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Title: The Case of Edith Cavell - A Study of the Rights of Non-Combatants
Author: Beck, James M., 1861-1936
Language: English
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Case of Edith Cavell.

A Study of the Rights
of Non-Combatants.



_Former Assistant Attorney-General of the United States,
and Author of "The Evidence in the Case."_

(_Reprinted from "New York Times."_)



A Reply to Dr. Albert Zimmermann, Germany's
Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs.


_Former Assistant Attorney-General of the United States, and Author of
"The Dual Alliance v. The Triple Entente," and "The Evidence in the Case."_

_Mr. Beck, who is one of the leaders of the New York Bar, is the author
of the most widely read article written since the war began, entitled:
"The Dual Alliance v. The Triple Entente," which was subsequently
expanded into a book, called "The Evidence in the Case," pronounced by a
distinguished publicist to be "the classic of the war." After its
publication in THE NEW YORK TIMES this article was reprinted in nearly
every language of the civilized nations and over a million copies of it
were published._

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

Those who have regarded the Supreme Court of Civilization--meaning
thereby the moral sentiment of the world--as a mere rhetorical phrase
or an idle illusion should take note how swiftly that court--sitting now
as one of criminal assize--has pronounced sentence upon the murderers of
Edith Cavell. The swift vengeance of the world's opinion has called to
the bar General Baron von Bissing, and in executing him with the
lightning of universal execration has forever degraded him.

Baron von der Lancken may possibly escape general obloquy, for his part
in the crime was no greater than that of Pilate, who sought to wash his
hands of innocent blood; but von Bissing will enjoy "until the last
syllable of recorded time" the unenviable fame of Judge Jeffreys. He,
too, was an able Judge and probably believed that he was executing
justice, but because he did not execute it in mercy, but with a ferocity
that has made his name a synonym for judicial tyranny, the world has
condemned him to lasting infamy, and this notwithstanding the fact that
he was made Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Lord High Chancellor of
England, and a peer of the realm. All these titles are forgotten. Only
that of "Bloody Jeffreys" remains.

Similarly, if his master shall be pleased to honor General Baron von
Bissing with the iron cross for his action in the case of Miss Cavell,
as the Kaiser honored the Captain of the submarine which destroyed the
Lusitania--and what order could be more appropriate in both cases than
the cross, which recalls how another innocent victim of judicial tyranny
was sacrificed?--then even the Order of the Iron Cross will not save von
Bissing from lasting obloquy. I do not question that he acted according
to his lights and shared with Dr. Albert Zimmermann great "surprise"
that the world should make such a sensation about the murder of one
woman. Trajan once said that the possession of absolute power had a
tendency to transform even the most humane man into a wild beast, and
Judge Black in his great argument in the case of _ex parte_ Milligan
recalled the fact that Robespierre in his early life resigned his
commission as Judge rather than pronounce the sentence of death, and
that Caligula passed as a very amiable young man before he assumed the
imperial purple. The story is as old as humanity that the appetite for
blood, or at least the habit of murder, "grows by what it feeds upon."

The murder of Miss Cavell was one of exceptional brutality and
stupidity. It never occurred to her judges that her murder would add an
army corps to the forces of the Allies and that every English soldier
will fight more bravely because of her shining example. So little was
this appreciated either in Brussels or Berlin that the German Foreign
Office, in its official apology for the crime, issued over the signature
of Herr Doctor Albert Zimmermann, Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs,
expresses its surprise

     _that the shooting of an Englishwoman and the condemnation of
     several women in Brussels for treason have caused a sensation._

What extraordinary moral naïveté! How could they appreciate that after
the firing squad had done its work and the body of the woman had been
given hasty burial the victim's virtues would

      "plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
    The deep damnation of her taking off;
    And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
    Striding the blast, or Heaven's cherubim, horsed
    Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
    Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
    That tears shall drown the wind."

This happened with incredible rapidity, and the Kaiser made haste to
respite the eight other intended victims--two of them being also
women--and the Berlin Foreign Office also issued to the world its
defense of its action.

It began with an expression of "pity that Miss Cavell had to be
executed," but the sincerity of this pity can be measured by the fact
that concurrently with Dr. Zimmermann's official apology there came from
Berlin an "inspired" supplemental explanation, which sought to
depreciate the character and services of the dead nurse by stating "that
she earned a living by nursing, _charging fees within the means of the
wealthy only_."

The world has an abundant refutation of this cruel and cowardly slur
upon the memory of a dead woman, for one who first hazarded her life and
then gave it freely to save the lives of others--for such was the charge
for which she died--is not a woman to restrict her gracious
ministrations of mercy for mercenary motives.

The Kaiser has been swift to see the deadly injury to his cause of this
latest evidence of military tyranny. Not only has he respited Miss
Cavell's alleged accomplices--as if to say with Macbeth, "thou canst not
say I did it"--but it is said that he has summoned von Bissing and von
der Lancken to explain their actions in the matter, but as the Kaiser is
responsible for the invasion of Belgium and has hitherto condoned its
attendant horrors, he can no more absolve himself from some share of
responsibility than could Macbeth disavow his responsibility for the
deeds of his two hirelings.

_The stain of this murder rests upon Prussian militarism and not upon
the German people_, for it should not be forgotten that possibly the
most chivalrous act which has happened since the beginning of the war,
was the erection by a German community, where a detention camp was
maintained, of a statue to the French and English soldiers who had died
in captivity, with the beautiful inscription:

     "To our Comrades, who here died for their dear Fatherland."

What could be more chivalrous or present a greater contrast to the
assassination of Miss Cavell?

We are advised by Dr. Zimmermann that Miss Cavell was given a fair trial
and was justly convicted, but as the proceedings of the trial were not
public and as Miss Cavell was denied knowledge in advance of the trial
of the nature of the charges against her, _and as we know little of the
circumstances of her alleged offense except the reports of her judges
and executioners_, the world will be somewhat incredulous as to whether
the trial was as just to the accused as Dr. Zimmermann would have us

The difficulty with this assurance is that the German conception of what
is a fair trial differs from that which prevails in Anglo-Saxon
countries, just as the German word "Gerechtigkeit" does not convey the
same mental or moral conception as the English word "justice."
"Gerechtigkeit" means little more to the Teutonic mind than the exercise
of the power of the State, and claims no further sanction than its
authority. In England, France, and the United States the idea of justice
is that an individual has certain fundamental and inalienable rights
which even the State cannot override, and none of these fundamental
rights have been more highly valued in the evolution of English liberty
than the rights of a defendant who is charged with crime. Whether guilty
or not guilty, he cannot be arrested without a judicial warrant on proof
of probable cause; he may not be compelled to testify against himself;
he is entitled to a speedy trial and shall be informed in advance
thereof of the exact nature of the accusation; his trial shall be public
and open, and he shall be confronted with the witnesses against him and
have compulsory process for his own defense; in advance of trial he
shall have permission to select his own counsel, and shall have the
opportunity to confer freely with him.

_Most of these fundamental rights were denied to Miss Cavell._

It is difficult to understand why, in view of the policy of terrorism,
which has prevailed in Belgium from the time that the invader first
crossed its frontier, the justice from the standpoint of military law
should be referred to in Herr Zimmermann's defense. In the official
textbook of the General Staff of the German Army the definite policy of
terrorizing a conquered country is proclaimed as a military theory. Its
leading axiom is that

     "a war conducted with energy cannot be directed merely against the
     combatants of the enemy State and the positions they occupy, _but
     it will and must in like manner seek to destroy the total
     intellectual and material resources of the latter_. Humanitarian
     claims, such as the protection of men and their goods, can only be
     taken into consideration in so far as the nature and object of the
     war permit. Consequently the argument of war permits every
     belligerent State _to have recourse to all means which enable it to
     obtain the object of the war_."

Miss Cavell's fate only differs from that of hundreds of Belgium women
and children in that she had the pretense of a trial and presumably had
trespassed against military law, while other victims of the rape of
Belgium were ruthlessly killed in order to effect a speedy subjugation
of the territory. The question of the guilt or innocence of each
individual was a matter of no importance. Hostages were taken and not
for the alleged wrongs of others.

Did not General von Bülow on August 22nd announce to the inhabitants of
Liège that

     "_it is with my consent that the General in command has burned down
     the place [Andenne] and shot about 100 inhabitants._"

It was the same chivalrous and humane General who posted a proclamation
at Namur on August 25th as follows:

     "Before 4 o'clock all Belgian and French soldiers are to be
     delivered up as prisoners of war. Citizens who do not obey this
     will be condemned to hard labor for life in Germany. At 4 o'clock a
     rigorous inspection of all houses will be made. _Every soldier
     found will be shot._ * * * _The streets will be held by German
     guards, who will hold ten hostages for each street. These hostages
     will be shot if there is any trouble in that street._ * * * A crime
     against the German Army will compromise the existence of the whole
     town of Namur _and every one in it_."

Did not Field Marshal von der Goltz issue a proclamation in Brussels, on
October 5th, stating that, if any individual disturbed the telegraphic
or railway communications, all the inhabitants would be "_punished
without pity, the innocent suffering with the guilty_"?

Individual guilt being thus a matter of minor importance, Dr. Zimmermann
had no occasion on the accepted theory of Prussian militarism to justify
the secret trial and midnight execution of Edith Cavell. Indeed, he
freely intimates that his Government will not spare women, no matter how
high and noble the motive may have been which inspires any infraction of
military law, and to this sweeping statement he makes but one exception,
namely, that women "in a delicate condition may not be executed." But
why the exception? If it be permitted to destroy one life for the
welfare of the military administration of Belgium, why stop at two? If
the innocent living are to be sacrificed, why spare the unborn? The
exception itself shows that the rigor of military law must have some
limitation, and that its iron rigor must be softened by a discretion
dictated by such considerations of chivalry and magnanimity as have
hitherto been observed by all civilized nations. If the victim of
yesterday had been an "expectant mother," Dr. Zimmermann suggests that
her judges and executioners would have spared her, but no such exception
can be found in the Prussian military code. "It is not so nominated in
the bond," and the Under Secretary's recognition of one exception, based
upon considerations of humanity and not the letter of the military code,
destroys the whole fabric of his case, _for it clearly shows that there
was a power of discretion which von Bissing could have exercised, if he
had so elected_.

That her case had its claims not only to magnanimity, but even to
military justice, is shown by the haste with which, in the teeth of
every protest, the unfortunate woman was hurried to her end. Sentenced
at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, she was executed nine hours later. Of
what was General Baron von Bissing afraid? She was in his custody. Her
power to help her country--save by dying--was forever at an end. The hot
haste of her execution and the duplicity and secrecy which attended it
betray an unmistakable fear that if her life had been spared until the
world could have known of her death sentence, public opinion would have
prevented this cruel and cowardly deed. The labored apology of Dr.
Zimmermann and the swift action of the Kaiser in pardoning those who
were condemned with Miss Cavell indicate that the Prussian officials
have heard the beating of the wings of those avenging angels of history
who, like the Eumenides of classic mythology, are the avengers of the
innocent and the oppressed.

"_Greatness_," wrote Aeschylus, "_is no defense from utter destruction
when a man insolently spurns the mighty altar of justice_."

This is as true to-day as when it was written more than two thousand
years ago. It is but a classic echo of the old Hebraic moral axiom that
"the Lord God of recompenses shall surely requite."

The most powerful and self-willed ruler of modern times learned this
lesson to his cost. Probably no two instances contributed so powerfully
to the ultimate downfall of Napoleon as his ruthless assassination under
the forms of military law of the Duke d'Enghien and the equally brutal
murder of the German bookseller, Palm. The one aroused the undying
enmity of Russia, and the blood that was shed in the moat of Vincennes
was washed out in the icy waters of the Beresina. The fate of the poor
German bookseller, whom Napoleon caused to be shot because his writing
menaced the security of French occupation, developed as no other event
the dormant spirit of German nationality, and the Nuremberg bookseller,
shot precisely as was Miss Cavell, was finally avenged when Blücher gave
Napoleon the _coup de grâce_ at Waterloo. No one more clearly felt the
invisible presence of his Nemesis than did Napoleon. All his life, and
even in his confinement at St. Helena, he was ceaselessly attempting to
justify to the moral conscience of the world his ruthless assassination
of the last Prince of the house of Condé. The terrible judgment of
history was never better expressed than by Lamartine in the following

     "A cold curiosity carries the visitor to the battlefields of
     Marengo, Austerlitz, Wagram, Leipsic, Waterloo; he wanders over
     them with dry eyes, but one is shown at a corner of the wall near
     the foundations of Vincennes, at the bottom of a ditch, a spot
     covered with nettles and weeds. He says, 'There it is!' He utters a
     cry and carries away with him undying pity for the victim and an
     implacable resentment against the assassin. This resentment is
     vengeance for the past and a lesson for the future. _Let the
     ambitious, whether soldiers, tribunes, or kings, remember that if
     they have hirelings to do their will, and flatterers to excuse
     them while they reign, there yet comes afterward a human conscience
     to judge them and pity to hate them. The murderer has but one hour;
     the victim has eternity._"

At the outbreak of the war Miss Cavell was living with her aged mother
in England. Constrained by a noble and imperious sense of duty, she
exchanged the security of her native country for her post of danger in
Brussels. "My duty is there," she said simply.

She reached Brussels in August, 1914, and at once commenced her
humanitarian work. When the German army entered the gates of Brussels,
she called upon Governor von Luttwitz and placed her staff of nurses at
the services of the wounded under whatever flag they had fought. The
services which she and her staff of nurses rendered many a wounded and
dying German should have earned for her the generous consideration of
the invader.

But early in these ministrations of mercy she was obliged by the noblest
of humanitarian motives to antagonize the German invaders. Governor von
Luttwitz demanded of her that all nurses should give formal
undertakings, when treating wounded French or Belgian soldiers, to act
as jailers to their patients, but Miss Cavell answered this unreasonable
demand by simply saying: "We are prepared to do all that we can to help
wounded soldiers to recover, but to be their jailers--never."

On another occasion, when appealing to a German Brigadier-General on
behalf of some homeless women and children, the Prussian martinet--half
pedant and half poltroon--answered her with a quotation from Nietzsche
to the effect that "Pity is a waste of feeling--a moral parasite
injurious to the health." She early felt the cruel and iron will of the
invader, but, nothing daunted, she proceeded in the arduous work,
supervised the work of three hospitals, gave six lectures on nursing a
week and responded to many urgent appeals of individuals who were in
need of immediate relief. "Others she saved, herself she could not

When one of her associates, Miss Mary Boyle O'Reilly, who has recently
contributed a moving account of Miss Cavell's work, was expelled from
Belgium, she begged Miss Cavell to take the opportunity, while it
presented itself, to leave that land of horror, and Miss Cavell, with
characteristic bravery, replied smilingly: "Impossible, my friend, my
duty is here."

It was undoubtedly in connection with this humanitarian work that she
violated the German military law by giving refuge to fugitive French and
Belgian soldiers until such time as they could escape across the
frontier to Holland. For this she suffered the penalty of death, and the
validity of this sentence, even under Prussian military law, I will
discuss later. It is enough to say that no instinct is so natural in
every man and woman, and especially in woman with the maternal instinct
characteristic of her sex, than to give a harbor of refuge to the
helpless. All nations have respected this instinctive feeling as one of
the redeeming traits of human nature and the history of war, at least in
modern times, can be searched in vain for any instance in which anyone,
especially a woman, has been condemned to death for yielding to the
humanitarian impulse of giving temporary refuge to a fugitive soldier.
Such an act is neither espionage nor treason, as those terms have been
ordinarily understood in civilized countries.

It is true, as suggested by a few in America who sought to excuse the
Cavell crime, that Mrs. Surratt was tried, condemned and executed
because she had permitted the band of assassins, whose conspiracy
resulted in the assassination of Lincoln and the attempted murder of
Secretary Seward, to hold their meetings in her house; but the
difference between this conscious participation in the assassination of
the head of the State, in a period of civil war, and the humanitarian
aid which Miss Cavell gave to fugitive soldiers to save them from
capture is manifest. I am assuming that Miss Cavell did give such
protection to her compatriots, for all accessible information supports
this view, and if so, however commendable her motive and heroic her
conduct, she certainly was guilty of an infraction of military law,
which justified some punishment and possibly her forcible detention
during the period of the war.

To regard her execution as an ordinary incident of war is an affront to
civilization, and as it is symptomatic of the Prussian occupation of
Belgium and not a sporadic incident, it acquires a significance which
justifies a full recital of this black chapter of Prussianism. It
illustrates the reign of terror which has existed in Belgium since the
German occupation.

When the German Chancellor made his famous speech in the Reichstag on
August 4th, 1914, and admitted at the bar of the world the crime which
was then being initiated, he said:

     "The wrong--I speak openly--that we are committing we will endeavor
     to make good as soon as our military goal has been reached."

Within a few weeks the military goal was reached by the seizure of
practically all of Belgium and by the voluntary surrender of Brussels to
the invader, and since then, for a period of fourteen months, the
Belgian people have been subjected to a state of tyranny for which it
would be difficult to find a parallel, unless we turned to the history
of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth Century and recalled its occupation
by the Duke of Alva. It must be said in candor that the Prussian
occupation of Belgium has not yet caused as many victims as the "Bloody
Council" of the Duke of Alva, for the estimated number of
non-combatants, who have been shot in Belgium during the last fourteen
months, is only 6,000 as against the 18,000 whom it is estimated the
Duke of Alva mercilessly put to death.

It may also be the fact that the present oppression of Belgium is marked
by some approach to the forms of law; but it may be doubted whether the
difference is not more in appearance than in reality, for the
administration of law in Belgium has been a mockery. Of this there can
be no more striking or detailed proof than the protest which was
presented to the German authorities on February 17th, 1915, by M. Léon
Théodor, the head of the Brussels bar. The truth of this formal
accusation may be fairly measured by the strong probability that the
brave leader of the Brussels bar would never have ventured to have made
the statements hereinafter referred to to the German Military Governor
unless he was reasonably sure of his facts. What he said on behalf of
the bar of Brussels was said in the shadow of possible death, and if he
had consciously or deliberately maligned the Prussian administration of
justice in this open and specific manner, he assuredly took his life
into his hands. This brave and noble document will forever remain one of
the gravest indictments of German misrule, and as it states, on the
authority of one who was in a position to know, the details of the
savage tyranny which masqueraded under the forms of law, it is appended,
with some condensation, to this article.

After stating the fact "that everything about the German judicial
organisation in Belgium is contrary to the principles of law," and after
showing that Belgian civilians were punished for the violations of law
which had never been proclaimed and of which, therefore, they knew
nothing, the distinguished President of the Order of Advocates says:

     "_This absence of certainty is not only the negation of all the
     principles of law; it weighs on the mind and on the conscience; it
     bewilders one, it seems to be a permanent menace for all, and the
     danger is all the more real, because these courts permit neither
     public nor defensive procedure, nor do they permit the accused to
     receive any communication regarding his case, nor is any right of
     defense assured him._

     "This is arbitrary injustice; the Judge left to himself, that is,
     to his impressions, his prejudices, and his surroundings. This is
     abandoning the accused in his distress, to grapple alone with his
     all-powerful adversary.

     "This justice uncontrolled, and consequently without guarantee,
     constitutes for us the most dangerous and oppressive of
     illegalities. _We cannot conceive justice as a judicial or moral
     possibility without free defense._

     "Free defense, that is, light thrown on all the elements of the
     suit; public sentiment being heard in the bosom of the judgment
     hall, the right to say everything in the most respectful manner,
     and also the courage to dare everything, these must be put at the
     service of the unfortunate one, of justice and law.

     "It is one of the greatest conquests of our history. It is the
     keystone of our individual liberty.

     "_What are your sources of information?_

     "Besides the judges, the men of the Secret Service and the
     denouncers (in French: 'délateurs').

     "The Secret Service men in civilian clothes, not bearing any
     insignia, mixing with the crowds in the street, in the cafés, on
     the platforms of street cars, listen to the conversations carried
     on around them, ready to grasp any secret, on the watch not only
     for acts but for intentions.

     "These denouncers of our nation are ever multiplying. _What
     confidence can be placed in their declarations, inspired by hate,
     spite, or low cupidity?_ Such assistants can bring to the cause of
     justice no useful collaboration.

     "If we add to this total absence of control and of defense, these
     preventive arrests, the long detentions, the searches in the
     private domiciles, _we shall have an almost complete idea of the
     moral tortures to which our aspirations, our convictions, and our
     liberties are subjected at the present time_. * * *

     "Will it be said that we are living under martial law: that we are
     submitting to the hard necessities of war: that all should give way
     before the superior interests of your armies?

     "_I can understand martial law for armies in the field. It is the
     immediate reply to an aggression against the troops, repression
     without words, the summary justice of the commander of the army
     responsible for his soldiers._

     "_But our armies are far away; we are no longer in the zone of
     military operations. Nothing here menaces your troops, the
     inhabitants are calm._

     "The people have taken up work again. You have bidden them do it.
     Each one devotes himself, Magistrates, Judges, officials of the
     provinces and cities, the clergy, all are at their post, united in
     one outburst of national interest and brotherhood.

     "However, this calm does not mean that they have forgotten.

     "The Belgian people lived happily in their corner of the earth,
     confident in their dream of independence. They saw this dream
     dispelled, they saw their country ruined and devastated, its
     ancient hospitable soil has been sown with thousands of tombs where
     our own sleep; the war has made tears flow which no hand can dry.
     _No, the murdered soul of Belgium will never forget._

     "But this nation has a profound respect for its duty. It will
     always respect it.

     "Has not the hour come to consider as closed the period of invasion
     and to substitute for the measures of exception the rules of
     occupation as defined by international law and the treaty of The
     Hague, which sets a limit to the occupying power and imposes
     obligations on the country occupied?

     "Has not the hour arrived to restore the Court House to the
     judiciary corps? The military occupation of the Court House is a
     violation of the treaty of The Hague.

     "Among the moral forces does one exist that is superior to justice?
     Justice dominates them all. _As ancient as humanity itself, eternal
     as the need of man and nations to be and to feel protected, it is
     the basis of all civilization._ The arts and sciences are its
     tributaries. Religious creeds live and prosper in its shadow. Is it
     not a religion in itself?

     "Belgium raised a magnificent temple to Justice in its capital.

     "This temple, which is our pride, has been converted into barracks
     for the German soldiers. A small part of it, becoming smaller every
     day, is reserved for the courts. The Magistrates and lawyers have
     access to it by a small private staircase.

     "Sad as are the conditions under which they are called to
     administer justice, the Judges have decided, nevertheless, to sit.
     The Bar has co-operated with them. Accustomed to live in an
     atmosphere of deference and of dignity, they do not recognize
     themselves in this sort of guard-room, and, in fact, justice
     surrounded with so little respect, is it still justice?"

As this dignified and noble protest did not lead to any amelioration of
the harsh conditions, a month later the same brave jurist, M. Léon
Théodor, appeared in Brussels before the so-called "German Court of
Justice" and, in behalf of the entire Magistracy of Belgium, addressed
to the Prussian Military Judges the following poignantly pathetic and
nobly dignified address, which met with the same reception as the
preceding communication.

The address reads as follows:

     "I present myself at the Bar, escorted by the Counsel of the Order,
     surrounded by the sympathy and the confidence of all my colleagues
     of Brussels, and I might add of all the Bars of the country. The
     Bars of Liège, Ghent, Charleroi, Mons, Louvain, Antwerp have sent
     to that of Brussels the expression of their professional solidarity
     and have declared that they adhere to the resolutions taken by the
     Counsel of the Order of Brussels. * * *

     "We are not annexed. We are not conquered. We are not even
     vanquished. Our army is fighting. Our colors float alongside those
     of France, England and Russia. The country subsists. She is simply
     unfortunate. More than ever, then, we now owe ourselves to her body
     and soul. To defend her rights is also to fight for her.

     "We are living hours now as tragic as any country has ever known.
     All is destruction and ruin around us. Everywhere we see mourning.
     Our army has lost half of its effective force. Its percentage in
     dead and wounded will never be obtained by any of the belligerents.
     There remains to us only a corner of ground over there by the sea.
     The waters of the Yser flow through an immense plain peopled by the
     dead. It is called the Belgian Cemetery. There sleep our children
     by the thousands. There they are sleeping their last sleep. The
     struggle goes on bitterly and without mercy.

     "Your sons, Mr. President, are at the front; mine as well. For
     months we have been living in anxiety regarding the morrow.

     "Why these sacrifices, why this sorrow? _Belgium could have avoided
     these disasters, saved her existence, her treasures, and the life
     of her children, but she preferred her honor._"

Not long after this second protest, M. Léon Théodor was arrested,
deported to Germany and if now living, is suffering imprisonment for the
offense of defending the oppressed civilian population from a system of
espionage, drumhead courts-martial and secret executions, which in their
malignity should excite the professional jealousy of Danton, Marat and
Robespierre. It was in this manner that the lofty promise of the German
Chancellor that his country would make good the wrong done to Belgium
has been kept.

Such was the condition of affairs in Belgium when Edith Cavell was
arrested on August 5th, 1915.

About the same time some thirty-five other prisoners were similarly
arrested by the military authorities, _two-thirds of whom were women_.

The arrest was evidently a secret one for it is obvious that for a time
Miss Cavell's friends knew nothing of her whereabouts. Even the American
Legation, which had assumed the care of British citizens in Belgium,
apparently knew nothing of Miss Cavell's whereabouts until it learned
after a second inquiry the fact of her arrest and the place of her
imprisonment from the German Civil Governor of Belgium on September
12th, 1915.

As Miss Cavell was a well-known personage in Brussels, it is altogether
unlikely that the fact of her arrest and imprisonment would have been
unknown to the American Legation in Brussels if the fact of her arrest
had been a matter of public information on August 5th or shortly
thereafter. In other words, if the arrest had been an open and notorious
one, it seems to me unlikely that the American Embassy would have been
wholly without information on the subject and when the friends of Miss
Cavell found an opportunity to send some information as to her
disappearance to the British Foreign Office, it seems unlikely that they
would not have given more specific details.

Evidently some information had reached the Foreign Office as to Miss
Cavell's disappearance, for on August 26th Sir Edward Grey requested the
American Ambassador in London to ascertain through the American Legation
in Brussels whether it was true that Miss Cavell had been arrested, and
it seems clear from the diplomatic correspondence that the American
Legation at Brussels knew nothing of the matter until it received this
inquiry from the American Ambassador in London. The fact of her arrest
by the German military authorities must have been known, but the place
of her imprisonment and the nature of the charges against her were
apparently withheld.

This feature of the case and the manner in which Mr. Brand Whitlock, the
American Minister, was prevented from rendering any effective aid to
Miss Cavell, presents one aspect of the tragedy which especially
concerns the honor and dignity of the United States and should receive
its swift and effectual recognition.

Her secret trial and hurried execution was a studied affront to the
American Minister at Brussels, and therefore to the American nation. It
is true that in all he did to save her life he was acting in behalf of
and for the benefit of Great Britain, whose interests the United States
Government has taken over in Belgium; but this cannot affect the fact
that when Brand Whitlock intervened in behalf of the prisoner, sought to
secure her a fair trial, and prevent her execution, and especially when
he asked her life as a favor in return for the services our country had
rendered Germany and German subjects in the earlier days of the war, _he
spoke as an American and as the diplomatic representative of the United

So secret was Miss Cavell's arrest and so sinister the methods whereby
her end was compassed, that the American Minister in Belgium was obliged
to write on August 31st to Baron von der Lancken, the German Civil
Governor of Belgium, and ask whether it was true that she was under
arrest. _To this the German Military Governor did not even deign to make
a reply, although it was clearly a matter of life and death._

The discourtesy of such silence to a great and friendly nation needs no
comment, and will simply serve to remind the American people that
Germany has never yet replied to another request of the United States
that Germany disavows the massacre of nearly 200 American men, women,
and children on the Lusitania.

Not hearing from Baron von der Lancken, our Minister on September 10th
again wrote to him and again asked for a reply. He asked for the
opportunity "_to take up the defense of Miss Cavell with the least
possible delay_." To this, Baron Lancken deigned to reply by an ex parte
statement that Miss Cavell had admitted

     "having concealed in her house various English and French soldiers,
     as well as Belgians of military age, all anxious to proceed to the
     front. She also acknowledged having supplied these soldiers with
     the funds necessary to proceed to the front and having facilitated
     their departure from Belgium by finding guides to assist them in
     clandestinely crossing the frontier."

The Baron further answered that her defense had been intrusted to an
advocate by the name of Braun, "_who is already in touch with the proper
German authorities_," and added:

     "In view of the fact that the Department of the Governor General
     _as a matter of principle_ does not allow accused persons to have
     any interviews whatever, I much regret my inability to procure for
     M. de Leval permission to visit Miss Cavell as long as she is in
     solitary confinement."

It will thus be seen and will hereafter appear more fully that in
advance of her trial Miss Cavell was kept in solitary confinement and
was denied any opportunity to confer with counsel in order to prepare
her defense. Her communication with the outside world was wholly cut
off, with the exception of a few letters, which she was permitted to
write under censorship to her assistants in the school for nurses, and
it is probable that in this way the fact of her imprisonment first
became known to her friends.

The fact remains that the desire of the American Minister to have
counsel see her with a view to the selection of such counsel as Miss
Cavell might desire, was refused, and even the counsel whom the German
Military Court permitted to act, was denied any opportunity to see his
client until the trial. The counsel in question was a M. Braun, a
Belgian advocate of recognised standing, but for some reason, which does
not appear, he was unable or declined to act for Miss Cavell and he
secured for her defense another Belgian lawyer, whose name was Kirschen.
According to credible information, Kirschen was a German by birth,
although a naturalized Belgian subject and a member of the Brussels bar,
but it will hereafter appear that the steps which he took to keep the
American Legation--the one possible salvation for Miss Cavell--advised
as to the progress of events, were to say the least peculiar.

Except for the explanations made by the German Civil Governor, we know
very little as to what defense, if any, Miss Cavell made. From one of
the inspired sources comes the statement that she freely admitted her
guilt, and from her last interview with the English clergyman it would
appear that she probably did admit some infraction of military law. But
from another German source we learn the following:

     "During the trial in the Senate Chamber the accused, almost without
     exception, gave the impression of persons _cleverly simulating
     naïve innocence_. It was not a mere coincidence that two-thirds of
     the accused were women.

     "The Englishwoman, Edith Cavell, who has already been executed,
     declared that she had believed as an Englishwoman that she ought to
     do her country service _by giving lodgings in her house to soldiers
     and recruits who were in peril_. She naturally denied that she had
     drawn other people into destruction by inducing them to harbor
     refugees when her own institute was overtaxed."

From this meagre information we can only infer that Miss Cavell did
admit that she had sheltered some soldiers and recruits who were in
peril, and while this undoubtedly constituted a grave infraction of
military law, yet it does not present in a locality far removed from the
actual war zone a case either of espionage or high treason, and is of
that class of offenses which have always been punished on the highest
considerations of humanity and chivalry and with great moderation.

The difficulty is that the world is not yet fully informed what defense,
if any, Miss Cavell made, or whether an adequate opportunity was given
her to make any. The whole proceeding savours of the darkness of the
mediaeval Inquisition.

We have already seen that even if Miss Cavell's counsel, M. Kirschen,
endeavored in good faith to make an adequate defense in her behalf, it
was impossible for him to see her in advance of the trial, and M.
Kirschen admitted this when he explained to the legal counsel of the
American Embassy that

     "lawyers defending prisoners before a German Military Court were
     not allowed to see their clients before trial and were not
     permitted to see any document of the prosecution."

It is true that M. Kirschen so far defends the trial accorded to Miss
Cavell as to say

     "that the hearing of the trial of such cases is carried out very
     carefully and that in his opinion, although it was not possible to
     see the client before the trial, in fact the trial itself developed
     itself so carefully and so slowly that it was generally possible to
     have a fair knowledge of all the facts and to present a good
     defense for the prisoner. This would especially be the case of Miss
     Cavell, because the trial would be rather long, _as she was
     prosecuted with 34 other prisoners_."

This explanation of M. Kirschen is amazing to any lawyer who is familiar
with the defense of men who are charged with a crime. Here was a case
of life and death and the counsel for the defense intimates that he can
adequately defend the prisoner at the bar without being previously
advised as to the nature of the charges or obtaining an opportunity to
confer with his client before the testimony begins.

Still more remarkable is his explanation that as his client was to be
tried with 34 others, the opportunity for a defense would be especially
ample. As the writer had the honor for some years to be a prosecuting
attorney for the United States Government and therefore has some
familiarity with the trial of criminal causes, his opinion may possibly
have some value in suggesting that the complexity of different issues
when tried together, and the difficulty of distinguishing between
various testimony, naturally increases with the simultaneous trial of a
large number of defendants. Where each defendant is tried separately,
the full force of the testimony for or against him can be weighed to
some advantage, but where such evidence is intermingled and confused by
the simultaneous trial of 34 separate issues, it is obvious, with the
fallibility of human memory, that the separate testimony against each
particular defendant cannot be fully weighed.

The trial was apparently a secret one in the sense that it was a closed
and not an open Court. Otherwise how can we account for the poverty of
information as to what actually took place on the trial? The court sat
for two days in the trial of the 35 cases in question, and the American
Legation had been most anxious, in view of the nature of the case and
the urgency of the inquiries, to ascertain something about the trial.
The outside world apparently knew little or nothing of this wholesale
trial of non-combatants, most of them being women, until some days
thereafter, and the only intimation that the American Legation
previously had was a letter of "a few lines" from M. Kirschen, stating
that the trial would take place on October 7th. Notwithstanding the
assurance of M. Kirschen that he would keep the American Legation fully
advised and would even disclose to it in advance of the trial "the exact
charges that were brought against Miss Cavell and the facts concerning
her that would be disclosed at the trial," yet no further information
reached the American Legation from Miss Cavell's counsel, who for some
reason did not advise the American Legation that the trial had commenced
on the 7th and had been concluded on the 8th. The American Legation only
learned the fact of the trial from "an outsider," and it at once
proceeded to look for M. Kirschen. Unfortunately he could not be
located, and thereupon the counsel for the American Legation wrote him
on Sunday, October 10th, and asked him to send his report to the
Legation or to call on the following day.

Having no word from M. Kirschen as late as October 11th (his last
communication with the American Legation being on October 3rd), the
counsel for the Legation twice called at his house and again failed to
find him in or to receive any message from him. It is clear that if M.
Kirschen had advised the American Legation as to the developments of the
trial on October 7th and 8th and had further advised the Legation
promptly as to the conclusion of the trial and its probable outcome,
there is a reasonable possibility that Miss Cavell's life might have
been saved; but for some reason, as to which M. Kirschen certainly owes
an explanation to the civilized world, he failed to keep his positive
promise to keep the American Legation fully advised, and in view of this
fact his assurance to the American Legation "that the Military Court of
Brussels was always perfectly fair, and that there was not the slightest
danger of any miscarriage of justice," must be taken with a very large
"grain of salt."

The significant fact remains that the American Legation never heard that
the trial had taken place until the day after, and then only learned it
from "an outsider." Had the American Legation sent a representative to
the trial, the world would then have a much clearer knowledge upon which
to base its judgment; but when M. Deleval suggested his intention to
attend the trial, as a representative of the Legation, he was advised by
M. Kirschen that such an act "would cause great prejudice to the
prisoner because the German judges would resent it."

What an indictment of the court! Even to see a representative of the
American Government at the trial, in the interests of fair play, would
prejudice the minds of the Judges against the unfortunate woman who was
being tried for a capital offense without any previous opportunity to
confer with counsel. There may be a satisfactory explanation for M.
Kirschen's conduct in the matter, but it has not yet appeared. It
should, however, be added, in fairness to him, that the anonymous
"outsider," from whom the American Legation got its only information as
to the developments of the trial, stated that Kirschen "made a very good
plea for Miss Cavell, using all arguments that could be brought in her
favor before the court."

This does not give the lover of fair play a great deal of comfort, for
if the anonymous informant was not a lawyer, the value to be attached to
his or her estimate of Kirschen's plea must be regarded as doubtful.

The same unknown informant told the American Legation that Miss Cavell
was prosecuted "for having helped English and French soldiers as well as
Belgian young men to cross the frontier and to go over to England." It
is stated on the same anonymous authority that Miss Cavell acknowledged
the assistance thus given and admitted that some of them had "thanked
her in writing when arriving in England."

From the same source the world gets its only information as to the exact
law which Miss Cavell was accused of violating. Paragraph 58 of the
German Military Code inflicts a sentence of death upon

     "any person who, with the intention of helping the hostile power,
     or of causing harm to the German or allied troops, is guilty of one
     of the crimes of paragraph 90 of the German Penal Code,"

and the only pertinent section of paragraph 90, according to the same
informant, is the specific offence of

     "guiding soldiers to the enemy" (in German--"Dem Feinde
     Mannschaften zuführt").

I affirm with confidence that under this law Miss Cavell was innocent,
and that the true meaning of the law was perverted in order to inflict
the death sentence upon her.

I admit that a general and strained construction of the language above
quoted might be applicable to a defendant who gave refuge to hostile
soldiers in Brussels and thus enabled them to escape across the frontier
into Holland and thence into a belligerent country, but every penal law
must receive a construction that is favorable to the defendant and
agreeable to the dictates of humanity. Every civilized country construes
its penal laws in favour of the liberty of the subject, and no
punishment, especially one of death, is ever imposed unless the offence
charged comes indubitably within a rigid construction of the law.

Keeping in mind this elementary principle, it is obvious that the
offense of guiding soldiers to the enemy refers to the physical act of
guiding a fugitive soldier back into his lines. A soldier becomes
detached from his lines. He finds shelter in a farm house. The farmer,
knowing the roads, secretly guides him back into his lines, and this
obviously is the offence which paragraph 90 had in mind, for the German
word "zuführt" refers to a personal guidance.

Miss Cavell simply gave shelter to soldiers and in some way facilitated
their escape to Holland. Holland is a neutral country, and it was its
duty to intern any fugitive soldiers who might escape from any one of
the belligerent countries. The fact that these soldiers subsequently
reached England is a matter that could not increase or diminish the
essential nature of Miss Cavell's case. She enabled them to get to a
neutral country, and this was not a case of "guiding soldiers to the
enemy," for Holland was not an enemy of Germany.

This fact must have impressed the Military Court, for according to the
same informant it did not at once agree upon either the verdict of
"Guilty" or the judgment of death, and it is stated that the Judges
would not have sentenced her to death if the fugitive soldiers, who had
crossed into Holland, had not subsequently arrived in England. But it
will astound any lawyer to learn that the subsequent escape of these
same prisoners from Holland to England could be reasonably regarded as a
guidance by Miss Cavell of these soldiers _to England_. In all
probability Miss Cavell had little or nothing to do with these soldiers
after they left Brussels, but even assuming that she provided the means
and gave the directions for their escape across the frontier between
Belgium and Holland, that was "the head and front of her offending," and
it does not come within the law under which she was sentenced to death.

When she was asked by her Judges as to her reasons for sheltering these
fugitives, "she replied that she thought that if she had not done so
_they would have been shot by the Germans_ and that therefore she
thought she only did her duty to her country in saving their lives."

This fairly states what she did, and perhaps this brave and frank reply
caused her death. She gave a temporary shelter to men who were in danger
of death, and, as previously stated, in so doing yielded to a
humanitarian impulse which all civilized nations have recognized as
worthy of the most lenient treatment.

When, therefore, Herr Dr. Albert Zimmermann, speaking for the German
Foreign Office, expressed its "surprise" that Miss Cavell's execution
should "have caused a sensation," it is well to remind Dr. Zimmermann
that to offer a refuge to the fugitive is an impulse of humanity. It is
likely that these soldiers were her wounded patients; at all events,
they had found a refuge in her hospital. They claimed the protection of
her roof and she gave it to them.

In the first act of Walkyrie--which is not overburdened with the
atmosphere of morality--even the black-hearted Hunding says to his

    "Heilig ist mein herd;
      Heilig sei dir mein haus."
    (Holy is my hearth!
      Holy will be to them my house!)

It must be remembered that all this did not take place in the zone of
actual warfare. A spy caught in the lines of armies is summarily dealt
with of necessity. But Brussels was miles away from the scene of actual
hostilities. Its civil courts were open and a civil administration ruled
its affairs of such reputed beneficence and efficiency as to evoke the
ungrudging admiration of a distinguished college professor who bears the
honored name of George B. McClellan. There was therefore no possible
excuse under international law for a court-martial, as this trial
plainly was. In the American civil war a similar military commission
once sought to hold a similar trial in Indianapolis over civilians
accused of treason, but the United States Supreme Court, in the case of
ex parte Milligan, sternly repudiated this form of military tyranny.

In that case the Supreme Court said:

     "There are occasions when martial rule can be properly applied. If,
     in foreign invasion or civil war, _the courts are actually closed_,
     and it is impossible to administer criminal justice according to
     law, then, _on the theatre of active military operations, where war
     really prevails_, there is a necessity to furnish a substitute for
     the civil authority, thus overthrown, to preserve the safety of the
     army and society; * * * As necessity creates the rule, so it limits
     its duration; for, if this government is continued _after_ the
     courts are reinstated, it is a gross usurpation of power. Martial
     rule can never exist where the courts are open, and in the proper
     and unobstructed exercise of their jurisdiction. _It is also
     confined to the locality of actual war._"

All civilized countries, including Germany, have always recognized a
difference between high treason, punishable with death, and ordinary
treason. The German Strafgesetzbuch thus distinguishes between high
treason (hochverrat) and the lesser crime of landesverrat. High treason
consists in murdering or attempting to murder a sovereign or Prince of
Germany or an attempt by violence to overthrow the Imperial Government
or any State thereof. This alone is punishable with death.

While this distinction of the German Civil Code may have no application
when military law is being enforced, yet it illustrates a distinction,
which all humane nations have recognized, between the treason which
seeks to overthrow a State by rebellion and lesser offenses against the
authority of a State.

Assuming that Miss Cavell's offense could be regarded in any sense as
treasonable, it certainly constituted the lesser offense under the
distinction above quoted.

The fact is that Miss Cavell was tried, condemned, and executed for her
sympathy with the cause of Belgium and her willingness to save her
compatriots from suffering and death. Military necessity--ever the
tyrant's plea--demanded a victim further to terrorize the subjugated
people. They chose Miss Cavell.

Notwithstanding the request of the American Legation in its letter of
October 5th that it be advised not only as to the charges, but also as
to the sentence imposed upon Miss Cavell, and the express promise of M.
Kirschen to inform it of all developments, it was kept in ignorance of
the fact that sentence of death had been passed upon her. Minister
Whitlock only heard this on October 11th, and he at once addressed a
letter to Baron von der Lancken in which, after stating this fact, he
appealed "to the sentiment of generosity and humanity in the Governor
General in favor of Miss Cavell," with a view to commutation of the
death sentence, and at the same time addressed a similar letter to Baron
von Bissing, the Military Governor of Belgium, who did not deign to give
to the American Government even the cold courtesy of a reply.

On the morning of October 11th our Minister heard--not from the German
authorities, but from unofficial sources--that the trial had been
completed on the preceding Saturday afternoon, and he at once
communicated with the Political Department of the German Military
Government, and was expressly assured

     "that no sentence had been pronounced and that there would probably
     be a delay of a day or two before a decision was reached."

The Director of the Political Department (Herr Conrad) gave a further

     "_positive assurance that the [American] Legation would be fully
     informed as to the developments in the case._"

Notwithstanding this direct promise and further "repeated inquiries in
the course of the day," no further word reached our Legation, and at
6.20 p.m. it again inquired as to Miss Cavell's fate, and the Director
of the Political Department again

     "_stated that sentence had not yet been pronounced_,"

and he specifically renewed his assurance. Two hours later our Minister
_from unofficial sources_ heard that all that had been told him by the
Political Department was untrue, and that the sentence had been passed
at 5 o'clock p.m.; _before his last conversation with the Director_, and
that the execution was to take place that night.

Accordingly the Secretary of the American Legation proceeded at once to
Baron von der Lancken, and again asked as a favor to this Government
that clemency be extended. He brought with him a letter from the
American Minister, which reads as follows:

     "My dear Baron:

     "I am too ill to put my request before you in person, but once more
     I appeal to the generosity of your heart. Stand by and save from
     death this unfortunate woman. Have pity on her. Your devoted
                                                "BRAND WHITLOCK."

Accompanying this purely personal note were two substantially similar
communications, the one directed to Baron von Bissing and the other to
Baron von der Lancken. These communications run as follows:

     "I have just heard that Miss Cavell, a British subject, and
     consequently under the protection of my Legation, was this morning
     condemned to death by court-martial.

     "If my information is correct, the sentence in the present case is
     more severe than all the others that have been passed in similar
     cases which have been tried by the same Court, and, without going
     into the reasons for such a drastic sentence, I feel that I have
     the right to appeal to your Excellency's feelings of humanity and
     generosity in Miss Cavell's favour, and to ask that the death
     penalty passed on Miss Cavell may be commuted and that this
     unfortunate woman shall not be executed.

     "Miss Cavell is the head of the Brussels Surgical Institute. She
     has spent her life in alleviating the sufferings of others, and her
     school has turned out many nurses who have watched at the bedside
     of the sick all the world over, in Germany as in Belgium. At the
     beginning of the war Miss Cavell bestowed her care as freely on the
     German soldiers as on others. Even in default of all other reasons,
     her career as a servant of humanity is such as to inspire the
     greatest sympathy and to call for pardon. If the information in my
     possession is correct, Miss Cavell, far from shielding herself,
     has, with commendable straightforwardness, admitted the truth of
     all the charges against her, and it is the very information which
     she herself has furnished, and which she alone was in a position to
     furnish, which has aggravated the severity of the sentence passed
     on her.

     "It is then with confidence, and in the hope of its favourable
     reception, that I have the honour to present to your Excellency my
     request for pardon on Miss Cavell's behalf."

This note was read aloud to Baron von der Lancken, the very official who
had refused to answer the first communication of the Legation with
reference to the matter, and he

     "expressed disbelief in the report that sentence had actually been
     passed and manifested some surprise that we should give credence to
     any report not emanating from official sources. He was quite
     insistent in knowing the exact source of our information, but this
     I did not feel at liberty to communicate to him."

Baron von der Lancken proceeded to express his belief "that it was quite
improbable that sentence had been pronounced," and that in any event no
execution would follow. After some hesitation he telephoned to the
Presiding Judge of the Court-Martial and then reported that the
embassy's unofficial information was only too true.

His attention was further called to the express promise of the German
Director of the Political Department to inform the American Legation of
the sentence, and he was asked to grant the American Government the
courtesy of a "delay in carrying out the sentence."

To this appeal for mercy Baron von der Lancken replied that the Military
Governor (von Bissing) was the supreme authority and that he "had
discretionary power to accept or to refuse acceptance of an appeal for
clemency." He thereupon left the representative of the American Legation
and apparently called upon von Bissing, and after half an hour he
returned with the statement that not only would von Bissing decline to
revoke the sentence of death, but "that in view of the circumstances of
this case, he must decline to accept your plea for clemency or any
representation in regard to the matter."

Thereupon Baron von der Lancken insisted that Mr. Brand Whitlock's
representative (Mr. Hugh Gibson, Secretary of the Legation) should take
back the formal appeal for clemency addressed both to him and to von
Bissing, and as both German officials had been fully advised as to the
nature of the plea, Mr. Gibson finally consented. Baron von der Lancken
assured Mr. Gibson that under the circumstances "even the Emperor
himself could not intervene," a statement that was very quickly refuted
when the Emperor--aroused by the world-wide condemnation of Miss
Cavell's execution--did commute the sentences imposed upon six of the
seven persons who were condemned to death with Miss Cavell.

During the earnest conversation which took place in this last attempt to
save Miss Cavell's life, the American representative took occasion to
remind Baron von der Lancken's official associates--although it should
not have been necessary--of the great services rendered by the United
States, and especially by Mr. Brand Whitlock, in the earlier period of
the German occupation, and this was urged as a reason why as a matter of
courtesy to the United States Government some more courteous
consideration should be accorded to its request. At the outbreak of the
war, thousands of German residents in Belgium returned to their country
in such haste that they left their families behind them. Mr. Whitlock
gathered these women and children--numbering, it is said, over
10,000--and provided them with the necessaries of life, and ultimately
with safe transportation into Germany, and having thus placed this
inestimable service to thousands of German civilians in one scale, the
American representative simply asked, as "the only request" made by the
United States upon grounds of reciprocal generosity, that some clemency
should be given to Miss Cavell. The refusal to give this clemency or
even to accept in a formal way the plea for clemency, is one of the
blackest cases of ingratitude in the history of diplomacy.

On October 22nd there was issued from Brussels a "semi-official" but
_anonymous_ statement, charging that in the reports of the Secretary of
the American Embassy, from which the above quoted statements are mainly
taken, "most of the important events are inaccurately reproduced."

No specification of any inaccuracy is however made, except the general
denial "that the German authorities with empty promises put off the
American Minister" and also the equally general statement that no
promise was given to our embassy to advise it of developments in the

A vague, general, and _anonymous_ denial, issued by men who seek to wash
their hands of innocent blood, cannot avail against Mr. Gibson's clear,
specific, and circumstantial statement. The Secretary of our embassy
states that on October 11th "_repeated_" inquiries were made of Herr
Conrad, the official in charge of the Political Department of the German
Government in Belgium, _the last inquiry being at 6.20 p.m. by the
clock_ (an hour after the victim had been sentenced to death), and that
on each occasion assurance was given to the Legation that "sentence had
not been pronounced" and that he (Conrad) would not fail to inform us as
soon as there was any news.

Does Herr Conrad deny this?

The Brussels "semi-official" statement has the hardihood to state to the
world that the American Minister (Brand Whitlock) had admitted that "no
such promise or assurance was given," and it places the responsibility
upon M. Deleval, the Belgian legal counselor of the American Embassy.
But this impudent lie is speedily overthrown by the positive statement
of our Minister at Belgium to our Ambassador in London as follows:

     "From the date we first learned of Miss Cavell's imprisonment we
     made frequent inquiries of the German authorities and reminded
     them of their promise that we should be fully informed as to
     developments. They were under no misapprehension as to our interest
     in the matter."

Will the American people or the people of any nation hesitate to accept
the clear, positive, and circumstantial statements of Minister Whitlock,
Secretary Gibson, and Counselor Deleval, at least two of whom are wholly
disinterested in the matter, as against the self-exculpatory, general,
and anonymous denials of a "semi-official" press bureau, especially when
it is recalled that from the beginning of the great war, the German
Foreign Office, with whom military honor is supposed to be almost a
religion, has stooped to the most shameful and barefaced mendacity?

When the world recalls how Austrian Ambassadors in Paris, London, and
Petrograd made the most emphatic statements that the forthcoming
ultimatum to Serbia would be "pacific and conciliatory," and assured the
Russian Ambassador that he could therefore safely leave Vienna on his
vacation on the very eve of the ultimatum, and when the German
Ambassadors in the same capitals gave the most solemn and unequivocal
assurances that

     "the German Government had no knowledge of the text of the Austrian
     note before it was handed in and had not exercised any influence on
     its contents,"

and later admitted, when the lie had served its purpose by lulling the
world into a sense of false security, that it had been fully consulted
by its ally before the ultimatum was prepared and had given it carte
blanche to proceed, when these notable examples of Prussian
Machiavellism are recalled, little attention will be given to these
futile attempts to wash from the shield of German honor the blood of
Edith Cavell.

One can to some extent understand the Berserker fury which caused von
Bissing to say in effect to this gentle-faced English nurse, "You are in
our way. You menace our security. You must die, as countless thousands
have already died, to secure the results of our seizure of Belgium"; but
can we understand or in any way palliate the attempt to hide the stains
of blood on that prison floor of Brussels with a cobweb of self-evident

These stains can never be washed out to the eye of imagination.

        "Let none these marks efface,
    For they appeal from tyranny to God."

In the last interview between our representative and Baron von der
Lancken, which took place a few hours before the execution, our
representative reminded these Prussian officials

     "of our untiring efforts on behalf of German subjects at the
     outbreak of the war and during the siege of Antwerp. I pointed out
     that, while our services had been gladly rendered and without any
     thought of future favors, they should certainly entitle you to some
     consideration for the only request of this sort you [the American
     Minister] had made since the beginning of the war."

Even our Minister's appeal to gratitude and to one of the most ordinary
and natural courtesies of diplomatic life proved unavailing, and at
midnight the Secretary of the American Legation and the Spanish
Minister, who was acting with him, left in despair. At 2 o'clock that
morning Miss Cavell was secretly executed.

Even the ordinary courtesy accorded to the vilest criminal, of being
permitted before dying to have a clergyman of her own selection, was
denied her until a few hours before her death, for the legal counselor
of the American Legation on October 10th applied in behalf of this
country for permission for an English clergyman to see Miss Cavell, and
this, too, was refused, as her jailers preferred to assign her the
prison chaplains as well as her counsel. Even the final appeal of our
Minister for the surrender of her mutilated body was denied, on the
ground that only the Minister of War in Berlin could grant it.

Apart from the brutality of the whole incident there is one circumstance
that makes it of peculiar interest to the American people and which
gives to it the character of rank ingratitude. Our representative, as
above stated, did advise the German officials that a little delay was
asked by our Legation _as a slight return for the innumerable acts of
kindness which our Legation had done for German soldiers and interned
prisoners in the earlier days of the war before the German invasion had
swept over the land_. The charge of ingratitude may rest soundly upon
far greater and broader grounds.

This great nation had contributed in money and merchandise a sum
estimated at many millions for the relief of the people in Belgium. In
so doing it did to the German nation an inestimable service, for when
Germany conquered Belgium the duty and burden rested upon it to support
its population to the extent that it might become necessary. The burden
of supporting 8,000,000 civilians was no light one, especially as there
existed in Germany a scarcity of food. As bread tickets were then being
issued in Germany to its people, the supplies would have been
substantially less if a portion of its food products had been required
for the civilian population of Belgium, for obviously the German nation
could not permit a people, whom it had so ruthlessly trampled under
foot, to starve to death. Every dollar that was raised in America for
the Belgian people, therefore, operated to relieve Germany from a heavy

Moreover, when the war broke out, Germany needed some friendly nation to
take over the care of its nationals in the hostile countries, and in
England, France, Belgium, and Russia the interests of German citizens
were assumed by the American Government as a courtesy to Germany, and no
one can question how faithfully in the last fourteen months Page in
London, Sharp in Paris, and Whitlock in Brussels have labored to
alleviate the inevitable suffering to German prisoners or interned

In view of these services, it surely was not much for the American
Minister to ask that a little delay should be granted to a woman whose
error, if any, had arisen from impulses of humanity and from
considerations of patriotism. To spare her life a little longer could
not have done the German cause any possible harm, for she was in their
custody and beyond the power of rendering any help to her compatriots.
To condemn any human being, even if he were the vilest criminal, at 5
o'clock in the afternoon and execute him at 2 a.m., was an act of
barbarism for which no possible condemnation is adequate.

Under these circumstances, it would be incredible, if the facts were not
beyond dispute, that the request of the United States for a little
delay was not only brutally refused, _but that our Legation was
deliberately misled and deceived until the death sentence had been

This makes the fate of Miss Cavell our affair as much as that of the
Lusitania. And yet we have the already familiar semi-official assurance
from Washington that while our officials "unofficially deplore the act,
officially they can do nothing." Concurrently we are told in the
President's Thanksgiving proclamation that we should be thankful because
we have "been able to assert our rights and the rights of mankind," and
that this "has been a year of special blessing for us," for, so the
proclamation adds, "we have prospered while other nations were at war."

I venture to say in all reverence that the God of nations will be better
pleased on the coming Thanksgiving Day--which also should be one of
penitence and humiliation--if we do a little more _in fact_ and less in
words to safeguard the rights of humanity. Our initial blunder was in
turning away the Belgian Commissioners, when they first presented the
wrongs of their crucified nation, with icy phrases as to a mysterious
day of reckoning in the indefinite future. An act of justice now will be
worth a thousand future "accountings" after the long agony of the world
is over. "Now is the accepted time, this the day of salvation."

_Let our nation begin with the case of Edith Cavell, and demand of
Germany the dismissal of the officers who flouted, deceived, and mocked
the representative of the United States. That concerns our honor as a

The final scene of the tragedy is best stated in the simple but
poignantly pathetic words of the Chaplain, who was permitted to see the
victim a few hours before her death:

     "On Monday evening, 11th October, I was admitted by special
     passport from the German authorities to the prison of St. Gilles,
     where Miss Edith Cavell had been confined for ten weeks. The final
     sentence had been given early that afternoon.

     "To my astonishment and relief I found my friend perfectly calm and
     resigned. But this could not lessen the tenderness and intensity of
     feeling on either part during that last interview of almost an

     "Her first words to me were upon a matter concerning herself
     personally, but the solemn asseveration which accompanied them was
     made expressedly in the light of God and eternity. She then added
     that she wished all her friends to know that she willingly gave her
     life for her country, and said: 'I have no fear nor shrinking; I
     have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me.'
     She further said: 'I thank God for this ten weeks' quiet before the
     end.' 'Life has always been hurried and full of difficulty.' 'This
     time of rest has been a great mercy.' 'They have all been very kind
     to me here. But this I would say, standing as I do in view of God
     and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have
     no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.'

     "We partook of the Holy Communion together, and she received the
     Gospel message of consolation with all her heart. At the close of
     the little service I began to repeat the words 'Abide with me,' and
     she joined softly in the end.

     "We sat quietly talking until it was time for me to go. She gave me
     parting messages for relations and friends. She spoke of her soul's
     needs at the moment, and she received the assurance of God's Word
     as only the Christian can do.

     "Then I said 'Good-bye,' and she smiled and said, 'We shall meet

     "The German military chaplain was with her at the end and
     afterwards gave her Christian burial.

     "He told me: 'She was brave and bright to the last. She professed
     her Christian faith and that she was glad to die for her country.'
     'She died like a heroine.'"

It would be interesting to compare these last hours of one of the
noblest women in English history to those of that rare and radiant Greek
maiden, whom the genius of Sophocles has glorified in his immortal
tragedy. The comparison is altogether in favour of the English heroine,
for while Antigone went to her death bravely, yet her final words were
those of bitter complaint and almost whining lamentation. Compare with
these words the Christlike simplicity of Miss Cavell's last message to
the world, and the difference between the noblest Paganism and the best
of Christianity is apparent. Truly the light of Calvary illumined her
dark cell! Standing "in view of God and eternity," she uttered the
deeply pregnant sentence that "patriotism is not enough." Her
executioners had illustrated this, for the ruthless killing of Edith
Cavell for military purposes was actuated by that perverted spirit of
patriotism which believes that any wrong is sanctified if it serves the

No one suggests that General von Bissing had any personal feeling
against Miss Cavell. Indeed his conduct would be the more tolerable if
it had been actuated by the spirit of anger. He killed her in cold blood
and to strengthen the German occupation in Belgium. News of the very
recent successes of the Allies in Flanders and in the Champagne
districts in the great offensive had reached Belgium and had caused a
perceptible ferment in that down-trodden people. It therefore seemed
necessary to show the iron hand again and to the Prussian ideal, as
already illustrated by official proclamations of Prussian Generals, it
was a matter of no consequence whose life was taken or whose right was
invaded. It served to terrorize the Belgian people--Such was its real

And you, women of America and of the World! Will you not honor the
memory of this martyr of your sex, who for all time will be mourned as
was the noblest Greek maiden, Antigone, who also gave her life that her
brother might have the rites of sepulture? Will you not carry on in her
name and for her memory those sacred ministrations of mercy which were
her lifework?

_Make her cause--the cause of justice and mercy--your own!_

       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

_Printed in Great Britain._

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