Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought β€” George Orwell

Let us be grateful for… the suffering of patriots

Posted by metaphorical on 25 November 2006

Today in history: 1783 – The British evacuate New York, their last military position in the United States during the Revolutionary War.

On a private mailing list, Scott Marshall points out that as a consequence, thousands of British prisoners captured in the war were finally freed. Many others, unfortunately, did not live long enough to be freed. As the Fort Greene Park Conservancy points out,

In the years following the war the bones of the patriots would regularly wash up along the shores of Brooklyn and Long Island. These remains were collected by Brooklynites with the hopes of creating a permanent resting place for the remains of the brave Prison Ship Martyrs.

Several monuments were created over the years; the current one, dedicated in 1908, is in Fort Greene Park.

The backstory should be of interest to any nation that wantonly captures people and jails them without due process of law:

During the American Revolutionary War, which began in 1775, the British arrested scores of soldiers, sailors, and private citizens on both land and sea…. When the British ran out of jail space to house their POWs they began using decommissioned or damaged ships that were anchored in Wallabout Bay as floating prisons.

Life was unbearable on the prison ships, the most notorious of them being the Old Jersey – which was called “Hell” by the inhabitants. Disease was rampant, food and water were scarce or nonexistent, and the living conditions were horrendously overcrowded and wretched. If one had money they could purchase food from the many entrepreneurs who rowed up to the boat to sell their wares. Otherwise, the meager rations would consist of sawdust laden bread or watery soup.

A great number of the captives died from disease and malnutrition. Their emaciated bodies were either thrown overboard or buried in shallow graves in the sandy marshes of Wallabout Bay. Even thought the British surrendered at Yorktown Heights in 1782, the surving prisoners were not freed until 1783, when the British abandoned New York City.

Who were these prisoners?

Many were imprisoned simply because they would not swear allegiance to the Crown of England. Besides American civilians and resistance fighters, the British captured the crews of foreign ships on the high seas, especially Spanish vessels. The apprehended soldiers, sailors and civilians were deemed by the British to be prisoners of war and were incarcerated.

Sound sadly familiar? Well, at least, as the Conservancy notes, “after the war, the British Commander in charge of the Prison Ships was brought up on war crimes charges and was subsequently hanged.” Of course, it’s not the case that thousands, or even hundreds, have died in U.S. military prisons in the 21st century. But there has been torture. When, if ever, will those in charge of Gitmo and Abu Ghraib be called to account?

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