Tuesday, September 25, 2012

September 25, 1776

     On September 25, 1776, the Pennsylvania Council of Safety resolved, "Mr. Nesbitt to pay Elijah Etting, for dieting ten Soldiers, prisoners of war, seven days after their arrival at Yorktown, before they were put in quarters, £3 15s.; to be charged to Congress."
     In this document, "Yorktown" means York, Pennsylvania, not Yorktown, Virginia, where a British Army under General Charles Lord Cornwallis surrendered 
October 19, 1781 to George Washington and a combined force of Americans and their French allies.  In a November 28, 1782 sermon of thanksgiving, Rev. John Witherspoon thanked God for the help of France.  
     In 1775, the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety appointed John Maxwell Nesbitt Paymaster to the Pennsylvania Fleet.  On July 27, 1776, the Council of Safety appointed Nesbitt Treasurer.  
     Elijah Etting (1724-1778) was a German-born merchant in York, Pennsylvania and an adherent of the Jewish faith
     David A. Brener, The Jews of Lancaster, Pennsylvania: A Story with Two Beginnings (Lancaster: Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, 1979), page 18; John W. Jordan, editor, Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania: Genealogical and Personal Memoirs (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1978 [1911]), volume 1: page 1243.

Prisoner "Died on the Passage"

The September 30, 1778 issue of the Connecticut Journal (New Haven) carried news from the Connecticut port of New London dated September 25:
     "Yesterday se'nnight a Flag from New-York, bound to this Port with 45 American Prisoners, drove on shore at Say-Brook, where they were all landed but one who died on the Passage."
     The term sennight indicates seven days and seven nights.  September 25, 1778 was a Friday.  "Yesterday se'nnight," therefore, indicates seven days and seven nights previous to Thursday, September 24, 1778.  The ship probably ran aground at Saybrook on Thursday, September 17.
     Vessels conveying prisoners for exchange bore a flag of truce.  Contemporaries often referred to such a vessel as a "Flag of Truce" or more simple "a Flag."  
     For more information on Saybrook, Connecticut, please visit  http://oldsaybrook.org/Pages/index.
     Connecticut ports are a short distance from New York City.  Nevertheless, it was not uncommon for American prisoners returning from captivity in the British-occupied metropolis to die in the short journey to a free American port, from the disease and starvation suffered in British detention centers in New York.
     In 1777, George Washington  complained to British commander Sir William Howe that many American prisoners returning from New York died "while they were returning to their homes...."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 2

     On the night of September 20, 1777, British forces launched a sneak attack with bayonets on American soldiers encamped near Paoli, Pennsylvania.  Americans called the Battle of Paoli a "massacre."
     At the Battle of Germantown (October 4, 1777), soldiers from Pennsylvania took their revenge.  Their officers ordered the men to stop, but the Pennsylvanians bayoneted British soldiers as they begged for mercy.
     Cornered in a country house, the British under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Musgrave fought for their lives.  What could have been an American victory became an American defeat.  In his book, Battle of Paoli, Thomas J. McGuire wrote of Germantown, "The 'no quarter' behavior of the Pennsylvanians in the opening attack gave Musgrave's troops the resolve to stand firm against overwhelming odds."
     Human Rights Watch accuses Syrian rebels of summarily executing prisoners.  Rebels who commit atrocities make the revolution difficult, as well as insult the revolution's honor.
Keywords: kindness, prisoners, Syria, Revolution 
 لطف  السجناء  سوريا   ثورة

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Dear Syrian Rebels Part 1

A British ship captain reportedly dumped papers overboard after surrendering his vessel to Captain John Manley of the Continental Navy.  On December 10, 1775, George Washington's Ireland-born secretary Stephen Moylan wrote to William Bartlett, the Continental Agent of captured prizes at Beverly, Massachusetts, about the British captain: "He deserved to be severely punished, if it is true that this was done after he was made a prize of."

Stephen Moylan wrote, "In any other war...he would suffer death for such an action; but we must show him and such as fall into our hands, that Americans are humane as well as brave.  You will therefore, sir, treat the prisoners with all possible tenderness."  

According to The Toronto Star, Human Rights Watch found that Syrian rebels execute prisoners, sometimes with a pretense of trial and sometimes not.

Dear Syrian Rebels: Even if you believe a prisoner deserves death, it is critical to the Revolution that you prove that you are humane as well as brave.  You should therefore treat prisoners with all possible tenderness.  

Keywords: kindness, prisoners, Syria, Revolution
Keywords in Arabic (right to left): لطف  السجناء  سوريا   ثورة

Friday, September 7, 2012

Not Dressed Like Soldiers

After the defeat and capture of Hessians at Trenton (25 December 1776) and British soldiers at Princeton (3 January 1777), American forces found general orders issued by British commander General Sir William Howe during the British occupation of New Jersey:

Head-Quarters, Trenton, Dec. 12, 1776
Small straggling parties, not dressed like soldiers and without officers, not being admissible in war, who presume to…fire upon soldiers or peaceable inhabitants of the country, will be immediately hanged without trial, as assassins.

Americans were outraged.  One Princeton resident wrote, “Genl. How Knows very well by the Numbers of Prisoners that he has taken that but few (if any) of the Millitia are cloathed like soldiers.” 

For Ann Coulter’s mention of “non-uniformed enemy combatants…who could have been shot on sight under the laws of war,” please consult her column dated May 6, 2009. 

William S. Stryker, Documents Relating to the Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey: Volume 1: Extracts from American Newspapers: Vol. 1: 1776-1777 (Trenton: The John L. Murphy Publishing Co., Printers, 1901), page 362; [Robert Lawrence] A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of theBritish and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-77, edited by Varnum Lansing Collins (Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1906), page 23; for Historian Samuel Smith's identification of Princeton lawyer Robert Lawrence as the author of the anonymous Brief Narrative, please read David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), page 531note53. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

When Terrorists Become Prisoners

In May 1945, The New York Times reported of the island of Okinawa, “Japanese terrorists operating behind American lines have beheaded thirty-eight Okinawan civilians….”

Despite atrocities reportedly committed by forces of the Empire of Japan, American interrogators like Frank Gibney treated Japanese prisoners with respect.  

Please consult the Harper's Magazine interview with Frank Gibney's filmmaker son, Alex Gibney.  Hear and read World War II veteran Frank Gibney's own words as the credits roll in the compelling documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, and the New York Times article by Adam Liptak.  

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Greatest Severity

On September 12, 1776, The New England Chronicle (Boston) reported details on the capture of General Nathaniel Woodhull by British Soldiers or “Regulars:”   

Since our Troops have evacuated Long-Island, the Tories and Regulars treat the Friends of their Country with the greatest severity.—Colonel Woodhull, late President of New-York Congress, for refusing to give up his side Arms, was wounded on the Head with a cutlass, and had a Bayonet thrust through his Arm.

The report was dated September 4, 1776 from New Haven, Connecticut. 
     Customarily, captured officers might retain some regalia of their office and mark of their rank, like the display of side arms.  In 1775, for instance, captured British officer Major Christopher French had freedom of movement on parole in
Hartford, Connecticut.  The major took umbrage when Hartford residents objected to him wearing his sword in public.     
     We learn from another account that Woodhull surrendered on condition of being treated as a gentleman.  Woodhull may have assumed that this condition allowed him to retain his side arms. 

Capture of General Woodhull

In an affidavit sworn before Gouverneur Morris, Lieutenant Robert Troup described his sufferings as a prisoner after the British victory at the Battle of Long Island (27 August 1776). 
     Troup testified that the British confined him, “with between seventy and eighty” other captured American officers, on a transport vessel that brought cattle from England.  Troup and his comrades were “obliged to lay upon the dung and filth of the cattle without any bedding or blankets….” 
     Troup recalled that while on the transport, Brigadier-General Nathaniel Woodhull “was also brought on board in a shocking mangled condition….”  Troup asked Woodhull “the particulars of his capture, and was told by the said General that he had been taken by a party of light horse under the command of Capt. Oliver Delancey; that he was asked by the said captain if he would surrender; that he answered in the affirmative, provided he would treat him like a gentleman, which Capt. Delancey assured him he would, whereupon the General Delivered his sword, and that immediately after, the said Oliver Declancey, junr., struck him, and others of the said party imitating his example, did cruelly hack and cut him in the manner he then was….”
     Troup recalled that, despite his gravely wounded condition, Woodhull would have “nevertheless been obliged to sleep on the bare floor of the transport, if a lieutenant of the man-of-war who guarded the transport, had not lent him a matrass; that Gen. Woodhull was afterwards carried to the hospital in the church of New Utrecht where he perished, as deponent was on good authority informed, through want of care and necessaries….”

     Robert Troup’s affidavit was sworn before Gouverneur Morris, a member of the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York, on January 17, 1777, recorded in volume 2 of Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety and Council of Safety of the State of New-York.1775-1775-1777, 2 vols. (Albany: Thurlow Weed, 1842), and reprinted in Thomas W. Field, The Battle of Lond Island, with Connected Preceding Events, and the Subsequent American Retreat… (Brooklyn: Long Island Historical Society, 1869), quotes on pages 420, 422-423.  For conflicting opinions of historians on the life and death of Nathaniel Woodhull, please consult Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 14 and note 26 on page 269.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Rebel, Illegal Combatant

     In American Archives, editor Peter Force included a September 27, 1775 petition from a company of the Continental Army recruited from the town of Worcester, to the Massachusetts Assembly.  The petitioners asked the Assembly to prevent even supposedly penitent Tories from returning to Worcester.  
     The petitioners complained that Worcester had been “infested” with “a cruel and merciless set of Tories” who showed “a most merciless, inimical tempter…styling the sons of freedom…rebels and traitors, and menacing death and cruel tortures as their just and remediless portion.”     
     The term rebel implied a death threat.  It designated someone an illegal combatant
     For more on the toxicity of the word rebel, please consult Jesuit historian Charles H. Metzger, The Prisoner in the American Revolution (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1971), page x and xnote2, and pages 293-294; Edwin G. Burrows, ForgottenPatriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), page 36.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

What Franklin Did Not Say

Benjamin Franklin thought belief in a Deity, and belief that service to others was the best way to honor the Deity, were among "the essentials of every religion...."  There is no evidence Franklin ever said anything against the Jews or Judaism.  The allegation that Franklin criticized Jews was first raised in February 1934 by William Dudley Pelley's pro-Nazi publication Liberation (Asheville, North Carolina).  Nazi Germany republished this dubious claim in a 1935 edition of Theordor Fritsch's Handbuch der Judenfrage (Handbook on the Jewish Question). For more on the so-called "Franklin Prophecy," consult the ADL or the book by Paul F. Boller, Jr. and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions.

MEMRI: Egyptian Clerics Repeat Franklin Prophecy Myth, Call the Jews "Donkeys" and "Apes and Pigs," and Say: Making Our Children Loathe the Jews Is a Form of Worship of Allah

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Generation Gap: Torture

     After leaving office, former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney continued to defend waterboarding.  Bush (born 1946) and Cheney ( born in 1941) call attention to a generation gap.  Republicans opposed to torture include Colin L. Powell (born 1937), John McCain (born 1936) and Ron Paul (born 1935).
     In a 2004 survey, the Pew Research Center documented the same generation gap in the American population in general.  Pew asked respondents to choose whether torture is “often,” “sometimes,” “rarely” or “never” justified.  Pew considered several demographic groups (racial, religious and political).  Pew found the greatest refusal to torture by considering age.  Of those 65 and over in 2004, 44% said torture of a terrorism suspect is “never justified.”  
     For several years, Pew asked the same question on an annual basis.  By 2009, the percentage of those 65 and older who chose “never” dropped eleven percentage points, from 44% in 2004 to 33% in 2009.  
     In the intervening years, America lost many members of the World War II generation.  In the same period, a new vintage of Americans entered the “65 and older” demographic.  In 2004, those 65 and older meant Americans born in or before 1939.  In 2009, that age group included people born from 1940 through part of 1944.  
     Simply turning 65 did not increase a respondent’s inclination to say “never” to torture; being born before 1940 did.  
     One of the most common excuses for torture is the claim that al-Qaida is an enemy worse than any previous enemy.  The better you remember World War II (1939-1945), the less likely you are to believe that excuse.
     In 2006, McCain opposed Bush's efforts to redefine American commitment to the Geneva Conventions.  On Sept. 12, 2006, Gen. John W. Vessey wrote McCain a letter of support. Vessey was not impressed by claims that al-Qaida is a "different enemy." 
     Vessey appealed to his memory of World War II:  “In my short 46 years in the Armed Forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-53 and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi's Holocaust depredations in World War II.”
     Vessey wrote, “Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.”
     Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen (United States Air Force, retired) was on board one of Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle's bombers that attacked Tokyo in 1942.  The Air Force Print News  quoted Nielsen's remarks at an April 18, 2006 reunion of the Doolittle Raiders:  “I hope and pray that our young men and young women who are serving ... will live their lives in accordance with the military rules and laws of war.”  
     The sanctity of the laws of war must have had a special meaning to Nielsen.  In 1942, Nielsen and nine other Americans became prisoners of the Empire of Japan after the crash of their bomber.  To force Americans to confess they intentionally targeted civilians, the Japanese tortured the prisoners.  After the war,  Nielsen testified at the war crimes trial of his captor.  In the article "Drop by Drop:  Forgetting the History of Water Torture in U. S.  Courts," Columbia Journal of Transnational Law vol. 45 (2007), page 476, Judge and Nevada National Guard Veteran Evan Wallach offered this quote from Nielsen's testimony:

"Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb.  The towel was wrapped around my face...and water poured on.  They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again."

Lieutenant General Shigeru Sawada, a wartime commander of Japan's Imperial Expeditionary Army in China, faced war crimes trials with other defendants accused of leveling "fraudulent" charges against prisoners like Nielsen.
     The description of this torture technique supported the prosecution's claim that the charges were false and any confessions obtained under such treatment were also false..  The torture technique Nielsen suffered closely matches descriptions of what, after 2004, was called "waterboarding" (consult Wallach, "Drop by Drop," pages 478-480.)
     Frank Gibney was an expert on Japanese culture. Gibney’s expertise began with his service as a Navy intelligence officer interrogating Japanese prisoners during World War II.  Gibney’s son, filmmaker Alex Gibney, lets his father give a statement on interrogations as the credits roll for the 2007 film Taxito the Dark Side Adam Liptak of The New York Times also quotes Frank Gibney's remarks from the closing credits of Taxi to the Dark Side
We had the sense that we were on the side of the good guys.  People would get decent treatment.  And there was the rule of law.”  
     Frank Gibney was seriously ill, but determined to give his filmmaker-son a statement against the mistreatment of prisoners.  A little more than a month after filming the interview, the elder Gibney passed away.
     The generation gap seemed apparent in 2007 at National Park Service ceremonies honoring World War II interrogators based in Fairfax County, Virginia.  As a Baby Boomer President defended harsh interrogation techniques in the war on terror, professional interrogators in their eighties and nineties condemned anything less than respectful interrogations.  Reporting for The Washington Post, Petula Dvorak quoted ninety-year-old Henry Kolm as saying, “We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture.”
     In the 1960s, hippies rebelled against the morals of their parents’ generation.  In 2007, World War II veterans rebelled against the lower standards of a pro-waterboarding Baby Boomer President and his 1941-born Vice President.