The Uses of Hatred (26 december 1917)

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

The Uses of Hatred is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 26 december 1917.

See also his second letter on the same topic: The Uses of Hatred (31 december 1917).


The Uses of Hatred

The Times (26 december 1917)



Sir, - I had occasion recently to talk with a British officer who had endured captivity in Germany. With a voice which was husky with passion, trembling with the violence of his own feelings, he told me what he and his comrades had gone through. I had read such things in cold print, but to hear them from one who had seen and felt them had an indescribable effect, I was trembling as he was before he had finished.

This officer, of senior regimental rank, a man of dignity and refinement, was taken wounded at the end of 1914. With his comrades in captivity he was starved during the long two days' journey from the front to his prison. At one spot, he thinks that it was Cologne, a soup canteen upon wheels was rolled up to their compartment in order to mock them. Still starving and suffering tortures from their wounds, they reached the town of their captivity. Weak, shaken, and unnerved, they assembled outside the station, hardly able to stand after their dreadful journey. What ensued can only be described in his own forcible words. "They kicked our behinds all the way up the street. There was not one of us who had not his behind kicked." These were British officers, honourable gentleman, many of them wounded, now helpless under circumstances which have in all ages appealed to the chivalry of the captors. And we, when a German flier is caught red-handed with his apparatus ready for the murder of the civilians of London, hurry him away that he may have a hot supper.

This officer was, as I was told by a third party, a witness of the dreadful incident of the burning hut. One of the huts in the prison camp took fire. It was night, and the door had been locked on the outside. The key could not be found. One of the inmates, a sailor, tried to get out through the narrow window. The sentry of the hut rushed forward. The prisoners who were spectators thought that he was about to draw the man through. What he actually did was to pass his bayonet through the sailor's throat. I am told that the horrified onlookers dropped on their knees, men of all the Allied countries, and swore to God that so long as they lived they would never show mercy to any man of German blood. Can we blame them ? Would we not have felt the same ?

Why should we recall these incidents ? It is because Hate has its uses in war, as the Germans have long discovered. It steels the mind and sets the resolution as no other emotion can do. So much do they feel this that the Germans are constrained to invent all sorts of reasons for hatred against us, who have in truth never injured them in any way save that history and geography both place us between them and their ambitions. To nourish hatred they invent every lie against us, and so they attain a certain national solidity. We have the true reasons for this emotion, we have suffered incredible things from a foe who is void of all chivalry and humanity. Yet though we have this material we do little to use it and to spread it. How powerful it is can best be told by looking into our own hearts. Many of us could conceive of a peace which included some compromise upon frontiers, so long as Belgium was intact. Many also would be content to sacrifice Russia, if she persisted in her treason. But not one who knows the facts but would fight to the last gasp in order to ensure stern justice being done to the murderers of our women and to the men who tortured our helpless prisoners.

What then should we do ? We should have a statement drawn up, not coldly official but humanly loosing, signed by the officers who saw and endured these things. This document should be translated into German and put under the nose of every prisoner in England, that they may at least appreciate the contrast in the culture of the two countries. At present we are so pedantically correct in our treatment of these prisoners that when at an earlier stage of the war I made the suggestion that we place a copy of "J'accuse" in every prison, it was refused on the grounds that it was against international law to proselytise prisoners. This was about the time when Casement and the Germans were trying to starve the Irish prisoners into enlistment against Great Britain.

This statement should be served out broadcast in our munition shops and among our troops.

The munition workers have many small vexations to endure, and their nerves get sadly frayed. They need strong elemental emotions to carry them on. Let pictures be made of these and other incidents. Let them be hung in every shop. Let them he distributed thickly in the Sinn Fein districts of Ireland, and in the hotbeds of Socialism and Pacifism in England and Scotland. The Irishman has always been a man of chivalrous nature, and I cannot believe that even the wrongheaded Sinn Feiner has got down to the level of his allies of Prussia and Turkey. Let his eyes rest upon the work of his friends and perhaps he will realize more clearly how he stands, and the position which he has taken up in the world's fight for freedom. The bestiality of the German nation has given us a driving power which we are not using, and which would be very valuable in this stage of the war. Scatter the facts. Put them in red-hot fashion. Do not preach to the solid South, who need no conversion, but spread the propaganda wherever there are signs of enemy intrigues, on the Tyne, the Clyde, in the Midlands, above all in Ireland and in French Canada. Let us pay no attention so platitudinous Bishops or gloomy Deans, or any other superior people who preach against retaliation or whole-hearted warfare. We have to win and we can only win by keeping up the spirit and resolution of our own people.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough. Sussex.