Monday, May 28, 2018

Coercive Treatment

The pattern was clear by 1778.  Henry Laurens remarked the British Navy exercised "every species of cruelty" against American maritime prisoners "to compel them to enter into their service."  After "thousands have died languishing miserable deaths," British naval officers "exchange the emaciated survivors" for "healthy, well fed fellows."  Only desperation to alleviate the suffering of American captives has compelled American revolutionaries to acquiesce to such inequitable exchanges.

Historian Philip Ranlet reminds readers that British forces, naval and army, were desperate for recruits. 

Ranlet traces this coercive method of prisoner recruitment to Lord George Germain's approval of the enlistment of the crew of the captured American ship The Washington, Sion Martindale, captain.  The crew enlisted while confined to a ship as smallpox spread among them.  Ranlet speculates that perhaps Martindale negotiated hospital care for the sick in exchange for the enlistment of his crew by the British. 

Henry Larens to Rawlins Lowndes, August 18, 1778, in Letters of Delegates to Congress, Volume 10, page 479.   Philip Ranlet, "The Fate of the Washington, 1775-1776: A Precedent for Future British Conduct," The American Neptune, Volume 54 (1994): pages 194-198.  See also, Philip Ranlet, "In the Hands of the British: The Treatment of American POWs During the War of Independence," The Historian, Volume 62, issue 4 (June 2000): 731-758. 

Henry Laurens was a South Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress, serving as President of Congress, November 1, 1777 to December 9, 1778.  Rawlins Lowndes was the president (governor) of South Carolina, March 6, 1778-January 9, 1779.  Lowndes was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, U. S. Army (ret.) was an adviser to candidate Donald J. Trump and remains an adviser to the President-Elect.  Interviewed Business Insider in July 2016, Flynn said, "Islam is a political ideology based on a religion."

In 2010, residents opposed to the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee made a similar claim.  Joe Brandon Jr., an attorney for mosque opponents, tried to argue that First Amendment guarantees of freedom of religion, like the freedom to build a house of worship, should not extend to Muslims because Islam is not a religion.

In the 2010 court case over the mosque, the United States Department of Justice submitted an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief asserting that Islam is a religion.  In an October 18, 2010 press conference, U. S. Attorney Jerry Martin remarked, "Presidents as far back as Lincoln and Jefferson...have publicly recognized Islam as one of the world's largest religions."

In her 2013 book, Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, Denise A. Spellberg proposed that USA Founders like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington "defended Muslim rights for the sake of 'imagined Muslims,' the promotion of whose theoretical citizenship would prove the true universality of American rights."

In 2010, Brandon answered such claims by saying, "The federal government cited Thomas Jefferson in their press conference, and he owned slaves.  Is that who they want to cite as an authority?" While Jefferson did not free his slaves, Washington did leave instructions in his will for the eventual liberation of all his slaves, and offering immediate liberation to William Lee for his "faithful service" throughout the American War of Independence.  Whatever their foibles, Jefferson and Washington are authorities on religious liberty and what we might call American ideals.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Courtesy and Kindness

     In the 1930s, the California resort at Byron Hot Springs drew legendary Hollywood stars like Clark Gable and Mae West. After the USA entered World War 2, however, the resort hotel and spa became "Camp Tracy."
     American interrogators welcomed Japanese Prisoners of War to the California spa and offered meals prepared by Japanese chefs.
     US Army Major Alexander Corbin researched the interrogations at Byron Hot Springs.  As reported by Brentwood, California newspaper The Press, Corbin told a crowd gathered at the remnants of the resort hotel in 2010, "Courtesy and kindness overcame the most reticent prisoner."
     Alex Corbin wrote the book, The History of Camp Tracy: Japanese WWII POWs and the Future of Interrogation.
     During the course of World War II, the forces of the Empire of Japan became notorious for religious extremism and gruesome decapitations.  Near the end of the war, Japan even employed kamikaze suicidal pilots.  The cruelty of an indoctrinated enemy, however, was no excuse for unkindness to prisoners. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fortune of War

   George Washington repeatedly referred to Prisoners of War (POWs) as people whom "the fortune of War" had thrown into their enemy's hands.  Captivity was not a moral judgment on the prisoners.
   In a March 1777 letter to British military commander Sir William Howe, for instance, Washington wrote of "my wish that every reasonable indulgence and act of Humanity should be done to those whom the fortune of War has or may put into our hands."
   Unfortunately, 2016 Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump spoke of military captivity as a mark of failure in a soldier, sailor or airman.  Especially unfortunate is the fact that Trump's remarks came at the expense of Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona).
   Born in 1936, McCain represents a generation of Americans with a marked aversion to torture.  

Saturday, July 4, 2015

All Nations & Religions

   George Washington repeatedly spoke of the United States of America as a home for "all Nations & Religions."
   George Washington's idea of America included Jews and Muslims.