First Published: 2007-12-10

Reply: The Un-American Way of Torture

In 1776, many Americans believed in generosity to prisoners. George Washington encouraged kind treatment for Hessian prisoners, writes Brian O’Malley.


Middle East Online

Dear Editor,

In her October 9, 2007 column, The Un-American Way of Torture, Mona Eltahawy wrote of attending an anti-torture protest in America. A passerby apparently referring to detainees at Guantanamo Bay said, “So maybe we should send them all picnic baskets and flowers, then.”

In 1776, many Americans believed in generosity to prisoners. On December 25, 1776, George Washington captured several hundred Hessian mercenaries garrisoned at Trenton, New Jersey. In his book, The Day is Ours, William M. Dwyer quoted from Herbert H. Freund's translation of a journal by Johannes Reuber, one of the Hessians captured on Christmas Night at Trenton.

As the prisoners approached Philadelphia, a curious crowd gathered to view the Hessians. Some charitable souls even brought food and drink for the prisoners. A vengeful chorus, however, soon agitated the crowd: “They cried out that we ought to be hanged for coming to American to rob them of their freedom.”

The hecklers shoved aside magnanimous gift-bearers and transformed the curious crowd into an angry mob. The American guards had to rush the Hessians to safety.

Reuber added, “Later, General Washington of the Americans made a proclamation and it was posted all over the city: the Hessians were without blame and had been forced into this war. The Hessians had not come of their own free will. They should not be regarded as enemies but as friends of the American people and should be treated as such.”

According to Reuber, the change was instantaneous. “Because General Washington had full authority and he gave his honest word, it became better for us. All day long, Americans big and little, rich and poor, came to the barracks and brought us food and treated us with kindness and humanity.”

In the book Enemy Views, Bruce E. Burgoyne offered this translation of Reuber: “Old, young, rich and poor, all treated us in a friendly manner and each day we received one pound of bread and meat....”

In both translations, however, George Washington encouraged kind treatment for Hessian prisoners.

With regards,

Brian O’Malley

Atlantic Beach, Florida

United States of America


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