Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Treating Enemy Wounded

Abigail Adams Meets British POWs
    In July 1775, Major General Thomas Gage, commander of British forces occupying Boston, sent thirty marines to guard Tory carpenters repairing a lighthouse near the occupied city.  An American force raided the lighthouse.  One British officer and one British enlisted man perished in the engagement, but the Americans manage to carry off the carpenters and twenty-eight British marines.  
    Four of the British marines were injured in the skirmish.  Doctor Cotton Tufts, a cousin of John Adams, treated the wounded prisoners.  
    The Americans had no losses, until making their escape.  British forces fired at the departing American ships, killing a young man from Rhode Island who manned one of the oars.  Americans buried the lad with military honors.  The wounded British marines, prisoners, asked permission to attend the funeral services for the young America.  
    Abigail Adams, wife John Adams, also attended the funeral.  Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, “I spoke with them. I told them it was very unhappy that they should be obliged to fight their best Friends.”
    Mrs. Adams added, “They said they were sorry--they…express'd gratitude at the kindness they received, said in that they had been deceived, for they were told if they were taken alive, they
would should be Sacrificed by us.”  
    Abigail Adams was glad that Americans showed kindness to captured enemies.  As Mrs. Adams knew, kindness to prisoners was essential for the good of the cause.  As she wrote to her husband on May 18, 1777, “If our cause is just, it will be best supported by justice and righteousness.”   
Treating Enemy Wounded      In the 20th century, Chinese Communist and guerrilla warfare theorist Mao Zedong repeatedly emphasized the advantage of treating enemy wounded.  It works if your enemy sees you releasing well-treated prisoners, including wounded soldiers treated for wounds.  Mao wrote, “This concrete propaganda immediately knocks the bottom out of the enemy propaganda that ‘The Communist bandits will kill everyone and anyone on sight.’”
    During World War II, Mao’s Communist guerrillas in China were not the only combatants treating Japanese prisoners with compassion.  In 1943, Marine Major Sherwood F. Moran described the kindness that effective interrogators should have for Japanese prisoners.  Moran said he and other interrogators were genuinely interested in the care received by a wounded Japanese soldier in American custody.  
    Moran wrote, “This was the prisoner who called out to me when I was leaving after that first interview, ‘Won’t you please come and talk to me
every day.’”  Moran added parenthetically, “And yet people are continually asking us, ‘Are the Japanese prisoners really willing to talk?’”
    For anecdote about George Washington’s concern and civility for a wounded British soldiers at the Battle of Princeton (3 January 1777), please consult the post here.  For two posts dealing with Mao’s emphasis on caring for enemy wounded, please consult the posts, “Parties for Prisoners” and “Dear Syrian Rebels Part 4.”  For Japanese prisoners treated kindly at Camp Tracy, the lxury resort at California’s Byron Hot Springs, please read Rick Lemyre, “Top-Secret World of Camp Tracy,” Discovery Bay Press (Brentwood, Calif.), 28 January 2010, post online January 28, 2010 as “Top Secret World of Camp Tracy Revealed,” [accessed 15 March 2014] (the previous link, [accessed 25 September 2013], is no longer active.)
    Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 31 July - 2 August 1775 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.; Letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 18 May 1777 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society.  Mao Zedong, “Report of the Jinggangshan Front Committee to the Central Committee,” 28 November 1928, in Mao’s Road to Power: Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949: Volume 3: From the Jinggangshan to the Establishment of the Jiangxi Soviets, July 1927-December 1930, ed. Stuart R. Schram (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1995), page 101. For details on Major Sherwood F. Moran's report, “Suggestions for Japanese Interpreters Based on Work in the Field,” please read Stephen Budiansky, “Truth Extraction,” The Atlantic, 1 June 2005,

Monday, September 23, 2013

Such Liberties: Newport, Sept. 23

The September 23, 1776 issue of Rhode Island newspaper The Newport Mercury reported the meandering travels of two British prisoners captured by American forces in Canada.  The freedom of movement enjoyed by enemy prisoners, and the wages paid to British mariners captured and promptly released from merchant vessels taken as “prizes,” raised questions for printer Solomon Southwick

NEWPORT, September 23.
Last Tuesday [September 17] arrived here, Mr. Joseph Kinyon and Mr. William Clarke, who were two of the men made prisoners at the attack on Quebec; on the 6 of June they, with 8 more, were taken out of prison to go on a fishing voyage to Gaspee, which place Kinyon and Clarke, with 4 others, left in a boat the 4 of August, and got to Casco Bay, from whence they travelled by land.  As they came along, they lodged at Newbury-Post [Massachusetts], where they were informed that a number of prisoners who had been taken in prizes, had been paid their wages, &c. and allowed to purchase a vessel to go home in, but went immediately to Halifax, and that another set were then about purchasing another vessel for the same purpose—Query, Does the enemy give out people such liberties?!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Persecution Better than Tax Support for Religion

   Bernard Lewis noted that Christianity survived in the Middle East only where Christians had experience being estranged from state power.  In Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, several Christian denominations endured begrudging toleration and sometimes even persecution by the Greek Orthodox Byzantine Empire.
    The Maghreb, Arabic for the "West," is a region that includes Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.  In the Maghreb, Christianity disappeared under the persecution by the un-Islamic Islamic regime of the Almohads.  Maghrebi Judaism survived, despite suffering similar forced conversions under the Almohads.
   North Africa's Christianity enjoyed a special link to the Christianized Roman Empire.  Maghrebi Christians were accustomed to the patronage of government, while the Maghreb's Jew were accustomed to sporadic persecution.  Accustomed to government persecution rather than government favoritism, Jews had experience preserving their religion, even in secret.
   A few Christians make the government an arm of their religion, using public school football teams as an opportunity to make converts, unaware that a link to government auspices often makes a religion vulnerable.
   In the 1780s, advocates of ending tax support for religion often reached the conclusion that government persecution was better for a religion than government support.  
   In 1785, James Madison noted that "experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation."  Madison suggested that if you ask the Christian clergy when their religion appeared in its greatest glory, "
those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy."
   James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) was one of many petitions against a proposed Virginia law Virginians to pay money to support a Christian preacher of the taxpayer's choice.  The Bill exempted Quakers and Mennonites, in deference to their qualms about the state requiring religious contributions and their preference for voluntary contributions.  A flood of petitions against the bill helped convince the Virginia legislature to not enact the bill.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chattanooga Choo Choo

Christianity disappeared from Morocco and Zoroastrianism nearly disappeared from Iran after the Islamic conquest, but Judaism did not.  Bernard Lewis noted that North Africa's Christianity was linked to the Roman Empire, and Zoroastrianism was linked to the Persian Empire.  Once they lost their link to state power, they lost their faith.

Jews in Persia and in Northwest Africa did not associate their faith with governmental prestige.  Their faith survived.  

If you link your religion to state auspices, you can drain the power from your faith.  

In the September 20, 2013 issue of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Stephen Hargis reported that Whitwell, Tennessee public high school football coach Billy Barnhart bragged about hosting a preseason camp that converted 21 students to evangelical Christianity.
Several residents complained of high school football coaches who coached student athletes in prayer and Bible study.  The complaints prompted the Freedom from Religion Foundation to challenge the use of public school sports as a venue for prayer.

Coach Barnhart complained, "As a Christian, I believe our faith is being attacked at all levels, not just in schools, but in government, and there's organizations trying to do away with Christianity as much as they can."

Barnhart mistook a challenge to his religious use of school sports as an attack on Christianity itself.  Implicitly, Barnhart identifies his religion with the proselytism, prayer and Bible study he promotes as a public school coach.  Barnhart perceives himself as a youth minister.  Any legal challenge to his religious work as a coach, Barnhart feels is a challenge to his entire faith and calling.

Barnhard feels that his religion is vulnerable, and he is right.  
If you link your religion to state auspices, you can drain the power from your faith.  

Please consult Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), pages 17 and 18.  For more information on sports reporter Stephen Hargis, please visit [accessed 21 September 2013].  The website of the Freedom from Religion Foundation is  For the mention of Zoroaster by John Adams, please consult the post here.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Old Ironside: Spoiler Alert

  Among other provisions, the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution stipulates, “No person...shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself….”
  Generally, Americans of the early Republic interpreted the Fifth Amendment as a ban on torture.  
  In his 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution, Joseph Storey wrote, “The next clause prohibits any person from being compelled, in any criminal case, to be a witness against himself….”  Storey wrote, “It is well known, that in some countries, not only are criminals compelled to give evidence against themselves, but are subjected to the rack or torture in order to procure a confession of guilt.”
  Storey detested excuses for torture. “It has been contrived, (it is pretended,) that innocence should manifest itself by a stout resistance, or guilt by a plain confession; as if a man's innocence were to be tried by the hardness of his constitution, and his guilt by the sensibility of his nerves.”
Ironside: Spoiler Alert
  The original detective series
Ironside ran from 1967 to 1975, with Actor Raymond Burr (1917-1993) playing the title role.  When NBC announced there the 2013 return of the series, with Blair Underwood in the lead, there was at first cause for celebration.*   Unfortunately, the producers of the new version of Ironside opted to make the retread a vehicle not only for the return of Actor Blair Underwood to primetime television, but also a vehicle for excusing torture.  In a promo clip, the new Ironside dangles a suspect off a roof and reads him his Miranda rights to safety from coerced self-incrimination.  In the opening scene of the pilot episode, which NBC offers here [warning: violent content & bad info on treatment of prisoners], producers and screenwriters depict an offender beaten and brutalized while, again, accompanies by a parody reading of his rights.  
  To the Founders, the Fifth Amendment was not only about having an accused person’s right to the assistance of an attorney.  The Fifth Amendment banned torture.   
  The Founders considered torture characteristic of other countries, notorious countries like Inquisitional Spain, which tortured heretic Protestants and hidden Jews to confess their supposed religious errors.  Geographically and Constitutionally, torture was un-American.  
  Blogging for
Vanity Fair, James Wolcott notes that the teledrama endorsement of police torture is poorly timed.  Controversy already attends the increasing militarization of police tactics. Wolcott wrote of the 2013 Ironside, “We’re supposed to think what the cops are doing here is cool because the actors playing them are so cute, but I don’t think that cuts it.”
  Wolcott added, “Certainly the late John Leonard would have disapproved,” citing the social and media critic who beautifully denounced torture.   
  The implications of the 2013 revision of Ironside are misleading. In particular, Ironside 2013 depicts a “ticking time bomb” scenario, wherein an investigator resorts to tormenting a suspect to obtain lifesaving information.  Colonel Stuart Herrington (US Army-Retired) has years of counterinsurgency and interrogation experience.  In 2007, Herrington wrote that “the so-called ticking time bomb scenario is a Hollywood construct that I never encountered in my 30-year career.” Please consult, Stuart Herrington, "Sunday Forum: Two Problems with Torture," The Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] Post-Gazette, 21 October 2007. * This blog featured Blair Underwood in this post, about the low number of Yoruba brought to mainland North America during the Transatlantic Slave Trade; in this post, about the Brong ethnic group in Ghana; and also this post about how different African ethnic groups responded to the trauma of chattel slavery in North America.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Syria Rebels & Revenge

     In a video obtained by The New York Times, rebel commander Abdul Samad Issa and several members of his group kill seven prisoners.  The prisoners are disarmed.  Several bear scars from severe beatings.  
     Before killing the prisoner at his feet, Issa recites a statement that includes the words, "We swear to the Lord of the Throne, that this is our oath: We will take revenge."
     On September 3, 1775, George Washington's secretary Joseph Reed wrote to a captured British officer, "General Gage's treatment of our officers, even of the most respectable rank, would justify a severe retaliation....  General Washington's disposition will not allow him to follow so unworthy an example.  You and your companions will be treated with kindness...."
     Reed informed the prisoner that American Captain Samuel Blachley Webb "has orders to accompany you to Hartford, and is particularly enjoined to show you every mark of civility and respect."
     The former Syrian rebel who smuggled the video out of Syria, leaving the fight in disgust at the cruelty of the rebels, deserves credit for his sentiments and his bravery.
     Warning: This video is disturbing.  Although the Times blocks out the actual killings, the video shows the helpless prisoners and the so-called Syrian "rebels" who are about to kill the disarmed men, some of them apparently mere lads.