There was one major difference between POWs in the USSR and POWs in America during and after WW2. The book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich vividly illustrates life in a Soviet gulag, from the cruel abuse prisoners suffered at the hands of their guards to the freezing temperatures they were forced to labor in. POWs in America were well protected, often paid for their services, given food and shelter and generally sent home after the end of the war. The difference is shockingly obvious, but the root of the diverse treatment stems from a single convention, which one country signed and the other refused. Yet America is not all sunshine and lollipops, and by digging deeper, it is possible to see the slight shadow of gulag treatment in the way that some prisoners today are dealt with in the exclusive Guantanamo Bay Prison.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is set in a Siberian gulag, where temperatures were often at least negative twenty degrees Celsius or lower, sometimes even dipping into the negative forty or fifty degrees Celsius. In these freezing temperatures the prisoners were forced to do harsh manual labor, building structures and compounds in unprotected, often windy and frigid areas separate from the main camp. Food was scarce. Plus, prisoners had to deal with completely unrealistic rules and regulations, including the number of people allowed to enter the hospital each day and random searches in which prisoners would be required to take off their coats, shirts and shoes in the bitter Siberian cold. The conditions of Ivan’s gulag were like many others across the rich Siberian wild, used by the Russian government to acquire valuable resources, despite the obvious mistreatment of the prison laborers.
If the USSR had been under the mandates of the Geneva Convention, Ivan’s experience in the gulag would have been much different. The Geneva Convention requires that the prisoner must receive food and shelter on par with that of the captor’s own men, be paid for the work that they do, and be given medical treatment, as well as be sent home after the war ends (“Geneva Convention” 1). The Serbian gulag that Ivan lived in would have broken every rule. The zeks were given only a few ounces of bread that correlated with the amount they worked, hard lumps of Chinese cereal, or thin stew that was almost completely water. Also, in Ivan’s gulag, only two people were admitted to the hospital for medical treatment a day, and instead of being sent home after World War Two ended, they simply had longer sentences tacked on. Serbian gulags are considered to be places of huge injustice and suffering, a reputation that could have differed if Stalin had chosen to sign the Geneva Conventions.
However, Stalin’s gulags are not the only places with reputations for their bad treatment of POWs. There is a prison called “the gulag of America” that is part of a naval base in Cuba. It is commonly known as Guantanamo Bay, and is a prison facility meant for terrorists and combatants in the War on Terror. Unfortunately Guantanamo Bay, also known as GTMO, has a reputation for torture. Many of the people who were imprisoned there have come out spewing complaints. One such man was Lakhdar Boumediene, an innocent worker who was caught at the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in GTMO because of it. He left GTMO saying, “I thought America, the big country, they have CIA, FBI. Maybe one week, two weeks, they know I am innocent. I can go back to my home, to my home,” (“Jakarta Globe” 1). But Boumediene wasn’t in GTMO for a couple of weeks. He stayed imprisoned in GTMO for seven years, and he came out telling stories of torture and abuse. Among those, he said that he once had to stay awake for sixteen days straight, and that soldiers would force him to run with them, dragging him along if he fell (1).
It is important to note that GTMO’s bad reputation and shady practices cannot be completely condemned…