Orwell against mistreatment of prisoners

My last post concernted St. George as an avenger for justice, and in this month, as we process the Senate’s release of the Torture Report, another English George with similar convictions comes to mind. From an unpublished letter of George Orwell to The Times, October 12, 1942:

By chaining up German prisoners in response to similar action by the Germans, we descend, at any rate in the eyes of the ordinary observer, to the level of our enemies. It is unquestionable when one thinks of the history of the past ten years that there is a deep moral difference between democracy and Fascism, but if we go on the principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth we simply cause that difference to be forgotten. …
It seems to me that the civilized answer to the German action would be something like this: “You proclaim that you are putting thousands of British prisoners in chains because some half-dozen Germans or thereabouts were temporarily tied up during the Dieppe raid. This is disgusting hypocrisy . . .  At this moment we cannot stop you maltreating our prisoners, though we shall probably remember it at the peace settlement, but don’t fear that we shall retaliate in kind. You are Nazis, we are civilized men. This latest act of yours simply demonstrates the difference.”

The whole text can be found in Volume 2 of the Collected Essays, My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943, pp. 243-44.

This is the Orwellian sentiment that has come to my mind these past few weeks, the unpublished protest against inhumane conditions rather than the grimly satirical statements from the Ministry of Truth or the all-too-realistic portrait of Room 101.

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About Uncomely and Broken

I am a classicist in Sewanee, Tennessee.
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