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Letter November 27, 1918 from John Nevin Sayre to Editors of "The Dial"

LetterToTheEditorsOfTheDialFromSayre2.jpg

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The fourth group comprising conscientious objectors in prison is at present mainly located at the Fort Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks, where there are about 280 of these men. A few are at the Fort Jay Disciplinary Barracks on Governors Island, and there may be some others at Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay. According to the last report from Fort Leavenworth which has reached me, 25 of the conscientious objectors were in solitary confinement, in dark cells in the cellar; sleeping on the cement floor between foul blankets; forbidden to read, write or talk; fed on bread and water; manacled nine hours a day to the bars of the cell; and in some cases beaten or otherwise tortured by the guards.

This is the form of punishment for all recalcitrant prisoners, whether they are conscientious objectors or not. Originally three Russian sectarians and one orthodox Jew refused to work under military discipline because it violated their religious convictions. The torture inflicted upon them provoked a sympathetic refusal to work on the part of other conscientious objectors who believed: (1) that this system of prison punishment should be changed, and (2) that the consciences of their comrades should not be coerced.

Contrary to general belief, the men in Fort Leavenworth are not morally different from the other conscientious objectors who are now to go free. If anything, as many competent observers have testified, they are of higher quality. They include Russian sectarians, Mennonites, Socialist workmen, college students and graduates, social workers, a professor in philosophy, and a winner of a Carnegie Hero Medal. The majority of them are in prison because hasty courtmartials tried and sentenced them to 10, 15, 20 and 25 years before they even saw the Board of Inquiry. Others are in prison because, although they were adjudged sincere by the Board of Inquiry, no farm furloughs were forthcoming, and after nearly three months segregation at Fort Riley where efforts were made to compel them to take some form of noncombatant service they still refused. Upon this refusal

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