Trading Places

In POW camps, officers could impede survival

Clifford G. Holderness is a professor of finance at Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, and his particular interest is the behavior of large shareholders in public corporations. He is also a World War II buff.

Seven years ago, he was browsing through the National Archives’ online World War II Prisoners of War Data File. As Holderness explained recently in an interview, the usual scholarly method of inquiry is to shape questions first, and then seek data for illumination. Joined by Jeffrey Pontiff, holder of the James F. Cleary Chair in Finance, Clifford took the opposite tack. With the POW data in front of them (augmented by the Archives’ World War II Army Enlistment Records), the two settled on a question: “Is a hierarchy that is optimal in one environment [the battlefield] still optimal in a related but different environment [a prison camp]?”

In an article forthcoming in the journal Management Science—”Hierarchies and the Survival of Prisoners of War during World War II”—Holderness and Pontiff examine the fate of approximately 123,000 Americans held by the Axis powers in 280 camps. One out of 10 prisoners died in these camps overall, most from starvation or disease, some by execution.

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