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WWI conscientious objection / objectors
Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
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My dear -----
Francis Hennessy has asked me to send you this message, for just now he cannot write.
The group of boys from Fort Riley and Camp Funston came to Leavenworth more than a week ago. Most of them began working in and about the prison, but practically all have refused to work longer and are now doing penance in the “holes”. The “hole” is our jail, you know – a black, cold place in the sub-basement. The men hang there chained by their wrists to their cell doors for nine hours a day. They sleep on the cold cement floor between foul blankets and are given bread and water, if they will eat at all. They cannot speak and of course they can neither read nor write.
There is brutality enough, too. Some of the men have been beaten periodically. I saw one man dragged by his collar across the rough corridor floor, screaming and choking – to the bath. He was knocked about on the floor for failing to undress and was then stripped roughly and thrust under a cold bath. I saw no more, but others tell me that he was held under the icy water for more than ten minutes and scrubbed with coarse laundry soap and a heavy scrubbing brush. He has since gone to the hospital.
Several Russians – Holy jumpers from Arizona, have been hunger striking in the hole. Two of them were beaten so bestially that even the authorities were shocked and the sentry is to be courtmartialed. The sentry is being tried, however, only because he exceeded his authority. The other beatings and tortures are matters of general knowledge and are accepted by the authorities as justifiable. These Russians were so weak at the end of six days that two of them had to be sent to the hospital – veritable ghosts. The others finally accepted a bowl and a half of corn flakes and milk daily in preference to forcible feeding. They say that in Russian prisons they were let close and permitted to live separately and to prepare their own food. Their courage so firm and beautiful shames the others of us.
Evan Thomas, Howard Moore, Rose of Philadelphia, Hennessy and about 20 others are now in the pit. They are protesting against the brutalities and tortures, compulsory work, compulsory chapel on Sunday and against imprisonment itself. The local officers are relentless in punishing this breach of discipline and promise one man a court-martial, I am told, as a lesson to the rest of us. Little more could be expected of them. But from Washington we hope that some recognition of the condition may be drawn. We hope, of course, that the administration will act as liberally as it has so often spoken and that it will recognize the right to be free-minded religiously and politically. We feel that if the government is not committed by deed to the principle, the sacrifices we have been making has accomplished nothing – except perhaps to create a splendid _?_ propaganda[?] material.
We wish that someone could visit us and see with his own eyes the results of the repressive policies which these military persons call justice, and we wish Mr Norman Thomas and the others who may still be enjoying some degree of liberty to know of all that is passing.
We have all come to love Francis in the few days that he has been there. He is a lad of the quietest courage. He has not the slightest hesitancy about stepping into this dungeon. He wants you to be assured that he will come through happily.
Very truly yours,
This is a supplement to the letter I sent concerning Francis Hennessy.
The boys in the dungeon are hunger striking now, demanding their release. They are being forcibly fed in the usual manner. I cannot learn whether Francis is among them, but he said when he left me that he intended going the limit. He was getting on quite happily on bread and water yesterday morning.
Rose of Philadelphia, who struck for 25[?] days in Camp Meade, was taken from the Wing yesterday and ordered to begin breaking rocks. He refused and was forced to stand all day, the cold wind cutting his flesh, eating nothing. He went to his cell in the evening, shuddering with chills and burning with fever. Today he is out in the yard again, professing health and liberty. He is to be court-martialed, he is told, and given a long term of years in the federal penitentiary.
Others will be joining the hunger strike day by day. None will die, for the officers do not want the responsibility of making explanations to enraged parents and friends and the public generally: but they will all have a sober time of it. As long as I am at liberty myself, I shall be happy to tell you of the condition of Hennessy – and all of the others.
[unknown], “LetterNovember 14,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed January 21, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/1714.