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Letter February 12, 1919 from Unknown to David Eichel
Letter February 12, 1919 from Unknown to David Eichel
WWI conscientious objection / objectors
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.
[February 12, 1919]
- M.P. Guard House
- Dear Dave,
Your letter of Jan. 30 which reached me yesterday, certainly succeeded in “rousing me from my lethargic state”. It did more than that, - it filled me with an amount of joy that surpassed even that which I experienced when I was recently informed that I had been sentenced “to be shot by musketry”. (Control your curiosity and hold off sending letters of condolence to my family for a while. I’ll explain later on in my letter.) After being seperated for about three or four months which seemed like ages to me, your letter had the effect of bringing you and the other fellows closer to me, - even though not as close as I should like to be and as I hope we will be in the very near future. I had recently been thinking of writing to you, but the uncertainty of your status and the mailing privileges that you were allowed, kept me from doing so. Besides, I didn’t want to write to you for fear of arousing the jealousy of the others with you. However, the fact that Jack Wortsman has dared to enter into a correspondence with Lottie [?], without my knowledge and consent, makes my writing to him out of the question. And the additional fact that you were the first of the D.B. fellows to write to me served finally to make my choice quite easy.
Your account of your more pleasant experiences, though not altogether new to me, was interesting because it was first hand and more in detail than the reports I’ve been getting from other sources. I doubt whether you experienced any more satisfaction when you were moved from solitary to the Post G.H., than we did when we learned of it. It was a thrill that I shall long remember. I felt then that I was experiencing a joy that I was not entitled to, in view of the fact that I was leading an easy-going life while you fellows were being put thru the pace.
When news of the previously existing conditions at the DB first began to reach me I could not help asking myself many times, “Why should you be there, and I here?” Now that the whole thing is a matter of the past, I won’t say that I have a particular desire to go thru your experiences. But at that time, I assure you I would have been happier there than I was at Riley. I felt that my place was with you fellows, and that something was being withheld from me. And I might say that this was the general feeling of the other fellows with me. Since then, the class III men have been sent to Leavenworth to partake of some of your experiences (if you have left anything for them to experience), and who knows but that the rest of us may yet be given the same “opportunity”. Regardless of what may be awaiting us there, I am nevertheless glad to know that you are now enjoying at least tolerable treatment.
You ask me to give you a detailed account of our experiences in this part of the country since you left us. I hesitate to do so, because, in the light of your own experiences since then, their insignificance will be emphasized a hundred fold. I’m certain that when the story of the C.O. is written, the doings at Funston and Riley since you left, will appear as a small footnote in the most inconspicuous portion of the book, - if it appears at all. However, in order to let you feel the much greater importance of your experiences [I haven’t a dictionary, and couldn’t think of a suitable synonym for “experience”, -hence I must use it here for the third time in this paragraph] I will tell you my story.
As you know, conditions at Funston were quite tolerable when you left us, - we were in fact “living the life of Riley” at Funston until Nov. 27, when we were moved to the Riley G.H. That is, Brandon, Ott, Sandin[?], Steiner, Schneider, Greenberg, Bernstein, Kaplan and I went there. I might mention that on Nov. 11, we were interviewed by Brig. Gen’l Williams about the treatment at Funston under the old regime. At Riley, we were placed in the tender care of Lieut. Pike, - enough said. I thought that Moore was a bit severe in the way he described him, but I must say now that he was altogether too charitable. However, he wasn’t with us
very long, - just long enough to show us what smallness and pettiness means. On Dec. 7, I was taken to the hospital, - what my ailment was I have not yet been able to ascertain. At different times, my case was diagnosed as: chronic appendicitis, pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis. My own diagnosis was that it was just an ordinary fever (104) of digestive origin. At any rate, I remained in the hospital for nine days, and came back in pretty good condition, except for an abnormally heavy beard on my face. While I was away, Pike had been replaced by another officer, Capt. Kite [?], who, besides being a military officer happened to be a human being. We now occupied one of the big lower cages.
Our lot would have been uneventful and quite prosaic (apologies to Jake) if it hadn’t been for the fact that a new set of guards came on duty at this time, and with them came a few officers, -pardon me, I mean 2nd Lieutenants, -who persisted in entertaining us by their tactics. I won’t attempt to describe all of the childish and silly things that they did, but it certainly made my heart bleed to see how they were undermining the military morale by their conduct. Just one example will, I think suffice, to give you a pretty fair idea of their calibre. As you know, the cell we were in had very little light during the day, and so, one of these officers thought he would make up for this want, by letting the lights burn all night. And like the ungracious wretches that we were, we did not appreciate what a favor he was doing us. At about 9 P.M. we were informed that it was time to be quiet and go to bed. Having been accustomed to go to bed when the lights went out, we didn’t believe them. Instead, we went on doing what we had been doing all along, - reading, talking and singing. Pretty soon the O.D. came down and assured us that he was really serious about our going to bed. We still doubted whether he really meant it, and told him that we would gladly retire, - and were in fact waiting for the lights to go out in order to do just that. Brandon exhausted his whole
repertoire, - 16 verses of “Living the life of Riley”, “Twenty years from now”, “When the CO’s come home”, “While we’re here in the Guard House” and others too numerous to mention. Steiner favored the gallery with a rendition of a few of his selections in his own inimitable way, -he happened to be in a good mood and therefore very liberal with his encores. Besides the customers upstairs, we had quite a distinguished audience, including the Officer of the Day, Office of Guard, Sergeant of Guard, Corp’l of Guard etc.etc.etc. The performance lasted until midnight, -or rather until the actors dropped from sheer exhaustion, and slept soundly in spite of the burning lights.
The next morning, none of us went for breakfast, preferring rather to stay in bed and make up for lost sleep. But we did not figure upon the brilliant strategy of the officers, for, at about 8 A.M. two guards, -one armed with a spade and the other one with an iron rod, -were assigned to serenade us by running these instruments back and forth along the bars of the cell. And for an hour and a half, we enjoyed the most wonderful concert we had ever heard, -Bedlam can’t duplicate it. Every once in a while the O.D. would come down in order to personally supervise things, -at such times we expressed our heartiest appreciation for his efforts to entertain us, and “complimented” him upon his “ingenuity”. Finally, Capt. Kite [?] came downstairs, just in time for the last encore, - and somehow or other he didn’t seem to appreciate it, for he proceeded to lambast the officers unmercifully upon their childishness and stupidity. When we told him what it was all about, he immediately set about, righting things. Let me add, that the lights went out promptly at 9 P.M. the next evening, and every other evening after that.
And so, as I said, incidents like these have furnished us with amusement as long as we were
at Riley. I won’t bore you with a recount of other such incidents; but in order to be fair, I will tell you of case where Col. Waterman out-maneuvered us, -though you’ll admit that there is no shame in being out-generalled by a man who has 40 years of experience behind him. We had been kept in our quarters for weeks, without any opportunities for getting some fresh air and exercise. We asked repeatedly for this privilege, but the Colonel, after carefully examining all of his orders, could not find a single one relating to this question. He therefore concluded that fresh air was a gift of nature only to “men”, and not C.Os, and that he was ordained by God to see to it that C.O’s don’t get any. And yet, we felt that we were badly in need of it. So we hit upon the plan of going on sick-report every morning, -and thereby get the double benefit of the walk to the infirmary as well as the fresh air. We told the doctors just exactly what we came for. This was not to the liking of Col. Waterman, and so, after four or five days of this, he arranged to have the doctors come to the Guard House and thus frustrated our plans. We admitted defeat, and did not go on sick-call any more. They can’t accuse us of having been unfair opponents, can they?
I realize that this letter is beginning to assume the proportions of a volume, and so I’ll hasten to tell you of the incident that led to our transfer to Funston. On Feb. 7, Bernstein, Kaplan, Greenberg and I were taken to Headquarters at Funston, where we were informed that we had been sentenced to be shot by musketry at our trial, but, that this sentence had been disapproved by the Judge Advocate General at Washington. Are you relieved now? We had suspected that that was our sentence, and can now say, with apologies to Mark Twain, that the reports of our death
have been grossly exagerated. We were also told that we would be released from the G.H., restored to duty and re-assigned to non-combattant service. The following day, we were released from confinement and brought to Funston, where we enjoyed comparative freedom for 18 hours, -six hours of which we extravagantly spent in sleeping. On Saturday morning we were brought to the Utilities and Construction branch of the Q.M.C. and were assigned to do some work, -each of us under a different officer. I was taken to the Ice plant, and ordered to pull some cakes of ice. As you know, I can pull teeth, but ice is altogether out of my line. I was brought back to the office, where I found the other three waiting. Lottie was there to witness this part of the ceremony. Pretty soon, two M.P. guards led us back to our home of “pleasant” memories, the M.P. Guard House. We found that Lieut. Harris was still in charge there, and were very glad of it. I’ll confess, that if all men in the army were like Capt. Kite and Lieut. Harris, I would not mind being in it myself, ------as a C.O. of course.
On Sunday, the officers to whom we had been assigned paid us a visit, -I must say that they are really a fine bunch of men. The fellows all received their charge sheets (after a very friendly discussion as to the reasons for their stand at this time) except I. My “superior” officer told me that he wanted to have another talk with me the following day, when he would give me “another chance”. On Monday morning, he and another officer called for me in a machine, and we went again to the ice plant, -minus a guard. There, they made
me feel quite at home, offered me a cigarette etc., and then proceeded to argue with me as to the why and wherefore of my attitude at this time. I had a real good time with them for about 40 minutes, during which time I had the satisfaction of hearing them say: “I’ll admit that you’re right on this point” to every point that they brought up. At the end of this, my “superior” officers assured me that it was extremely disagreeable for him to do what he had to do, but, “orders are orders”. And so, after explaining the nature of the work to me, he proceeded with the business in hand. I’ll risk boring you by quoting the conversation that ensued:
Officer: “As your superior officer I order you to move the ice from here to that corner.” B.B.: “I’m sorry, but I can’t do what you ask.” Officer: “Do you refuse?” B.B. “I didn’t say that.” Officer: “I am giving you a lawful order, will you obey it?” B.B. “I cannot.” Officer: “Then you refuse?” B.B. “I didn’t say that.” Officer: “I again order you to move that ice.” B.B. “I cannot do that.” Officer: “Then you refuse?” B.B. “I didn’t say that.” Officer: “Did you understand my order?” B.B. “Yes sir.” Officer: Are you going to obey it?” B.B. “I cannot.” Officer: “Then you refuse?” B.B. I didn’t say that.” Finally he gave it up as a bad job, and called the proceedings to a halt. I am not sure, but I suspect that he wanted me to say “I willfully disobey your order.” It was really thoughtless of me not to have pleased him in this matter.
That afternoon he brought my charge sheet, and also four certificates, one for each of us. These he offered to us in order to insure us from being transferred to a combattant unit, -should we decide to accept the non-combattant service. By this time the whole business had begun to take on the appearance of a farce, -even our “superior” officers look upon it in the same light. In the meantime we are waiting to be tried, -we were supposed
supposed to have been tried on Monday, but, for some mysterious reason we have not been called yet. We will see what we’ll see. Perhaps I will be with you soon, and perhaps, -------who knows?
Well, I guess I’ve scribbled enough now. Remember me to Jake, Bloch, Moore, Monsky, Seidenberg, Saudin (I heard he has found his way to your group) and Julius (though I’ve not met him yet, I’m sure I’ll not hesitate to call him Julius, when I do meet him). Also give my regards to my old comrade in suffering, Henessy, if you see him. Have you come across Harry Lee? Lottie wishes to be remembered to all, -she is still contemplating a trip to Leavenworth for a few days. Good by, Dave, -how about that dinner at Lorbus[?]?
- Your friend
P.S. You speak of your prowess in baseball. Let me say that in Kaplan, Bernstein and Greenberg, I have a very good nucleus for a very bad team. I’m willing to wager that we would lose, hands down, to your losing team. BB
- Listen to the mob!
1. Kaplan asks Julius whether he will “give him a show”, when he gets there. Also, whether Sam S. is among those present.
2. Bernstein rises to inquire whether Caplowitz and Shotkin have forgotten that he is still amongst the living. Give them his present address.
3. Greenberg is just itching to join your little group in order to give Howard a run for his money in the line of dancing. He admits that he is a good dancer.
Unknown, “Letter February 12, 1919 from Unknown to David Eichel ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 22, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/38.
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