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Letter from Eric
Letter from Eric
WWI conscientious objection / objectors
Fort Leavenworth, KS
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
May 22nd, P.O. Box 60
Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas
Your letter of the 14th received this P.M. undoubtedly by this time you have read my letter to Oscar and know of the change in our imprisonment. In connection with it, it is only necessary to say, that in comparison with our former quarters the transformation may well be symbolized to that of the 15, 16th and 17th century serfs hovel, in contrast to the modern slaves tenement home, as yet it is necessary to have the lights on all day. This is due mainly to the architectural structure of the building and the position of our wing in it. We are allowed two hours exercise daily out in the air and sunshine on condition that we conform to strict military calisthenics, so that our mind would not be confused as to what this meant the major in charge of us amplified it by saying, "The same as a recruit would undergo in his training at Camp." For two or three days there was no response to his morning and afternoon query of "anyone here want calisthenic drill." But one afternoon three of the boys decided to find out just what this drill would be by making a practical and applied experiment in it. They were let out on a stretch of green grass and then were put through right face, left face and about face, also, some good setting up exercises. Though we would be greatly benefitted [sic] by the sunshine and exercise we have foreborne [sic] this requisite to good health because of our distaste to the rudimentary military drill which must first be done.
I do not know just what it is that keeps you constantly working for me aside from interviewing prominent people. To be frank I think this method is a case of loves labors lost and inopportune. Besides it is so individualistic that my social sense recoils at its narrow application. Do not take me for an ingrate for I am sure you will readily understand the sentiment which prompts the above on recollecting that Debs, O'Hare, Stokes, Mooney, Billings and the other political and industrial prisoners have as much call upon your energies as your loving brother.
One of the boys here whose case with the civil authorities that is, the method by which he was indicted in the army is almost identically the same as mine. He is having a writ of habeas corpus taken out, I believe, by the Civil Liberties Bureau of New York. If his case is a success, it is, I believe their intention to use the same method in similar cases.
A large number of the boys have high hopes that a good many of us will be released on the signing of peace. Others, myself included, feel that the most that can be expected is that we may be set free when the army has been virtually demobilized. If this is not the policy or intention of the War Department then I believe the only effective method of obtaining our release is through organizing the workers in demanding our release through the use of the general strike.
Yesterday the prisoners were in an uproar over the shooting of one of their number. As far as I can ascertain the facts leading up to the fray were as follows. A number of prisoners attempted to break into the storehouse and peculate the lemon extract contained therein. The lemon extract is used by the prisoners for the same reason that the Kentucky colonel used bourbon rye. Frustrated by a sentry they endeavored to overcome the opposition with Bismarkian tactics and the recent applauded method of bringing democracy to the people of the world. The result of the melee was one prisoner was shot in the leg, another badly beaten up, also, two soldiers, according to the Kansas City Times (this paper has been the most rabid, bitter and despicable opponent that the C.O's had against them) interview with the Commandant of the prison, the C.O's were not mixed up in the fracas but they did line up along the wings, windows cheering and encouraging the prisoners "to get the guards."
If the Commandant refers to the absolute C.O's confined in the 4th Wing basement and sub-basement he is laboring under an error which may be unconscious on his part but very real and vivid on ours. The calumny is one which will be impossible to dispel with the ease and great publicity given to it. It is desirable, both from the point of view of truth and the high hope which thinking people have in regard to noble ideals of a just, economic distribution, a broader and higher intellectual and spiritual life, that the Commandant rectify his palpable error. (if he is quoted correctly by the newspapers) for it is through just such false information widely disseminated and circulated that the people are miseducated [sic] in the social principles held by others; thereby causing the bitter rancor held by them toward one another. The culmination of it being visible in the past tortures inflicted upon the C.Os and other radical thinkers. I suppose the economic basis for all this is the fear of an altered economic distribution and the refusal of people to defend by war the class interest of national capitalists.
The salutary effects of a rectification of this error cannot be confined to the C.O's but most inevitable through the law of compensation so ably promulgated by Emerson engendered in the hearts and minds of our mistaken calumniators the deep gratitude for having the privilege and opportunity of setting right a pernicious and flagrant error. The fruits of such an action cannot but be the returns of those precious jewels of light, honor and truth, which keep us in touch with forces universal in scope.
According to the prisoners the version of the affair as published in the Kansas City Times is a pernicious prevarication. They say that one of the guards made an unwarranted attack on a garrison prisoner and that when the general prisoners went to his assistance other guards jumped into the rumpus which culminated in the drawing of a revolver (it is strictly against the prison rules for guards to carry arms inside the prison walls) and the shooting of a prisoner. There is a persistent rumor that one prisoner died as a result of his wounds. I doubt if much credence can be attached to this though it would not be the first time that prisoners have died as a result of mix ups here.
It is pleasant to hear that mother's spirit and health is of the best. Give her my best wishes and love.
I received a letter from Estelle along with yours and hope to answer it soon. One of the boys has been with us for the last ten months and was discharged two days ago. I was glad and so was he. He was classified by the board in the same class as myself but owing to his being a British subject and on the representations of the British ambassador the board's classification ceased to exist. I hope this letter does not bore you.
Love to all,
Eric, “Letter from Eric,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed July 9, 2020, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/1481.