From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Reprisals is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Saturday Review on 26 february 1916.


Sir, — I am entirely in accord with the Saturday Review in its policy that reprisals should be threatened and, if necessary, instituted against German cities as a preventive to the hostile air raids. Critics of this measure may well be adjured to live up to their own maxim and to "play the game". It is not playing the game to mis-state a case because you happen to disagree with it. The worthy Bishops, Lord Buckmaster, Colonel Jackson, and other opponents of the measure have all insisted that its object is to kill women and children. This is nonsense. The object is to prevent women and children being killed. We have now had some thirty odd raids on England, and many hundreds of civilians have been killed. No method has been found of stopping it. It is my belief that if, after the first raid, we had solemnly protested to the whole world against so inhuman a form of warfare and given due notice that, much as we loathed it, we should be compelled in self-protection to use the same means, we might never have had a second. Thus very many of our women and children would have been saved. Even now it is not too late, for raids on a larger scale will come if we give the Germans the idea that we cannot hit back. Our restraint is, of course, ascribed by them to inability, for they could not conceive of the existence of people who, having the power to hit out in the defence of their own civilians, would refrain on account of a kind of inverted muddle-headed chivalry from doing so.

Again, we have never suggested that civilians should in any case be our mark. The proposal is that we attack Cologne, Coblentz, and the other Rhine towns, most of which are actual fortresses and all of them places on the lines of communications with railways and bridges of strategic importance. If, however, in these military operations civilians get hurt, the Germans will realise what we feel and will probably reconsider their murderous tactics. If for want of taking so obvious a precaution the raids continue, and our civilians suffer, I consider that a direct responsibility rests on all those who have discouraged our adopting the only course which seems likely to influence the enemy.

The argument that the aeroplanes are needed elsewhere will not bear examination. We have great numbers of planes for home defence. The best defence is a strong attack, and some at least of these planes could be used.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, 21 February 1916.