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Letter November 11, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents
Letter November 11, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents
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.
Letter [#24] from David Eichel, U.S.D.B., Fort Douglas, Utah
[November 10, 1919]
- Dear folks:
We have had a new diversion of late, that is the all-absorbing pursuit of taking pictures. I am sending you another dozen, which I wish you to distribute according to the names on the back of each. Have you received the first dozen? This thing is keep me rather busy. We have solved our economic problem, in the method in which we are handling this business. It is run by the whole group. The group buys the films, print paper and all the essentials for development and printing. One man directs the business, 6 men do the printing, but we have to pay a rival organization 10¢ for every film he develops for us. (The rival organization is not a very dangerous competitor as you will presently see.) I am the book-keeper and general systemizer and efficiency expert. We have thus been able to cut the price of the large pictures from five cents to two cents a piece, while the smaller pictures cost a penny each. This still leaves us a margin to pay for films and other expenses. This business however keeps me very busy. I have been devoting whole days to it. I can hardly find time to write a careful letter.
We have Phil's two letters containing communications from Adjutant General Harris. His letter of the 28th is pathetic. He pleads ignorance as to the crime committed by us, but we know he is'nt serious. The fact is he knows it only too well. Our refusal to work in jail is our offense. This comprises the unpardonable offense of a persistant [sic] refusal to take orders from military officers. In other words, 1 yr after Armistice day, the Gov't is still very eager to have us compromise in our unalterable opposition to war and conscription. To work in jail would be an admission that the gov't has a divine right to call upon us to sacrifice our lives to commit crimes without stint whenever those in power feel their honor has been outraged, their flag insulted, their freedom threatened, their independence menaced; or perhaps when their interests
are jeopardized, or their passions inflamed and blood-lust aroused; -- it would mean that our refusal to obey conscription would sanction our imprisonment by the Power's That Be. We have consistently and persistently refused to make such admission. We refuse to give to any government, no matter how benevolent and otherwise honorable, such absolute right over us. We demand the right to think and act for ourselves in all matters that concern us so personally & so vitally. We might even admit the possibility that at times we may be deceived by our own thoughts and our consequent actions may be erroneous. But we demand the right to be wrong even, but we still insist upon thinking for ourselves. This would be a saner world if people would learn to listen less to the words of wisdom of others and would indulge more in their own foolish ideas. This is essentially the very heart of the question of freedom of conscience. The government still desires to take issue with us on this point, after they had already tried such expedients as solitary confinement, shackling to bars, bread and water etc., and now "good time" the most severe of all according to D.B. regulations. Very well, we have made the fight thus far and we expect to see it thru to the finish.
The letter of Oct. 30 tells you clearly that it is a question of work and not maintaining ourselves. You will notice it says "J.E. is not performing work required of him in connection with the up-keep of the War Prison compound and his surroundings" & "hence Phil's statement was erroneous". Why of course Phil erred if he wrote that we were doing all that. Here again is an instance of the shamefully misleading character of these letters. You being ignorant of our surroundings are naturally led to conclude from the above that we occupy the whole of the War Prison barracks. The fact is that we occupy less than 1/6 of its area, while the Germans and enemy aliens occupy the remainder. You can readily understand that to aid in the up-keep of the War Prison barracks is a good deal more than maintaining ourselves; no different from work done in any other jail. He also points out that we are not taking care of our surroundings. Again this
has a very misleading effect. We do care for that part of the grounds whereon we live. Of course we cannot imagine how the Fort itself constitutes our surroundings. If I had cared, at any time in my unhappy military career, to clean and repair camp streets, or lay water mains, or build forts, I should have been home long ago, with an honorable discharge, and a comfortable sum of money with it. Now the most I can hope for, in any event, is $15.00 for a suit of clothes, (one fellow recently discharged, paid $13.00 for a miserable pair of trousers at the only store where we are permitted to spend that colossal sum) an additional ten dollars to give me a new start in life, and to complete the whole, what is intended as a crushing stigma, a dishonorable discharge for my trouble. I don't want to receive anything under false pretences [sic], and I'll do what I thing [sic] proper to earn my dishonorable discharge.
The war dept wrote Fred Briehl's wife a letter of an entirely different nature. after making the customary remarks about our conduct here it suggests with magnanimous disinterestedness that some eight of our men had decided to obey orders and as a result are in line to receive clemency. This implication is that we should all receive clemency if we went to work. What cheapness! They say nothing of the fact that these men, without exception worked at Leavenworth. In fact some of them were not even objectors. The[y] became attracted to the C.O's in jail and from continual mingling with them, were finally sent off with them when it was decided to rid Leavenworth of all C.O's and trouble makers. But aside from that, only the other day we were told by a very sane military man that our friends are not acting wisely when they keep asking Baker why some men are released and others held. I suppose it would be equally unwise and perhaps annoying to point out that quite a few, a very great number, if you please, of non-workers were released without having been made to serve good time. Perhaps I can carry such insidious? comparisons even further. I wonder what the War Dept & the administration would say if it were pointed out to them that Holland, Norway, Denmark, & Sweden tho so unfortunately situated as to be in the heart of the war, yet
was able to remain neutral, while America 2000 miles away had to become involved. The point I am trying to make is this. To justify their policy on the ground that eight men have gone to work, in the hope that our folks and friends will try to prevail upon us to do likewise, is characteristic of cheap demagogues, trying to evade an issue. They might in the same vein point out that millions went to war and are now at home. That however would not show that the administration believes in the inviolable right of conscience.
Today signalized the release of an enemy alien, reputed to be the only self-confessed spy in the compound. He is said to have poisoned American horses, on the way to the "front". This is an indication of how this system treats its various prisoners. If you are a self-confessed spy, you are released; if you are a C.O. you stay in jail, if you are an enemy alien of suspected radical tendencies you are deported, or if you consent, repatriated. Apparently it is not so dangerous to be a spy. But if you are a C.O. -- a radical enemy alien -- Wow!!!
I have received a letter from Irving Leipner and one from Langman. I may not be in a position to write them for quite a while.
We have a new censor now. The Chaplan [sic] was discharged and left last week. I don't know whether our mail is being handled as promptly as previously.
Our kindest regards & love to you, Rose, Will, Abe, Phil, Clara, baby. Remember us to our friends & relatives.
David Eichel (84)
Eichel, David, “Letter November 11, 1919 from David Eichel to Parents ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed September 22, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/72.