The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – Sexual Harassment: The Myth and the Reality

As the public discourse on sexual harassment, in light of the ongoing Parliamentary debate on the Employment Sexual Harassment (Prevention) Bill, assumes pride of place locally and in the US, where the contemporary revelations of the seemingly unending past misdeeds of Mr. Harvey Weinstein proliferate on the news media, there appears to be much in this discussion that betrays a popular misperception of the nature of the “beast” with which the proposed legislation seeks to contend. This exists mainly in the form of myth, caused in part by the assumption that everyone knows precisely what is sexual harassment because he or she has heard the concept mentioned somewhere, in much the same way that some Barbadians are wont to refer to an individual as his or her “friend”, simply because they have seen that individual’s photograph at one time or another in a newspaper.

In this week’s essay, I propose to examine some of the mythology (old men’s tales) surrounding sexual harassment in light of the provisions of the Bill in its present form.

  • That sexual harassment needs to be continuous to be remediable

Continuity is not an indispensable aspect of sexual harassment. Even though the word “harassment” does connote a serial pattern of behaviour, there may be a single act so egregious that non-consent to it by the victim may be presumed. Obeying President Trump’s advice for dealing with married women by grabbing [or as local parlance would have it, “grabbling”] them by their pudenda would constitute an act of sexual harassment even in the absence of its repetition, since it may be assumed that such conduct would not ordinarily be consented to. Indeed, the Bill recognizes this where it provides in Clause 3(2), after listing in sub-clause (1) acts that are included in the definition of sexual harassment, among them, “the initiation of unwanted physical contact with a person”, that “nothing in…(1) shall be interpreted as precluding a finding of sexual harassment where there is a single incident…” Of course, in circumstances where an act is not immediately unacceptable on its face, a repetition will constitute sexual harassment only if it has been made clear by the recipient that such an overture is unwelcome.

  • That there is an element of contributory fault in sexual harassment

The fact that a female may be scantily clad or is wearing revealing clothing does not afford justification for the actions of the harasser. There is no provision in the Bill for the inappropriateness or existence of the harassment to be reduced if it is argued that the victim induced it by her manner of dress or by the display of her physical assets.

  • That sexual harassment needs to be directed to the victim

In fact and in law, sexual harassment may be present by the creation of an objectively hostile environment that is not directed to the complainant solely. According to clause 3 (1)(a), [For the purposes of this Act, sexual harassment includes] the use of sexually suggestive words, comments, jokes, gestures or actions that annoy, alarm or abuse a person…

Given that “a person” is used here in a generic sense in that sub-clause, it should suffice that someone is alarmed or annoyed by the alleged conduct, whether it was aimed at that individual or not. Moreover, sub-clause (e) which lists “transmitting sexually offensive writing or material of any kind” appears to be of a similar general nature as well, although this, to my mind, would appear to be too broadly drafted in its present form and would capture the transmission of material between two consenting parties that is stumbled upon by an unsuspecting individual. Any redraft should indicate clearly that this sub-clause relates solely to the uninvited transmission of such material to an individual.

Too besides, in this connection, it may also be considered sexual harassment where an employer grants employment benefits to an employee as a result of that employee’s agreement to grant sexual favours to the employer, to a client or to his or her supervisor to the disbenefit of an employee who did not likewise agree. The aggrieved employee would have been sexually harassed here, even though the Bill does not seem to require the benefit granted and denied be the identical one in each case.

  • That sexual harassment is gender-neutral

In keeping with the modern trend, the Bill, as drafted, is gender-neutral, a fact that surprisingly has drawn no negative comment from those quarters that protested a similar treatment for the recent amendment to the Domestic Violence Act. Of course, it is eminently possible that sexual harassment may occur between those of the same gender but the larger truth, according to the Journal of the American Psychological Association, is that “99% of sexual harassment victims are female”. To equate the two forms conceptually is thus to close one’s eyes to the reality and to confound the possible with the distinctly probable.

  • That sexual harassment occurs mainly in the workplace

Given its nature, sexual harassment may occur in any context where one party perceives the opportunity to trade a benefit desired by another for sexual favours. Barbados has chosen for now to restrict its prevention efforts to the workplace environment, unlike Belize which, in its Protection against Sexual Harassment Act 1996, also restricts sexual harassment in educational and other institutions that are workplaces in part, but are also environments where encounters between genders of different levels of influence proliferate and are thus ripe with the probability of quid pro quo harassment. Further, there is also restriction in the Belize Act in the context of the rental of accommodation. According to one local parliamentarian, it is expected that the current Bill, when proclaimed into law, will conduce to a culture of anti-sexual harassment conduct everywhere in Barbados.

  • That the legislation will preclude social intercourse between males and females in the workplace

This is most assuredly not a necessary consequence of the legislation. Normal workplace relations may still subsist; it is simply that these should be attended with a modicum of respect for the individual and for their sensibilities. Ordinary by-play between male and female workers may continue without either being overly obnoxious or crude. In any event, a compliment on another individual’s appearance or even an expression of one’s secret desire towards him or her does by itself not constitute sexual harassment unless it is either knowingly unwelcome or, as stated earlier, so crude as to be presumed repugnant to any given individual.

  • That the legislation will create additional imposition on the employer

This is to catch at straws. Even in the absence of legislation, the employer has an obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe system of working for the individual employee. This would include, on the part of the employer, the ensuring of an environment free of sexual harassment and of its condign censure once established. As has been stated, “If an employer knows that acts being done by employees during their employment may cause physical or mental harm to a particular fellow employee and he does nothing to supervise or to prevent such acts, when it is his power to do so, it is clearly arguable that he may be in breach of his duty to that employee…” The sole new imposition on the employer will be to devise the policy statement stipulated under Clause 4 of the Bill and assistance is provided in that regard by the Bill itself.

102 comments

  • @Hal Austin October 24, 2017 at 3:51 AM “In fact, the Antiguan attorney general should have called in the British high commissioner and demanded answers for this rather unusual action.”

    What if the British officials had had a conversation with Antiguan officials BEFORE the detention took place?

    At this point we don’t know.

    I doubt that either government is telling us all that their officials know.

    Like

  • @Jeff Cumberbatch October 24, 2017 at 9:18 AM “unless their immunity is waived by the sending state.”

    But we don’t know whether Mr. Michael had diplomatic immuniyt; and we don’t know if even he had such immunity, the sending state, in this case Antigua has waived his immunity.

    We don’t know.

    However right nowIi would love to be a fly on the wall at the Met, or at the Antiguan Foreign Ministry.

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  • Well Well @ Consequences Observing Blogger

    it would indeed be odd if he was not traveling on a diplomatic passport, he was intransit on his way to France on official government business…so no government official does that, it`s not like he was on vacation.

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  • You would be surprised.

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  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Yeah…arrogance would cause neglect.

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    To all sexual predators and pedophiles. ..you will go to prison.

    “Man jailed for slapping four women on their buttocks
    Added by Barbados Today on October 24, 2017.
    Saved under Court
    2
    A St Lucy man, who indecently assaulted four women by slapping and squeezing their buttocks before running off, was sentenced in the High Court today.

    Troy Antonio King, of Josey Hill, previously admitted to committing the acts in May 2014 and June 2015.

    In all four cases, the women were going about their business in Bridgetown when they were suddenly slapped on the buttocks.

    In one instance, the victim, an 18-year-old student, was assaulted and told, “it feels good” while walking in The City with her mother.

    Delivering the sentence today, Madam Justice Michelle Weekes pointed out that King, who has 27 previous convictions, repeated the offence several times even when he was on bail for similar crimes.

    For three of the offences, the judge sentenced King to three concurrent three-year prison terms.

    However, he was slapped with a four-year prison term for the offence committed against the 18-year-old girl.

    Having already spent 1,038 days on remand at HMP Dodds, King only has 58 days left to serve on the three-year sentences and one year and 58 days on the fourth sentence, which runs concurrently.

    Justice Weekes also ordered him to under go psychological and drug rehabilitation treatment while incarcerated.”

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  • @Sarge
    sometimes I am scared to believe what these judges rule

    @Hal
    good point.
    I found it equally interesting to read, BOTH the PM and the arrested minister were overseas on CBI missions, at the time. The PM was reportedly in Montenegro.

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  • We have the freedom to question why PM Browne revoked the appointment of the minister but there is the reality that we are not seized with the facts. Antigua has a diplomatic presence and must have been informed “unofficially” what led to the arrest. As mentioned by another commenter a PM does not have to comply with any legal process when appointing or disappointing a minister from Cabinet.

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  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    This article actually proves Browne made the right choice in relieving Michael of his duties until the mess, which he is hesitant to speak about, is sorted out in his favor, it’s obvious now that it is a national UK investigation his name got caught up in and he may or may not be innocent ……but with all his long talk, he is still stuck in UK….ya would think he would return to Antigua right away if the police did not require any further information from him as he said.

    If nothing else it would put the other ministers in check..lol

    “WIC News
    Home Caribbean Antigua & Barbuda
    Antigua and Barbuda: Asot Michael speaks out after London arrest
    By Joyce Loan – 24th October 2017
    Share on Facebook Tweet on Twitter

    Last updated: October 25, 2017 at 9:40 am

    Antigua and Barbuda politican Asot Michael has made his first public statement since his arrest yesterday.

    He said that it was “unfortunate” that the prime minister did not contact him prior to stripping him of his ministerial roles.

    The St Peter MP stressed that when questioned by police he “denied any allegations made against me, and that I have not been involved in any wrongdoing” – although he failed to reveal what his arrest relates to.

    Michael was met by police officers at Gatwick Airport, south of central London, after arriving on a flight from Antigua.

    He was stopping off in the UK before continuing on to Cannes, France, for a conference on investment

    Metropolitan Police told WIC News that if he was arrested at Gatwick it would fall under the jurisdiction of Sussex Police.

    When contacted, an officer from Sussex Police said: “I understand that this is a National Crime Agency case.”

    The National Crime Agency is a UK-wide law enforcement organisation, replacing the Serious Organised Crime Agency four years ago.

    A request for further information has been lodged by WIC News with the National Crime Agency’s press office.

    Explanation of events

    Soon after news of Michael’s arrest emerged, Prime Minister Gaston Browne – who was travelling at the time – issued a statement that confirmed the veteran politician had been relieved of his duties.

    Until yesterday, Michael was minister for tourism, economic development, investment and energy.

    Addressing yesterday’s incident for the first time, the MP said that the arrest was simply standard UK procedure when people need to be questioned but are planning to leave the country.

    “I attended an interview, in which I made it clear that I denied any allegations made against me, and that I have not been involved in any wrongdoing, which is the case,” he said.

    “I then carried on my journey into London. I was not charged with any offence, I am not on bail, and the police did not seek to impose any restriction on my travel.”

    WIC News has attempted to contact Michael at an address in central London but has been unable to.

    READ: ASOT MICHAEL’S STATEMENT IN FULL

    PM’s decision based on ‘misinformation’

    Asot Michael is a heavyweight on the Antigua-Barbuda political scene.

    He has represented the St Peter constituency since 2004 and held a number of high profile cabinet roles.

    He was previously chief of staff to former Prime Minister Lester Bird.

    The speed at which Michael was removed from office came as a shock, and has been criticised by some.

    In his statement, the now ex-minister defended his conduct and said he had not been able to speak to Gaston Browne yet.

    “I fully accept and respect the prime minister’s right to appoint and remove ministers in his government,” he said.

    “However, in the circumstances I consider that the prime minister’s decision in this case, to relieve me of my ministerial responsibilities, is likely to be due to a misapprehension of what has taken place, and second hand information, indeed misinformation.

    “I do not consider that any justifiable question has arisen that I have failed to comply with the highest possible standards required of public office.

    “I am sorry that the prime minister did not contact me before the press release was issued. I propose to speak to him as soon as possible, and to explain the situation.”

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Keep ya sexy comments to yaself…lol

    “The woman who accused West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle of exposing himself has completed her evidence at a defamation trial in Sydney and left the courtroom in tears.

    Massage therapist said she feared players were trying “to either try their luck or intimidate me”

    Journalist said he was told Gayle’s “cards were marked” after a controversial TV interview
    Sydney Sixers GM reportedly said cricket “missed an opportunity to come down more strongly” on Gayle

    Gayle is suing Fairfax Media over a series of articles published early last year claiming he had exposed himself to a woman working with the team.

    Leanne Russell worked as a massage therapist for the West Indies in 2015, and contacted The Age newspaper last year when she was angered by a TV interview in which Mr Gayle told a reporter “Don’t blush baby”….”

    Like

  • @David October 25, 2017 at 3:56 AM “Antigua has a diplomatic presence and must have been informed “unofficially” what led to the arrest.”

    Unoffficially David?

    You have your police arres a whole big Cabinet Minister and send unofficial information?

    Methinks David that the British Authorities sent a diplomatic note/a very official communication to the Antiguan authorities.

    Like

  • Most Barbadian readers and commenters on BU would love for pm Stuart to take a page out of the Antiguan’s book.However,
    this unfolding situation and the manner in which Browne dealt with it is most unfortunate and disturbing.
    Any person/minister travelling abroad on their country’s business, and that person is accorded diplomatic immunity; at no time during their stay abroad, unless instructed to return home, should that immunity be revoked. While many persons over the years have been able to invoke immunity for serious breaches of the host country laws, there is more to that protocol than protection for dishonest politicians running off with their ill gotten gains.

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Ah believe that is why prime ministers have revocation powers…lol

    This is the reason that nothing politicians or ministers in the Caribbean or anywhere else say can be trusted…Aspt Michael failed in his statement to syt the real reason he was arrested in UK…as many suspected he would..

    “Why was Asot Michael arrested in the UK?
    October 25, 2017 OBSERVER media Breaking, The Big Stories 0 Comments
    BREAKING STORY
    The National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK did not pick up Antigua and Barbuda’s M.P Asot Michael for a routine interview as he suggested in a press statement Tuesday.

    According to a document by the Head of Caribbean, Central America & Mexico Department, Patrick Reilly, the NCA arrested Michael on the morning of October 23.

    The UK official wrote that Michael was questioned about bribes that a UK national allegedly paid for business contracts in the Caribbean.

    At the time of his arrest, Michael was the Minister of Tourism, Economic development, investment and energy, but was stripped of the portfolios later that day on the order of prime minister Gaston Browne.

    Reilly’s letter to Antigua and Barbuda’s government officials, says Michael was released pending further investigations. No conditions were imposed on his travel in, around or out of the UK.

    According to the notification to the government, the NCA says it cannot rule out the possibility of criminal charges.

    When contacted this morning, attorney general, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said he was not aware of the document and therefore could not comment.

    Efforts to reach Prime Minister Gaston Browne were unsuccessful. He’s said to be traveling back to Antigua from Jordan.”

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Despite all of these criminal actions of the widely known lebanese Michael family, Michael ended up in the parliament again, …it actually serves Browne right for having him as a minister knowing his vile history, maybe now those who believe in politicians and ministers will see why Browne has to cut immediate ties with him, or suffer the consequences, like in the Allen Sanfird brou haha.

    It gets even worse, there is a known lebanese, syrian, indian organized criminal network operating throughout the Caribbean, south america and have for decades, let’s hope everyone of them in every island is reeled in soon.

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  • Note to Bajan politicians
    If you are receiving kickbacks from an Englishman then meet him in France.. And for your sake, steer clear of the US.

    Like

  • @David

    Wasn’t Antigua Allan Stanford’s base? Years ago, Antigua was famous for cheap liquor as there were so many coves that ships could slip in under cover of darkness which led to a smuggles paradise. They have since upped the ante, this latest Minister worked for former PM Bird, now where did we hear that name before?

    Who were the “political Bandits” that barrow spoke of?

    Like

  • @Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger. October 25, 2017 at 8:45 PM “Efforts to reach Prime Minister Gaston Browne were unsuccessful. He’s said to be traveling back to Antigua from Jordan.”

    Question: Aren’t Prime Ministers just like the rest of us? Aren’t they MARRIED TO THEIR SMART PHONES just like the rest of us? Lol! Aren’t their phones fully charged just like ours are, just in case there is an emergency? And don’t they, UNLIKE the rest of us,mlol! get to send their phone bills to the taxpayers?

    While we struggle to pay ours?

    So how come neither Mr. Michael or the Antiguan media seem to reach Mr. Brown today?

    I thought that “the Prime Minister is overseas and therefore cannot talk to you” went out the door around about 2008 when smart phones became available to virtually everybody. I believe that even Ninja Man has one.

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Lol..

    Like

  • Yes Sargeant. Antigua is at the top of the pile of islands where corruption is rampant!

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    Lol..Simple…he been traveling from Montenegro and Jordan for the last 3 days….both countries must be in another dimension far removed from ours. ..not even traveling from Africa, Asia and the far east takes that long….by plane..lol

    Like

  • Sargeant October 25, 2017 at 9:30 PM #

    Sargeant, allegations about corruption are not central to what has taken place regarding the Antiguan former minisdter. So far, to my knowledge, neither Mr Michael nor the National Crime Agency, the arresting body, has said what the concerns are.
    What is important is the over-reaching arms of the British authority. Let us take a hypothetical case: if it is alleged that the former minister took a bribe from a British citizen or registered company; if this alleged offence did not take place within the UK jurisdiction, what authority did they have to arrest a minister of a sovereign state, exiting through London, presumably on a diplomatic passport?
    It is true there is anti-bribery legislation on the statute books (I shall return to this later), but this can only apply to UK companies and citizens or to non-citizens committing offences within the UK.
    To drift off about the extent of corruption within Antiguan political culture is to miss the point.
    As to UK anti-bribery legislation, I have previously raised the point that if there is evidence that the many people we accuse of corruption in Barbados, and of having UK bank accounts, then report it to the UK authorities and an investigation will be launched.
    There is a permanent Scotland |Yard operative based at the British high commission in Barbados. In any case, a letter, email or telephone call will do.
    Sometimes we find it easier to smear people than to look beyond the surface for infringements of our sovereignty, which should deeply concern us.

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    As usual…being pendejo. ..the Brotish High Commission has moved to Trinidad..ya cant get any information in Barbados..

    The Caribbean and latin american arm of the agency on UK national crimes outlined WHY Michael was arrested and the potentoal for rearrest…as they are duty bound to do..

    “The National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK did not pick up Antigua and Barbuda’s M.P Asot Michael for a routine interview as he suggested in a press statement Tuesday.

    According to a document by the Head of Caribbean, Central America & Mexico Department, Patrick Reilly, the NCA arrested Michael on the morning of October 23.

    The UK official wrote that Michael was questioned about bribes that a UK national allegedly paid for business contracts in the Caribbean”

    Dummy….ya cant find anything in UK newspapers yet…because he has not been charged with anything…yet…all ya will get are communique….ya will note that he is still in UK, why wont he leave, because his lawyer told him not to attempt to.

    And you call yaself a journalist….steupps..

    Like

  • @Hal A
    I didn’t condone the arrest of the Minister I just referenced the “coincidence” of corrupt activities centred on Antigua and the associated politicians.

    I agree that if the Minister was travelling on a diplomatic Passport his “arrest” is questionable, however some of these countries (and the US comes to mind) prosecute both bribers and bribe takers even if the activity takes place outside of their jurisdiction as long as one of the individuals/company is a US citizen/registered in the US.

    I don’t know what the law is in Britain maybe they have a similar one on their books, in any event they have “released” the Minister so he is free to continue his travels/work. The Brits may have sent a shot across the bow to alert others who may be operating along the same lines of “hey we see you and know what you are doing”.

    https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/15/78dd-1

    Like

  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    America’s ugly history will never, ever go away.

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    HOMENEWSPHOTOSVIDEOSWOMEN’S HISTORYBLACK HISTORYNEWSLETTER
    Go to the profile of Heather Gilligan
    Heather Gilligan
    Editor @calhealthreport, onetime senior editor @Timeline_Now, bylines in @slate, @huffpo, @thenation, @modfarm, and more.
    Oct 26
    Even Nazi prisoners of war in Texas were shocked at how black people were treated in the South
    In Texas, some of the Germans actually befriended Americans of all colors

    Prisoners forced to watch news reels of Nazi atrocities expressed surprise at the realization that they had been instruments in the perpetration of genocide. (East Texas History)
    One morning in the spring of 1943, years before the end of World War II, Huntsville, Texas woke up to a startling sound: the clip-clapping boots of Nazi soldiers in formation, singing German marching songs as they made their way through the dusty streets of the small town.
    Those soldiers were among the first prisoners of war sent to POW camps in the United States. The townspeople watched as barracks went up, surrounded by barbed wire and chain link fences, and wondered what, exactly, they were in for. Americans had only been in the war for a year when POW camps were being built, and residents of Huntsville had little time to prepare for the reality of thousands of Nazi prisoners taking up residence just eight miles from the town limits.
    In fact, the United States entered the prisoner of war business very reluctantly in 1941, and then only at the insistence of the British. The Allies were winning the North African front of the war, and capturing soldiers they could not house. The British wore down the United States after months of efforts and a few frosty notes from Whitehall. “It is very hard to understand on this side why…it should prove so difficult even to get an agreement in principle,” complained one frustrated writer. The U.S. begrudgingly accepted their share of POWs in 1942, starting with 50,000 soldiers from the African front.
    POW camps would spread out across the country in subsequent years, throughout the South, Southwest and Midwest, cropping up in California, New Jersey, West Virginia, and North Carolina. By the time the war ended, about 500,000 captured soldiers were housed in the United States, and 380,000 of those were German prisoners of war.

    German POWs sit for mealtime at a camp in Hearne, Texas. (Arkansas National Guard Museum)
    Huntsville was the first camp to open, built from scratch and fully outfitted to comply with Geneva Convention requirements for warm and hygienic living quarters, access to medical treatment, provisions for libraries and other intellectual activities, and open spaces that encouraged physical activities. Prisoners also had to be housed in a climate similar to where they were captured, which was why so many captured in North Africa ended up in Texas.
    By the time they arrived at Camp Huntsville, the German POWs were thrilled. They’d already been dazzled by travelling to the prison in luxurious Pullman cars. Both the cityscapes and the rural beauty of the United States amazed them. “From New York to Texas, you saw the whole countryside. Cars driving. Buildings lit up….I came to wonder — how did we ever think we would beat the U.S. at this war?” former POW Heino Erichsen mused decades after the war ended.
    Men like Rudolf Thill, who was transported to Huntsville in 1943, found sparkling facilities behind the chain link fences and rows of barbed wire. Enlisted men lived in bunk rooms. Officers had their own quarters. They ate food that the townspeople could only dream of during rationing, with items like milk, meat, and butter appearing on their daily menus. Angry local residents dubbed the camps “The Fritz Ritz.”

    German prisoners line a funeral procession for one of their own at a camp in Fort Bend County, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)
    At first, locals weren’t just resentful, but also feared the prospect of Nazi prisoners of war in their towns. Former prisoners of war remember Americans searching their faces, “looking for horns,” expecting the moral menace of the German soldiers to even manifest physically. Americans who gathered to gawk at the prisoners as they were transported across the country also expected to see a race of superhero-like men, blonde, muscular, tanned, and fearsome examples of men Hitler described as a “master race.” They were disappointed. “To our curiosity and surprise, they looked no different than other young men in the neighborhood,” a 14-year-old boy observed at the time.
    The resentment passed quickly when the federal government decided, in 1943, that it would be safe to put the Nazi soldiers to work. Farmers had been complaining they couldn’t find anyone to work their fields. Most men were expected to fight in the war and for those who were left behind, the war-related industries paid far better than farm work. Farmers were thrilled to hire the prisoners to hoe and pick cotton. For the most part, the walls between the locals and the prisoners dissolved as soon as the Germans picked up hoes. Grateful farmers invited POWs to lunch and showered them with small gifts of candy and cigarettes. “They were just the best bunch of boys,” one Texan recalled.

    German POWs tend to local crops in Fort Bend County, Texas. (University of North Texas Libraries)
    American officials were frustrated by their inability to stop their citizens from fraternizing with the enemy after the walls between the prisoners and the townspeople came down (albeit metaphorically). Women lined up against the chain link fences to watch the POWs play soccer. People piled into train stations when a transport was scheduled to arrive, hoping for a glimpse of the prisoners. Edouard Patte, a Swiss delegate of the International YMCA who worked as a Red Cross monitor, put it this way: “it’s difficult to imagine that these nice blond lads with rosy cheeks had been war baiters and murderers a short while ago.”

    The POWs also found friends in the most unlikely of places, as they worked alongside African Americans hoeing and picking cotton, talking away long days in the hot sun. African American field hands were painfully aware that white Americans treated Nazi prisoners far better than they did people of color. African Americans waited on POWs when they were transported in Pullman cars to their camps, and prisoners were also allowed to eat in whites-only cafeterias. At the camp, they were dealt the most menial jobs, including spraying the prisoners with delousing foam. The slights hurt all the more because the president had very recently ordered the Armed Forces to desegregate, and African-American soldiers had grown used to somewhat better treatment.
    Yet, on an individual level, they got along with the Germans. And Germans were fond of them, in part because African American soldiers had protected them from the mobs of people who wanted to kill the POWs.

    Surprisingly, given the blatant racism of the Nazi party, some of the German soldiers were also shocked by the shoddy treatment of their fellow farmworkers. “The blacks…didn’t do much better than us,” remarked one POW. “They were just in front of the wire, and we were behind the wire.” Another German soldier, who was a farmer in his civilian life, noted that African American were expected to pick two to three more times the cotton required of the POWs. “You have to see how they lived,” he said after the war. “These people were so exploited.”
    At the time, Huntsville was conducting a re-education program for German prisoners, and the status of African Americans made Germans look askance at their classes on the land of the free. “They were being taught the meaning of ‘democracy,’” explained historian Matthias Reiss, “while outside the southern camps no black citizen dared to step on the sidewalk alongside white Americans.”

    Re-education material at Camp Huntsville: “The Growth of Democracy in Early America.” (U.S. Army)
    As part of their re-education, prisoners were also showed films of Allied soldiers liberating the concentration camps. “We saw the emaciated bodies and empty eyes of the survivors,” said POW Gerhard Hennes. “We saw the piles of naked bodies, starved to death. We saw the mass graves. We saw the ovens where tens of thousands had been cremated. We saw and stared in silence, struggling but unable to believe what we Germans had done to Jews, gypsies, prisoners of war and many others deemed inferior or expendable.”

    They watched them in disbelief, and many refused to accept the truth of what they saw. “This just doesn’t happen,” former POW Herman Daumling recalled thinking as he watched the films. “Nobody does that.” The fact of concentration camps was an open secret, but German soldiers claimed that no one knew about the genocide that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews and 5 million others that the Nazis deemed undesirable. Listening to American radio news reports eventually convinced Daumling that the films weren’t propaganda, but unvarnished truth, but he was the exception. Fewer than half believed that the Holocaust was real by the end of the war, according to a poll conducted by the U.S. government.

    Accepting the fact of the death camps had profound consequences for German soldiers. Hennes was one of the believers. “I turned in one profound transformation from being a hero to being a villain,” he said.

    Thousands of German POWs moved back to the United States after the war, including Hennes. Historian Arnold Krammer estimates that 8,000 POWs eventually returned to the U.S. Some married American women, but most were sponsored by a resident to be eligible for residency, including former farmers supporting their former farm hands. POWs who didn’t immigrate to the States still visited Texas regularly for reunions with the farmers they once worked for. “Without exception, they recall their years as POWs in Texas as ‘the greatest times of their lives,’” Krammer observed.
    Erichsen also moved to the United States after the war, eventually becoming a citizen and settling in Texas. He’s lived here most of his life. Yet he can’t shake what he learned as a young person. He still remembers the songs he had to memorize as a young man in Nazi Germany. He offered a few lines to a reporter reluctantly, at his wife’s urging: “Sharpen the long knives on the lantern post. See the Jewish blood flow.” He doesn’t want to think about what he learned as a child, but he has acknowledged it is a part of him, and he can never relax his vigilance against the hateful indoctrination of his youth.

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  • Well Well & Consequences Observing Blogger.

    “The POWs also found friends in the most unlikely of places, as they worked alongside African Americans hoeing and picking cotton, talking away long days in the hot sun. African American field hands were painfully aware that white Americans treated Nazi prisoners far better than they did people of color. African Americans waited on POWs when they were transported in Pullman cars to their camps, and prisoners were also allowed to eat in whites-only cafeterias. At the camp, they were dealt the most menial jobs, including spraying the prisoners with delousing foam. The slights hurt all the more because the president had very recently ordered the Armed Forces to desegregate, and African-American soldiers had grown used to somewhat better treatment.
    Yet, on an individual level, they got along with the Germans. And Germans were fond of them, in part because African American soldiers had protected them from the mobs of people who wanted to kill the POWs.

    Surprisingly, given the blatant racism of the Nazi party, some of the German soldiers were also shocked by the shoddy treatment of their fellow farmworkers. “The blacks…didn’t do much better than us,” remarked one POW. “They were just in front of the wire, and we were behind the wire.” Another German soldier, who was a farmer in his civilian life, noted that African American were expected to pick two to three more times the cotton required of the POWs. “You have to see how they lived,” he said after the war. “These people were so exploited.”
    At the time, Huntsville was conducting a re-education program for German prisoners, and the status of African Americans made Germans look askance at their classes on the land of the free. “They were being taught the meaning of ‘democracy,’” explained historian Matthias Reiss, “while outside the southern camps no black citizen dared to step on the sidewalk alongside white Americans.”

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  • A senior UK minister has just resigned over allegation of sexual harassment. This is the Westminster model at work. The allegation is enough to force the resignation.

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