The Greatest Generation and Interrogation

A must-read from the Washington Post about how interrogations went in WWII.

For six decades, they held their silence.

The group of World War II veterans kept a military code and the decorum of their generation, telling virtually no one of their top-secret work interrogating Nazi prisoners of war at Fort Hunt.

When about two dozen veterans got together yesterday for the first time since the 1940s, many of the proud men lamented the chasm between the way they conducted interrogations during the war and the harsh measures used today in questioning terrorism suspects.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an MIT physicist who had been assigned to play chess in Germany with Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess.

What a disappointment this must be for men who sacrificed for their country in WWII to see George Bush’s management of this shameful war. I think it boils down to “keep shopping while we torture these guys and our mercenaries shoot civilians.” It’s embarrassing, and clearly disappointing to these men.

Several of the veterans, all men in their 80s and 90s, denounced the controversial techniques. And when the time came for them to accept honors from the Army’s Freedom Team Salute, one veteran refused, citing his opposition to the war in Iraq and procedures that have been used at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

“During the many interrogations, I never laid hands on anyone,” said George Frenkel, 87, of Kensington. “We extracted information in a battle of the wits. I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”


  1. Billy (A Liberal Disabled Veteran)

    I wondered if this would ever come up. Oddly, though, the Germans had different levels of interogation techniques depending on who was being questioned. USAAF pilots and other aircrew, along with US Army ground troops, were interrogated by professionals usually using rewards, isolation, conversation, persuasion, but no torture. (Obviously there were some exceptions). Those suspected of espionage or resistance activities found themselves being tortured, however, by the admission of members of the Gestapo, information was a goal secondary to punishment and encouraging people NOT to join the different resistances.

    The most frequent use of torture was in situations where differences in theology or ideology were exacerbated by ethnic, racial or cultural divisions. Witness what happened in Jugoslavia during the Second World War and what happened in the 1990s.

    My point in this post is that, for the most part, if interrogators wanted information, isolation, lack of sleep, conversation and rewards were used. If punishment or dissuasion was the goal, people were tortured.

    Just my humble opinion as a historian and ex- USArmy intelligence enlisted man.

  2. “If punishment or dissuasion was the goal, people were tortured.”

    Indeed, I agree. It has long been obvious that all the rhetoric about “protecting the country” and cartoon “ticking time bomb” scenarios are just a smokescreen for much darker motives. I find it incredibly disturbing that these apologetics have gained such a solid foothold on our political culture.

  3. Although it now seems that the UK did employ torture against German prisoners (certainly postwar,,1745489,00.html &,,1640942,00.html), for the most part, such methods were not generally used during the war itself &

    The argument advanced by Col. ‘Tin Eye’ Stephens was that you got more out of someone by not employing violence, and that tortured people tend to tell you what the victim hopes will make the torture stop, rather than useful information.
    Sadly, it seems this lesson has yet to be learned, and incredibly, has been taken up at the highest levels as some sort of solution to the ‘War on Terror’. The ticking timebomb has always been a myth, which has never been observed in reality.
    To those who think torture is the solution, the question should be asked – where has anyone emplying torture legally or with offical sanction (Saudi Arabia, Israel, Northern Ireland, Algeria, etc) actually worked? It seems that such methods are actually ineffective against guerilla movements, and in fact distract from the bets means to stop insurgencies. Torture is easy, macho and gives the pretense of doing something. Thinking is hard, but tends to work.

  4. During the Northern Ireland “Troubles”, the British Army used torture against IRA members, though also against many innocent internees (people imprisoned without trial).

    The British used a euphenism (like the American government today) to describe the treatment, I forget what exactly it was.

    There were five methods (besides physical beatings):

    Hooding (for sensory deprivation);
    Standing spreadeagled against a wall for long periods;
    Sleep denial;
    Denial of food and water;
    White noise.

    The Irish Government actually brought the British Government to the European Court of Human Rights, which condemned the practices and they had ceased to be used by the mid to late 70’s. Public opinion in Britain offered no support for torture (despite IRA bombings in London and elsewhere).

    Internment without trial was also discontinued. The Troubles turned into a long war of attrition, in which evidence/ intelligence obtained by torture was of little value. The British Army and Police found that alternatives like blackmail and old-fashioned bribery were much more effective. In the end they had two or three “touts” on the IRA Army Council.

    I notice Petraeus is offering the Northern Ireland conflict as an exemplar for Iraq. Someone should tell him just how useless torture actually proved. It certainly gained many recruits for the IRA.

  5. What I had heard about Internment in Northern Ireland, was that it was a great recruiting boon for the IRA. The British would intern on a single anonymous tip. The IRA would report a person whom all the locals knew was a nice and unpolitical person. Then the population would become outraged when he was picked up.

  6. I guess that is what you get if your commander in chief has never worn a uniform or even showed up for military service.
    unreasonable behaviour tends to elicit the response of bloody mindedness or I’ll tell you anything that gets you to stop.
    The accounts of real combatants and experience of guerrilla wars teaches you a lot, unfortunately right wing thugs in the USA seem to be only interested in what other right wing thugs all over the world have done regardless of results. Examples include Argentina, Chile, Contras, Apartheid S Africa… mmm who was it who supported these regimes in the main?

  7. Ex-drone

    Has Limbaugh called these conscientious WW II veterans “phony soldiers” yet?

  8. I don’t think it was widely publicized (but it didn’t go completely unnoticed by the mainstream media either), but I seem to recall Bush 41 and Bush 43 being rather at odds over Iraq policy. Bush 41 was by no means a great leader, nor a particularly pure man ethically, but not in his worst hour was he as frighteningly amoral and wrong, not to mention outright incompetent, as his son.


    After Max Cleland and John Kerry, I don’t think anyone’s service is safe from attack. The right-wing spin machine is without conscience.

  9. “There were giants in the earth in those days…”

    Or are our civilian and military leaders today just that much smaller?

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