The Golden Rule Applied
A couple months ago I attended an “Authors and Appetizers” event at our local library. The speaker for the evening was Professor Gregory D. Sumner, author of Michigan POW Camps in WWII. Professor Sumner was a great presenter and I actually wished I could sit in on a class or two of his down at University of Detroit Mercy. I had no idea that Michigan had prisoner of war camps, so the stories of these men and our local Michiganders were enlightening.
Because so many of our men were fighting in the war, there was pressing need for laborers in the fields and non-war related factories. With the major victories in North Africa, the Allies suddenly had hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war to house. The idea was hatched to bring these prisoners to the United States and offer to allow them to earn wages while working in non-war related industries. The 6,000 POWs in Michigan were all low-security, from Germany and Italy. Overall the program worked very well, with just a few sad stories of attempted escapes and prisoner/local fraternization.
During the A&A event at the library, I noticed a gruff older man to my left. He seemed to be becoming a little agitated as Professor Sumner shared about the scrip (camp money) that the prisoners earned for their work in the communities and the levels of freedom the prisoners experienced, including family dinners with the farmers they worked for, working alongside women in factories and canneries, and sports competitions with local soccer (futbol to them!) teams. Given his apparent age, this gentleman very likely had an older brother, uncle, or father who fought in WWII. He likely knew, firsthand, the terrible experience the Allied prisoners of war experienced under the Axis powers. It was obvious that he was unhappy with the overall kind treatment these German and Italian solders received.
Finally, he asked the question that most pressed his heart. “Why?” he rumbled. “Why did we pay them? Why did we let them around our people?” Several nods came from the overwhelmingly older attendees of the event. These folks were kids when they heard about the liberation of the Jews, prisoners, and others from concentration camps throughout Germany. The idea of the horrible treatment that others experienced in the hands of the enemy is still burned in their brains, helping to form the lens that they see life through.
Professor Sumner answered that the American government felt that we would follow the rules of war explicitly, thereby encouraging our enemy to do so as well. It was a real-life enactment of the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Matthew 7:12). While the hope went unmet by our Axis enemies, America could stand tall on the fact that we did not harm those entrusted to our care during this war.
This story in history could have been so different – we could have housed these men in terrible conditions, forcing them into labor unto death, not caring for their bodies or their souls. But we did not. As a people, overwhelmingly, we accepted them into our communities, shared our tables with them, and built a foundation of friendship. These men, when they were sent back to their homes following the war, were able to share of the friendships and kind treatment they received while in America. This could only help to heal the international wounds that WWII caused.
I left this event so very, very proud to be an American. I wanted to rush out and buy and wave a dozen American flags. We are a country of many opinions, many beliefs, and many mistakes, but at that point in history – we were a country that did the right thing. We did not mistreat the foreigner, for we knew that we were foreigners as well. (Exodus22:21).
This lesson from Professor Sumner caused me to want to remember those two precepts: Do not mistreat the foreigner and treat others as you want to be treated. Both of these ideas are wrapped up in Jesus’ statement, “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Mark 12:31) When we purpose to do this, there is healing and grace for even the most grievous of wounds. Much like the America of WWII, I want future generations to look back on my life and say, “Wow. I am so proud to be a part of a world that came from such kindness. I want the Jesus that made this possible for her.”
Pere Marquette District Library has regularly scheduled Authors & Appetizers events. You can see them on their website at www.pmdl.org.
Professor Sumner has authored several books in addition to Michigan POW Camps in WWII. You can find information about him at the University of Detroit Mercy’s website. His books can be purchased on Amazon and other retailers.