Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Military Necessity of Sympathy

   Showing sympathy can help an interrogator bond with a disarmed prisoner. Veteran David J. Morris believes soldiers could benefit from similar training in case they become prisoners.
   As a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, David J. Morris attended SERE school in 1995.  SERE is an acronym of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape--was meant to prepare Americans of the Cold War era for torments used by Communist nations like North Korea in the 1950s, sometimes even techniques like waterboarding.      
   In a column for Slate, Morris wrote, "Durant survived by befriending his captors and forcing them to see him as a fellow human being.  SERE conditions servicemen to expect nothing but the worst from their captors; Durant's life depended on his ability to understand his captors...."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Kindness & Understanding

Antoinette [Hill] Tuff showed compassion, love and sympathy to the gunman.  Tuff's sympathy saved the gunman's life.  Tuff's kindness probably also saved the lives of many children at the school where Tuff is a bookkeeper.

Here is the call Tuff made to emergency services, posted to YouTube by the newspaper Atlanta Journal-Constitution.    

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

237 Years Ago Today

At the Battle of Long Island (August 27, 1776), British and Hessian forces under Sir William Howe reported taking 85 American commissioned officers prisoner, along with 6 staff and 1,006 privates.  Nine of the officers were wounded in the battle, as were 56 of the enlisted men (privates). 

The British eventually permitted most officers to take parole and find private lodgings on Long Island and transferred the privates to make-shift prisons in such confiscated buildings as sugar houses and non-Anglican churches. 

In the battle and its aftermath, British personnel in North America became notorious for several breaches of eighteenth-century military decorum. 

1)  First there was the slaughter of disarmed, wounded or otherwise overpowered men who should have been taken captive.  This remained a complaint against British forces throughout the war

2)  Secondly, British provost personnel permitted captured American enlisted men to die of starvation and unchecked contagion.  This also remained a complaint throughout America's War of Independence.  

3)  Finally, American Revolutionaries accused British and Tory personnel of desecrating American dead

Throughout the war, British and Loyalist forces were, at best, careless with the interment of dead American prisoners.  Colonel
Ethan Allen, a paroled American officer on Long Island during the winter of 1776-77, later recalled British forces dumping dead prisoners by into ditches by the cartload, and leaving them only "slightly buried."  Allen remembered Tories on burial detail "making derision, and exulting over the dead, saying, there goes another load of damned rebels." 

American dead at the battlefield on Long Island were also neglected by their victorious foe.  In his 2008 book Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War, Historian Edwin G. Burrows wrote, "Apparently, the British were unable--or unwilling--to clear the battlefield of corpses...."  In his diary for June 5, 1777, Loyalist Nicholas Cresswell described a carriage ride on Long Island through "a little town called Jamaica...."  Cresswell complained, "Our noses were now and then regaled with the stink of dead Rebels, some of them have lain unburied since last August." 

Historian Robert E. Cray, Jr. documented American prisoners who, despite disease and starvation, struggled to live long enough to return to their hometowns to be buried near their ancestors. 

The return (report) of prisoners taken in the Campaign of 1776 reported by British Commissary General of Prisoners, Massachusetts-born Tory Joshua Loring, was printed in such American newspapers as The Connecticut Courant, And Hartford Weekly Intelligencer, 21 April 1777.  For Cresswell's journal entry, please consult The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777, ed. Lincoln MacVeagh (Bedford, Mass.: Applewood Press, 2007 [1924]), page 231.  Consult also Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War (New York: Basic Books, 2008), pages 8-9 (quote on page 9). 

For some sense of the depth of American outrage at British disrespect for American dead, please read Robert E. Cray, Jr., "Commemorating the Prison Ship Dead: Revolutionary Memory and the Politics of Sepulture in the Early Republic, 1776-1808," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Series, Vo. 56 (July 1999): 565-590.

Often, the British entrusted the care of these prisoners to particularly embittered Tories, American Loyalists, who were often in fact recent immigrants to the former colonies from the British Isles  The notorious Provost Marshall in charge of one prison, Captain William Cunningham, came to the colonies from Ireland just before the outbreak of hostilities. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

August 22: A Return of POWs

   On August 22, 1776, the Massachusetts Council ordered "That the Committee of Correspondence, &c., in the several Towns in this State, do forthwith transmit to the Sheriff of the County whereunto they respectively belong, an accurate list of all Prisoners of War in their respective Towns, expressing their names, and to what Company or Corps they did belong; to the end that the several Sheriffs may be able to make a true return thereof to this Board as soon as may be, and, as the Congress have requested, an immediate Return of all Prisoners of War within this State be made to them."
   In resolutions passed May 21, 1776, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, resolved that captured enemy forces "be treated as prisoners of war, but with humanity...."  In the resolutions, Congress included the request for a return, or count, of POWs in American hands.  The Congress resolved "That a list of the prisoners in each Colony be made out by the Committees of the counties, towns, or districts where they reside, and transmitted to the Assembly, Convention, or Council or Committee of Safety of such Colony, respectively, who shall send a copy thereof to Congress."  Please consult Worthington Chauncey Ford, editor, Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789: Volume 4: January 1-June 4, 1776 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1906), pages 370 and 372.
     Historian T. H. Breen remarked that local and state committees prepared Americans for self-government, introducing thousands of North Americans to the responsibilities of public service.  Breen maintained his argument in a column for The Daily Beast and in the 2010 book American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sickly and Emaciated: August 21, 1781

On Friday, August 24, 1781, New London, Connecticut newspaper The Connecticut Gazette; And The Universal Intelligencer reported under the dateline New-London, August 24, “Tuesday [that is, August 21] a Flag returned here from New-York, which brought from the Hospital-Ship 51 American Prisoners, two of which died on the Passage, and the other are in a sickly and emaciated Condition.”
     Vessels conveying prisoners for release or exchange were “flags of truce” or simple “flags.” 
     British commanders occupying New York often exchanged released “sickly and emaciated” American and French captives in exchange for healthy British prisoners returning from American custody.  Sadly, it was not unusually for several sickly American prisoners to die in the passage. 
     In the Connecticut cities of Groton and New London, residents risked their lives to care for sickly prisoners who brought various epidemics from the prison ships
     This level of prisoner mistreatment was not standard for the era.  Papers reprinting this story included The Independence Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser (Boston), 30 August 1781; The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 4 September 1781; and The New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton), 5 September 1781.
     For prisoners who died on the return passage, please click here.  For an account of a January 1781 release of prisoners who were "all sick," please check here.  Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Paulus Hook (Aug 19, 1779)

   On August 22, 1779, Major Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee wrote from Paramus, New Jersey to report the Continental Army captured the British, Hessian and Tory garrison at Paulus Hook, near Jersey City.
   On August 19, the American forces under Major Lee took 158 prisoners.  British forces, on several occasions, killed and mutilated wounded or disarmed Americans.  
Retaliation was part of the informal laws of war in that era, but Lee reported to George Washington, "American humanity has been again signally manifested. Self-preservation strongly dictated, on the retreat, the putting the prisoners to death, and British cruelty fully justified it; notwithstanding which, not a man was wantonly hurt."
   Lee also reported, "I intended to have burnt the barracks; but on finding a number of sick soldiers and women with young children in them, humanity forbad[e] the execution of my intention."   
   Congress ordered the publication of Lee's letter, along with other correspondence reporting the American victory at Paulus Hook.  Philadelphia paper The Pennsylvania Packet published the correspondence in its issue of September 2, 1779.
     British Historian Matthew H. Spring offers several explanation for the reputed brutality of English light infantry during the American Revolution.  Spring points first to the feeling of superiority in an elite corps like the light infantry, and the widespread contempt for unlawful rebellion.
     Spring also mentions British exasperation with less savory American tactics.  Spring cites two occasions when some Americans feigned surrender, only to turn on the British who tried to receive them.  Matthew H. Spring, With Zeal and With Bayonets Only: The British Army on Campaign in North America, 1775-1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008; paperback, 2010), pages 232-237.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

August 11, 1779

On August 11, 1779, The New-Jersey Gazette (Trenton) carried a March 22, 1779 from Captain Holmes Everett, of the frigate British Arethusa, to Philip Stevens, Secretary of the Board of Admiralty.  From Brest, France, Everett wrote, “It is with great regret I must beg you to inform their Lordships of the loss of the King’s frigate, the Arethusa.”
     Everett explained, “The Arethusa was lost on the reefs of Ushant the 19th.  We are to be conducted to Parhaix, a little town of Brittany.”
     Everett acknowledged kind treatment by the French.  “I ought to do justice to the nation in which I am a prisoner: The inhabitants of these coasts have given us every succor in their power, with uncommon readiness: They have omitted nothing that might comfort us under our misfortune, and my people are treated with the greatest humanity.” 
     TheNew-Jersey Gazette carried an editorial remark that appeared in the July 29, 1779 issue of Boston’s The Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser: “Notwithstanding the known humanity of the French in Europe, and of the Count d’Estaing in America, to the British prisoners, in how different a manner have the subjects of France been treated who have fallen into British hands?”
     For American editors in 1779, the kind treatment of Captain Everett and his crew demonstrated the generosity of the French.  For Americans in 2013, the kind treatment received by these prisoners demonstrates that, in fact, poor treatment of prisoners was not accepted as normal to people in the eighteenth century.  The suffering of French and American prisoners in British-occupied cities like New York was appalling not only by modern standards, but by eighteenth-century standards as well. 
     For more on Everett and the wreck of the Arethusa, please consult John Campbell, et al., Lives of the British Admirals…, 8 volumes, new edition (London: Barrington, Strand, and J. Harris, 1812-1817), 5:447.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Spoiler Alert: POWs on WDYTYA

After a popular stint on NBC, the U.S. version of the British celebrity genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA) found a home on TLC.  For a second time so far, WDYTYA discovered a celebrity descended from a German Prisoner of War so well-treated by the Americans, that he decided to become American.

In season 3, Actor Rob Lowe discovered that one of his ancestors was a Hessian soldier taken prisoner at Trenton, New Jersey by the American army under George Washington in 1776.  In season 4, author and late night television hostess Chelsea Handler learned new details about her maternal grandfather, a German soldier captured during World War Two and sent to America as a POW.

For the moving and compelling episode about Chelsea Handler's family, please visit (accessed 8 August 2013).  

Monday, August 5, 2013

Held Without Charge

In the August 1, 1778 issue of Philadelphia newspaper The Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser, pseudonymous write "Civis" lamented the cruelties British forces in America inflicted not only on military prisoners but also upon civilians.
   "Nor was age any protection," complained Civis.  "Old men...have been cast into filthy gaols with the very refuse of mankind, and there remained unheard, without the least charge being brought against them, and many worthy citizens have perished, for perhaps speaking an unguarded expression, relative to one of these mighty conquerors."
   Sadly, the United States of America sent numerous innocent people to Guantanamo Bay.  While detained at Gitmo, innocent Mohammed Akhtiar suffered the indignity of insults and assaults from detainees who, unlike Akhtiar, were actual terrorists and extremists, who called Akhtiar an "infidel" because he was not a terrorist.
   For more on the Civis essay, please visit the post, "The High Chancery of Heaven."


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Parker versus Math

In a 2009 column, Kathleen Parker condemned President Barack Obama's disapproval of waterboarding.  Instead, Parker championed the reasoning of former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who still defends harsh treatment of defenseless captives.  Parker insinuated that Obama's rejection of waterboarding reflected his relative youth and naïveté.  In contrast, Parker characterized Dick Cheney as "an old timer with decades of experience."

Parker was wrong to think the rejection of torture is popular among young adults.  Compared to younger generations, Americans born before 1940 are more likely to say torture is "never justified."  In fact, in 2004, Pew Research Center found that the younger the respondents, the small the percentage that rejected torture as "never justified."  
Check page 9 of this 12-page pdf, labeled page 48.  The popularity of torture among young adults probably derives from the corrosive influence of popular culture.  

Parker advised us to heed the advice of elders with decades of experience.  Dick Cheney was born in 1941.  US Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), however, was born in 1936.  McCain condemned waterboarding as torture, and torture breaks the law and hurts the efforts of the nation that resorts to it.

General and former Secretary of State Colin Powell was born in 1937.  Powell also condemned the harsh treatment of captives.

Senator McCain and Secretary Powell have decades of military experience.  Dick 
Cheney does not.  
Cheney is not the old timer with decades of experience.  
Dick Cheney is the young whippersnapper who thinks rough treatment of prisoners gets what he wants, despite the better judgment of his elders.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Staten Island, July 1776

In preparation for a possible raid on British forces occupying Staten Island, New York, Scottish-born American General Hugh Mercer sent instructions to Major Thomas Knowlton.  Mercer wrote, "Should you be successful enough to take any British troops prisoners, secure them well and treat them with humanity."

You can read Mercer's July 18, 1776 letter to Knowlton at the American Archives website maintain by the Northern Illinois University Libraries.  Read more about Knowlton at the post, "January 8: Raid on Charlestown, Massachusetts."  Bad weather forced a cancellation of the Staten Island raid Mercer planned for the evening of July 18.  Please consult Mark V. Kwasny, Washington's Partisan War, 1775-1783 (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1996), page 63.