be:

Junod: How are you?

Gen Wainwright: Not bad. My right hip is giving me rather less trouble now.

J. I am happy to tell you that your family is well and that they have received your last message safely.

Gen. Thank you. (His face lit up)

J. Have you any request to make?

Gen. Certainly. Can I make it now.

No - put in Matsuda at once. ‘It will have to made in writing to Tokio.’ The ghost of a sceptical smile passed over Gen Wainwright’s lips. The interview lasted less than two minutes.

Gen Percival managed (after considerable haggling) one minute and his time ran out in his outcry which was ‘Excuse me’, he said, ‘I am General Percevil. I protest again the fact that you have been authorised to talk to Gen Wainwright although I am the senior officer here. There is lot I should like to tell you. Things take place here that you ought to know.’

The whole episode of these nearly mock interviews is succinctly summed up by Dr Junod. Here is a short paragraph which depicts his total disappointment. ‘Only prisoners who had been cut off from their world for three years and had seen nothing around them but yellow faces could appreciate the full significance of that pitiful result ... two months journey from Europe to China via Egypt, Persia, Moscow and Siberia, for two minutes restricted conversation with one prisoner of war in Manchuria.’

The book at places gives the impression of high humanitarian adventure - and it is fervently hoped that the book will convey to a wide public a real and lasting impression of the grandeur of humanitarian work undertaken by ICRC - and the calibre of its workers - particularly the delegates who may look soft spoken but their nerves are of hardened steel.