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Letter February 25, 1920 David Eichel to Julius Eichel
Letter February 25, 1920 David Eichel to Julius 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.
Feb. 25, 1920 Letter [#5] by David Eichel, Fort Douglas, Utah
Dear Juluis [sic] [Eichel]:
I received your letter of the 17th, and Sam Sterenstein showed me one of the same date. I was going to speak to you about the subscription to the tribune, but I just waited for you to get settled. A good many of the boys keep asking me whether you have visited their folks, or not. If it is possible for you to do so, give me a more or less detailed account of what you have done. It would be greatly appreciated.
I notice that you say nothing in any of your letters about making an effort to obtain any employment. Is it a fact that is absolutely impossible to think of work, when you return after a period of imprisonment? I know you had planned to seek employment directly you return home. My plans, you know, were of a similar nature. I am gradually begining [sic] to modify them, in the light of your experience.
Yesterday, Schmidt and O'Hilco, with Lassen acting as interpreter for the latter, were called before Col. Graham. He again offered Schmidt and O'Hilco immediate discharges if they would only signify their willingness to go to work. They both refused, and then as in the other instance, a discussion arose between the Colonel and Lassen as to the merits of our stand. The Colonel began by asking: "Now if you were wrestling in the arena, and you were thrown down, you'd admit you were licked, wouldn't you?" "Yes."
"Well, this is the same case."
"Well Colonel this is where we disagree."
"That's just it," said the colonel. "you boys are nice fellows, and I like you; you never cause me any trouble, but it's your stubbornness; it gets you nowhere."
"Then you would say that our whole stand gets us nowhere?"
"Colonel, I've argued this matter so often, in the past, with the military, that I'm quite certain that we can never come to any agreement." This has been the same in the past. It is my whole stand. I was recognized as a Conscientious Objector, and for four months I was in camp under status. Then I was ordered to clean up the parade ground. I refused and was court-martialed for disobeying a military order. Now Colonel some of
us you know had rough sailing because of our refusal to obey military orders."
"Yes I know."
"That was at the time when there was a danger. The war was on. Colonel, I can only see this in one light. If we went to work now, we would be doing most cowardly thing. It would be taking advantage of the safety of the situation, in order to make an easy get-away. Don't you feel that yourself."
"Well I know that your mind's made up and hence I do not call you for an interview. But you explain it to the Russian boy. All that is required is that you obey -- that you admit that we have the right to ask you to work. Do you believe in the constitution?"
"Well then you know that you have disobeyed a constitutional law, and that we have a right to punish you."
"Well colonel I'm taking my punishment." Then Lassen said that we all understood the question of work; that we knew that it was only a matter of admitting our willingness to go to work.
"I can see, said the Colonel, that from your point of view you are consistent, but you are stubborn.
All thru the discussion the Colonel was as nice as he generally is.
As you know, his attitude is more like that of General Bell than any other military man. It is men like him that make you feel that even the army is a human institution.
This morning Norbe went to work. We understand that it is a matter of illness at home. The poor fellow felt miserable. I suppose the war-department feels it gained another signal victory. In most cases it has been a matter of illness at home that has compelled men to go to work. The government has been cheap enough to use so cowardly a weapon against us. They have made capital out of the misfortunes of the families of the boys. They know too well that the net of family ties is the most effective method of enslaving a rebellious spirit. I often wonder how much they actually gain. Aside from the salve their petty spirit of vengence [sic] may receive in the apparent superficial crushing of a C.O., I wonder whether the spirit of the man is not intensified: whether that ordinary spirit of independence is not turned to a burning and brooding hatred, that will someday come to the surface to someones [sic] regret.
Juluis [sic], this morning's paper brings us a piece of information that will doubtless, bring back fond memories to you and will make you regret that you are not with us. I feel it is important enough to send you a complete copy of it. Here it is:
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS TO BE TESTED FOR THEIR SANITY
Before the "conscientious objectors" who are held at Fort Douglas regain their liberty, they are to be subject to sanity tests by two mental experts who will arrive from the east in a few days, it was announced yesterday by Lieutenant Colonel Robert C. Loving of the fort.
"The government is inclined to believe," Colonel Loving said, "that a large number of these men, who refused to go to the aid of their country when any reasonable person could see that their actions absolutely ruined all prospects for their future, are not mentally sound. A scientific study is therefore to be made of their cases before they are allowed to mingle in society.
"These men subjected themselves to prison terms and a life-long disgrace for no logical reason whatever. The interned Germans are here because they were true to their country, and their confinement is without a stigma. But these cowardly individuals who disgrace the name by calling themselves Americans have no excuse, and it is up to them to prove their sanity before they are set free."
Some of the that statement made colonel Loving, while they are hardly new or original are nevertheless illuminating. For example, the statement that our confinement is an everlasting disgrace to us, but that the Germans are in no wise stigmatised [sic] by their detention, since the Germans were loyal to their country, and as Roderick says they were perfectly willing, perhaps, to kill Americans, if given an opportunity. From this it begins to be very apparent that the argument generally advanced in order to bring a person into disrepute, that he is pro-German, is a very weak one and is generally advanced for lack of a better accusation. If they could stigmatize him with the charge that he is a C.O. and refuses to kill, like all "reasonable persons", then the accused is completely disgraced.
You also notice, "that they must first establish their sanity," before they can be released. I wonder whether the officials feel that the work issue has exhausted itself, and they are now seeking a new pretence for holding us. Col. Graham, with whom Briehl spoke this morning, said that while it is true that two medical men are on their way from Washington, suggested that we discount the greater part of what is left. Of course it is possible that Col. Graham knows nothing of the purpose of the new medical
examination. It might be well to make a few inquiries.
It's remarkable how little faith the Washington officials have in their expert alienists. I must have been examined at least a half a dozen times by various experts, on each occasion declared sane and normal, and still it seems they are not convinced. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if they found me insane on this last test. "Men who accepted a long prison term and a life long disgrace for no logical reasons whatever," must be insane. But what I can't understand is why they are so much upset about the fact that "our actions absolutely ruined all prospects for our future." I never knew this to be a paternalistic government, of the Prussian type. And the implication that to prove our sanity, it was only necessary to betray a marked solicitation for our future, is a little far-fetched.
I quite forgot about the Langman incident until your letter came and spoke of it. As if by intuition, Gus came over and told what the fuss was about. I am happy that it was nothing more dreadful than that.
I received your letter no. 6 this morning. You speak in crowds, or rather you spoke of crowds. Thank the Hymans, and all the guests at the supper, for bearing me in mind. Give my kindest regards to all of them.
I was delighted to hear from Lillie and Sadie Greenfield. Why don't they drop me a line? I was equally pleased to hear from Lillie and Esther Greenfader -- that's their name, isn't it? And the same in connection with Gus and Dora Uhr.
I wrote Anna Wenger the other day. I shall write to Langman one of these days, if I should be so fortunate as to hit upon some idea or something to say. I am begining [sic] to stagnate.
Nothing more. I am well and in fine spirits.
My love and regards to all.
P.S. One of these days you ought to receive a whole post-office of mail for I have been writing regularly, and it's high time you received some of them. I this continues I shall see the Colonel about it.
I notice that I failed to acknowledge your letter of the 16th, no. 4.
David Eichel (84)
I am enclosing a picture of an old friend of ours. She comes around quite often now that the weather is mild.
Eichel, David, “Letter February 25, 1920 David Eichel to Julius Eichel ,” Conscientious Objection & the Great War: 1914-1920, accessed June 25, 2021, https://cosandgreatwar.swarthmore.edu/items/show/95.