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Letter May 6, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents
Letter May 6, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents
WWI conscientious objection / objectors
Swarthmore College Peace Collection
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Letter [#45] from David Eichel, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
[May 16, 1919]
- Dear folks:
There have been no new development since our last letters. We are still in the 4th wing basement. I believe Julius made mention of the fact that all the non-working C.O's from the cantonement are now with us, that is, I should'nt say with us, for we are effectually barred from mingling with them. Here as in all other things military, there is an air of mystery and darkness calculated to confound the wisest as well as the most stupid. We had been with these men for months, and had lived with them on the most intimate relations. Now by a peculiar whim we are kept apart. This situation is as sad as it is absurd. It is probably another petty punishment, for there cannot be anything more substantial than that behind this restriction. Now don't get the impression that this is an actual hardship to us. We have companionship enough, and tho we would'nt mind mingling with the men downstairs, we can get along and we do manage nice without them, and I am quite confident they find it equally easy to dispense with our company. I simply make the point in order to show what appears to me laughable pettiness on the part of the officials. However it is barely possible that they have an excellent reason for desiring to keep us apart, but it is strictly confidential, as confidential & as secret as their motive for moving us from the cantonment. We have yet to learn from them the reason for our transfer. Of course it is'nt for prisoners to demand explanations or to expect any from their jailors hence we don't ask impertinent questions. But as human beings, we have acquired an unwholesome curiosity, and an unpleasant knack of asking importunate questions regarding the motives and actions of others, especially when these motives and actions are likely to involve us. And such are the limitations of the power of human adjustment that we have'nt quite torn ourselves loose from this habit. Hence our bewilderment at the actions of the military.
And when you come right down to human action and reaction, you cannot blame the military. We stand for everything fatal to them, and they represent everything
which we are not. While as human beings we are able, in most instances, to respect each other, yet in the realm of ideas we are uncompromisingly opposed to each other. Hence friction between us is inevitable, altho I believe I have the right to add without injustice to the military, that they have always been the aggressor, while we have contented ourselves with passively resisting them. You see the situation beyond question is exasperating. We are under the direct control of the military. Being uncompromisingly opposed to us, they would like to have complete power over us, or else be rid of us. Now for obvious reasons the administration has persistently refused to give the military full reign either one way or the other. Well then the military is going to do the next best thing. It is going to go as near the limit as it dares. This might explain the Post Guard House move & finally this one. Remember that while conditions are better here, and while we can manage to obtain some exercise on the inside, outdoor fresh air and sunshine is still denied us. Of course we can manage without it for a time but we cannot continue without it indefinitely. Our wing is so obstructed by other parts of the building that one complete side, whereon 25 men sleep, is never struck by a sun's rays. Now this is no exaggeration. This is literally and absolutely true. On the brightest day, with the most glorious sun in heaven, not a gleam of sun-light reaches this side of the wing. The impression one gets is that the weather is perpetually bad and threatening and gloomy. Now all sanitation experts will agree that such a place is not very wholesome, especially so when you are compelled to stay in it day after day without being permitted to leave it for a moment. Again I wish to say that the military is not to be blamed. We are an annoyance of which they would like to be rid, but we are powerless to take the necessary steps. There is only one sensible thing to be done. We must be gotten out of their hands and amnesty alone is the solution.
In the meanwhile Kaplan, Berstein, Steiner and Greenberg were called before Lieut Col. Mc Ennery and were questioned concerning the state of their health. It
seems that someone had sent an Inquiry to the Commandant about them. They explained conditions & made it apparent that fresh-air was a crying need. They also explained why they would not take such exercise under military direction. The Lieut. Col. promised to take the matter up with the Commandent [sic]. But thus far despite Washington assurance to the Wortsmanns that we are permitted 2 hrs outdoor exercise, we have'nt yet set foot outside the 4th wing, except yesterday 4 P.M. when we were given a bath and a change of underwear. The bathroom was cleared of everyone, presumably with the purpose of keeping others from seeing or talking to us. We all enjoy the preparation and privacy.
It seems that Pres. Wilson made a speech somewhere wherein he said something about his being an ardent believer in the inviolability of individual conscience and that no man's conscience (be it ever so humble) should be coerced. He also said that he believes that the opinion of the humblest citizen should be respected and heeded. Well our President could do America a service by putting his beliefs into practice.
By the way, the peace terms offered Germany I understand are being received amidst a storm of protest from the various liberals, and by the countries having liberal tendencies. Sadly enough, the Pacifists and C.O's are being justified in every way by the opposition to war. This is not a matter over which we rejoice, but this war to establish permanent peace has established beyond the question of a doubt the inefficacy of war.
Executive Officer Lt. Col. Smith was just in and asked how many men want outdoor exercise. In order to be absolutely sure of the nature of this outdoor exercise, some of the men asked for an explanation. Col. Smith explained that it would be a regular soldier's drill; that a non-commissioned officer would instruct us. We would not be permitted to exercise according to our own inclinations. Major Taylor who is now in charge of us, explained that it would be regular soldier's drill, with marching & facing etc. No one took the
exercise. We are every trying to break away from military direction. The already control our sleeping & waking, our bathing & fresh-air, our reading and writing, our eating, in fact they practically control us physically. They have'nt succeeded however in controlling our minds but they are ever striving in that direction.
I assure you that Julius and I are feeling fine and happy, and don't worry over us. Just keep up your good work on the outside and don't spend your energies in needless and ineffective worry.
I hope this finds you all well and in good spirits. I understand that Rose is attending business school. What progress is she making and what is she studying. I wrote Anna Wenger yesterday and Irving the day before. Try to keep track of these letters. I hope you are saving all the letters we write to you for I depend upon them for the completion of my diary. It has been impossible for me to make notes here, but I have and so has Julius given you a pretty thoro account of everything that has happened so that if you saw these letter, I'll have all the necessary material for the completion of my diary. You may not know but I have three note-books full of notes in the safe keeping of various friends.
My love and regards to you, Rose, Will, Abe, Phil, Clara, baby and Mr. Marcus. Julius sends his love to all. Remember us to our friends.
Eichel, David, “Letter May 6, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 22, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/69.