The Treatment of Prisoners

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Treatment of Prisoners is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 13 april 1915.

The Treatment of Prisoners

The Times (13 april 1915)


Sir, — It is difficult to know how to act in the case of these European Red Indians who torture their prisoners. It is clear that we cannot retaliate by spitting on, kicking, beating, starving, or freezing the Germans who are in our power. All appeals to good feeling are unavailing, for the average German has no more understanding of chivalry than a cow has of mathematics. He is honestly unable to understand our attitude when we speak kindly of Von Muller, Weddigen, or any of our opponents who have shown some approach to decency. His papers ascribe it partly to sentimentality and partly to hypocrisy. I have no doubt that when German aeroplanes drove away our boats while we were endeavouring to pick up the survivors of the Blücher they were really unable to conceive what it was that we were trying to do.

It is worth noting, since they endeavour to excuse their barbarity by saying that it is a retaliation for our naval blockade, that they acted in exactly the same fashion to our prisoners before this maritime policy had been declared. The narrative of the Britain Red Cross doctors who were taken in Belgium shows that they endured a similar inhuman persecution. If there is no retaliation which we as a nation can employ there is at least one line of action which might be taken. That is to print Major Vandeleur's account with the American official reports, and such documents as the narrative in the Dutch paper Tyd of the torture of three wounded British prisoners in a frontier station in October. This paper should be officially sent, not only to all neutral countries, but it should be circulated among our soldiers in France. No man fights the worse for having his soul aflame with righteous anger, so we should use the weapon which the enemy has put into our hands. It will teach our men, also, if any of them still need the lesson, that it is far better to die upon the field than to trust to the humanity of a German victor. If our enemy is unchivalrous he is at least intensely practical, and if he realizes that we are gaining any military advantage from his misdeeds he may, perhaps, reconsider, not their morality, but their wisdom.

Yours faithfully,

Royal Pavilion Hotel, Folkestone, April 11.