Posts filed under 'Soldiers'

1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Canada,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Organized Crime,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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1855: Pietro Fortunato Calvi, the last Belfiore Martyr

Add comment July 4th, 2020 Headsman

Italian Risorgimento martyr Pietro Fortunato Calvi was hanged on this date in 1855 in Mantua.

The son of a Paduan police commissioner when that province rested in Austrian hands, Calvi — that’s an Italian link, as are almost all in this post — was an army lieutenant who was drawn by the swirl of patriotism into the Revolutions of 1848. He commanded a 4,600-strong militia in Venice where the abortive proclamation of a republic was suppressed by Austria.

He fled to exile in Turin, then part of the mainland remit of the independent Kingdom of Sardinia. But his sympathy for an attempted Milanese insurrection in those parts wore out his welcome with his new hosts, and he was obliged to find refuge in Switzerland.

From there, he and four companions launched a romantic, doomed expedition to sound out the alpine north for patriotism that might be stirred into revolution anew. Their mission was compromised by a spy, however, and the quintet was soon arrested.

Transported to Mantua for trial, Calvi successfully protected his companions by throwing all the responsibility upon himself and went to the gallows with a stirring declaration as he ought.

what I have done I have done of my own free will, that I would do it again, in order to expel Austria from the States it so infamously usurped … Pietro Fortunato Calvi, rather than betraying his homeland, offers his corpse.

The place of his execution, the valley of Belfiore, has conferred its name upon a host of Italian patriots who hanged there in the 1850s. Our guy Calvi was the last of these Belfiore martyrs.

Belfiore, Mantua, Padua, Venice, Turin, and all the rest were part of a united Italy within a generation.

Italian speakers might enjoy this biography of Pietro.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Separatists,Soldiers,Treason

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1936: Saburo Aizawa, incidentally

Add comment July 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Lieutenant Colonel Saburo Aizawa was shot on this date in 1936.

The Aizawa Incident — an assassination — emerged from the conflict between the Kodoha (“Imperial Way”) and Toseiha (“Control”) factions of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Both these philosophies were authoritarian, militaristic, and aggressively imperialist.

However, Kodoha officers — disproportionately younger junior officers — were more radically right-wing. Their leading light, General Sadao Araki, who had been War Minister in the early 1930s, espoused a philosophy that “linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as one indivisible entity, and which emphasized State Shintoism.”

Toseiha is described as the more moderate faction which in practice meant that they were a bit less totalizing and a bit more institutionally accommodating: in a word, it was just the mainline outlook of the army brass. According to Leonard Humphreys, Toseiha “was not really a faction … it really consisted only of officers who opposed the Kodoha.”*

Our day’s principal accused Toseiha bigwig Tetsuzan Nagata of putting the army “in the paws of high finance” when he forced out a Kodoha ally and Araki protege in 1935, following a failed Kodoha coup d’etat. And in revenge for this perceived betrayal, Aizawa dramatically murdered Nagata with a sword in his office on August 12, 1935.

However boldly struck, this blow bespoke the dwindling prestige of the ultras.

In the months while Aizawa’s sure fate was arranged through the proper channels, the desperate Kodoha faction again attempted to seize power — and was sidelined for good when it again failed. Aizawa had the displeasure of going to his death amid the ruin of his cause.

* fn 24 on page 206 of The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920’s, citing several other scholars with the same view — and noting that the names for these tendencies were both conferred by Kodoha propagandists, so nobody self-identified using the pejorative “Toseiha”.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Japan,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Shot,Soldiers

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1778: Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman hanged in the USA

Add comment July 2nd, 2020 Headsman

Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.

The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this post, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.

From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.

Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.

A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.

They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.

As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited?  I made answer It was my long absence from home.  She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable.  She asked me if Such an One as her self would do?  I made answer If She was agreeable I was.  [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.]  Upon which She said “After She came off her Journey she would See.”
 
N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death.  [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]
 
Ezra Ross

The above is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life””

a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God.

So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18. (As quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, Murdered by his Wife)

Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.

According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective (retrieved here via a reprint in the Charleston News and Courier, Jan. 24, 1904) her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.

A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.

* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.

For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Massachusetts,Milestones,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions,Women

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1558: Toqui Caupolicán

Add comment June 27th, 2020 Headsman

Es algo formidable que vio la vieja raza:
robusto tronco de árbol al hombro de un campeón
salvaje y aguerrido, cuya fornida maza
blandiera el brazo de Hércules, o el brazo de Sansón.
Por casco sus cabellos, su pecho por coraza,
pudiera tal guerrero, de Arauco en la región,
lancero de los bosques, Nemrod que todo caza,
desjarretar un toro, o estrangular un león.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. Le vio la luz del día,
le vio la tarde pálida, le vio la noche fría,
y siempre el tronco de árbol a cuestas del titán.
«¡El Toqui, el Toqui!» clama la conmovida casta.
Anduvo, anduvo, anduvo. La aurora dijo: «Basta»,
e irguióse la alta frente del gran Caupolicán.

-“Caupolican” by Ruben Dario

On this date in 1558, the Spanish executed Mapuche revolutionary Caupolicán by impalement.

A toqui (war chief) for the Mapuche as they launched in 1553 their decades-long insurrection against Spanish domination, Caupolican (English Wikipedia entry | the well-illustrated Spanish). It is he who had the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia put to death after one early Mapuche victory.

The Spanish were able to recover and throw back the indigenous rebels. Caupolicán’s force was destroyed, and he shortly after taken prisoner, when whilst besieging a Spanish fort called Cañete a Spanish double agent lured the Mapuche into a devastating ambush.

His end verges into the mythic thanks to Alonso de Ercilla‘s lengthy epic poem from a decade after Caupolicán’s death, La Araucana. (Full text at archive.org.) Two key events stand out.

In the first, the bound Caupolicán is reviled by his wife, Fresia, for permitting himself to be captured alive. Her gesture of scornfully abandoning their infant child in at Caupolicán’s feet has been captured on canvas numerous times, although Fresia’s historicity outside of Ercilla’s pen is quite dubious.


The prisoner Caupolicán and Fresia, by Raymond Monvoisin.

However, the conquered toqui redeems his valor at the last by kicking away the executioner and hurling himself upon the spike meant to impale him.

Eslo dicho, y alzando el pié derecho
aunque de las cadenas impedido,
dió tal coz al verdugo, que gran trecho
Je echó rodando abajo mal herido;
reprehendido el impaciente hecho,
y del súbito enojo reducido,

Je sentaron después con poca ayuda,
sobre la punta de la estaca aguda.

It is said that, raising his right foot
although impeded by the chains,
he dealt the hangman such a mighty kick
that the man was thrown from the scaffold;
that impatient reprimand delivered,
his fury abated
and he sat himself unaided
upon the tip of the sharp stake.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Chile,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Soldiers,Spain,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1939: Toribio Martinez Cabrera

Add comment June 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Spanish officer Toribio Martinez Cabrera was executed on this date in 1939 by Franco’s Spain.

An army lifer who had cut his teeth fighting in Cuba against Spain’s imperial dispossession, Martinez Cabrera (English Wikipedia entry | Spanish was one of the few brigadier generals to remain loyal to the Spanish Republic when his brethren launched the Spanish Civil War.

Despite entrusting him with command responsibility, his upper brass demographic profiled as a probable rebel and the Republic remained wary of his act; he was interrogated as a possible double agent after the fascists took Malaga, and defeated an outright treason charge after Franco occupied Gijon in 1937. It seems like he was destined to be shot by someone.

Having the honor of returning to an official capacity in the collapsing remains of the Republic, he supported Segismundo Casado‘s March 1939 coup against the Communist-allied Juan Negrin. The latter could get no negotiated terms from the fascists and so resigned himself, as he later remembered from exile, “to fight on because there was no other choice, even if winning was not possible, then to salvage what we could — and at the very end our self respect … Why go on resisting? Quite simply because we knew what capitulation would mean.” Unfortunately for Martinez Cabrera, Casado’s short-lived junta also got a cold shoulder from Franco and submitted to unconditional surrender.

Although most of its members evacuated abroad as the fascists triumphed, Martinez Cabrera declined to flee. He was shot at Paterna on June 23, 1939.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Shot,Soldiers,Spain,Treason

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1918: Captain Alexey Schastny

Add comment June 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1918, Captain Alexey Schastny received the cold thanks of the Bolshevik government for saving its Baltic fleet.

Icebound in the city of Helsingfors (Helsinki) across the Gulf of Finland from his Red homeland, Schastny (English Wikipedia entry | the more substantial Russian) orchestrated an emergency speedy breakout just ahead of a German incursion that seized the city in April and could have grabbed the Soviet Baltic fleet.

Schastny’s decisive action brought 236 vessels, including six battleships, across the frozen sea and safely home to Kronstadt.

The heroism of this operation at a moment of such low ebb for Russian prestige made Schastny a potentially dangerous element, should the onetime tsarist sailor choose to exercise his great prestige in the navy to the detriment of the Bolsheviks. This was the winter of the Russian Civil War, when White insurgents tore at the nascent Revolution.

Leon Trotsky, at this same moment scrambling to organize the Red Army to stabilize the situation, had Schastny arrested as a counterrevolutionary barely a month after the celebrated ice voyage. So grave a threat did this sea dog present that the Soviet state, having briefly abolished the death penalty, restored it in June 1918 specifically so that Schastny could be shot.

Schastny makes his appearance in the slick 2017 serial Trotsky, where he’s played by Anton Khabarov; the first half of episode 7 focuses heavily on Schastny’s arrest, court-martial, and execution.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Milestones,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1485: William de La Marck, the Wild Boar of the Ardennes

Add comment June 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1485, the German warrior William de La Marck was beheaded at Maastricht.

“There is, moreover, in the land, a nobleman of good descent, and fame in warlike affairs, but otherwise, so to speak, Lapis offensionis et petra scandali — and a stumbling block of offence to the countries of Burgundy and Flanders. His name is William de la Marck.”

“Called William with the Beard,” said the young Scot, “or the Wild Boar of Ardennes?”

“And rightly so called, my son,” said the Prior, “because he is as the wild boar of the forest, which treadeth down with his hoofs and rendeth with his tusks. And he hath formed to himself a band of more than a thousand men, all, like himself, contemners of civil and ecclesiastical authority, and holds himself independent of the Duke of Burgundy, and maintains himself and his followers by rapine and wrong, wrought without distinction upon churchmen and laymen.”

Sir Walter Scott, Quentin Durward. The boar is a major antagonist in this novel, but Scott has him killed, ahistorically, in melee.

Le Sanglier des ArdennesThe Wild Boar of the Ardennes, so christened for his resemblance to that ferocious beast; “he affected to delight in this surname, and endeavoured to deserve it by the unvarying cruelty and ferocity of his life” — tusked his way onto history’s stage in the power vacuum following the collapse of Burgundy as an independent power.

Among other effects, Burgundy’s fall greatly widened the local autonomy of the city of Liege, in present-day Belgium — a city that Burgundy in its recent heyday had violently brought to heel.

And not merely the city, but the entire Prince-Bishopric of Liege.

A tasty truffle for the snuffling, to porcine eyes.

In 1482, the Wild Boar assassinated the sitting Prince-Bishop of Liege, Louis de Bourbon. It’s a scene captured in dark melodrama by Executed Today‘s court painter Eugene Delacroix.

He intended by this stroke to set up his son Jean de La Marck as the Prince-Bishop. Instead he kicked off a civil war and in lieu of the mitre he obtained a payoff from the Prince-Bishopric as Liege turned to resisting the inroads of the Austrian Empire. The Boar now allying with Liege in this endeavor, he was ingloriously ambushed by imperial forces and brought in for butchering.

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Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Belgium,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Netherlands,Nobility,Power,Public Executions,Soldiers

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1863: William Lynch, suppressed mutineer

Add comment June 16th, 2020 Headsman

(Thanks to Edward Waldo Emerson, the son of transcendentalist chin-wagger Ralph Waldo Emerson, for the guest post. His account of the beloved Massachusetts cavalryman Charles Russell Lowell’s lethal suppression of a mutiny in his civil war regiment, as related to him by Lowell’s widow for his, Emerson’s, 1907 biography Life and Letters of Charles Russell Lowell. Lowell can’t speak for himself on this account because he was killed the next year at the Battle of Cedar Creek, after which he was posthumously promoted to Brigadier General.

Emerson does not directly narrate a death penalty story, but the image in the coda records the fate of one of the rebellious enlisted men. There were two others in legal jeopardy from this affair: Sylvester Riley died while awaiting his court-martial in Fort Independence in Boston Harbor; and, 16-year-old Francis Dew drew a death sentence which was commuted by President Abraham Lincoln on account of Dew’s youth. -ed.)

Mrs. Lowell, anxious that the exact facts be known, wrote for me this account of the

MUTINY IN BOSTON.

A very painful incident took place while Colonel Lowell was recruiting for the Second Cavalry, which impressed him very much.

Stopping as usual, at eight o’clock one morning, at the recruiting station, he found the small squad of new recruits who were to be transferred that day to the camp at Readville, in a state of mutiny. Hearing the noise on his arrival, he descended at once to the basement, and the Sergeant in command explained that he had ordered a man to be handcuffed, that the others had said it was unjust and should not be done, and had resisted. Colonel Lowell at once said: ‘The order must be obeyed.’ ‘No! No!’ shouted the men. He continued: ‘After it is obeyed, I will hear what you have to say, and will decide the case on its merits, but it must be obeyed first. God knows, my men, I don’t want to kill any of you; but I shall shoot the first man who resists. Sergeant, iron your man.’ As the Sergeant stepped forward with the irons, the men made a rush, and Colonel Lowell shot the leader, who fell at once. The men succumbed immediately, some bursting into tears, such was their excitement.

The whole incident was very painful to Colonel Lowell, especially because he had always regarded it as one of the privileges of an officer that he did not have to kill with his own hand.

The circumstances, however, turned out as fortunately as was possible in such a case. The man had no relatives, so far as could be discovered, and his record showed that he was a very bad man, and had previously been in the Regular Army, so that he knew very well what he was doing in resisting an order.

One of Governor Andrew‘s staff, who was present when Colonel Lowell reported his action, gave the following account, which I copy from Professor Peirce’s life of Lowell in the Harvard Memorial Biographies:

Entering his Excellency’s room, he made a military salute and said, ‘I have to report to you, sir, that in the discharge of my duty I have shot a man’; then saluted again, and immediately withdrew. ‘I need nothing more,’ said the Governor to a bystander, ‘Colonel Lowell is as humane as he is brave.’

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Massachusetts,Military Crimes,Mutiny,Shot,Soldiers,USA,Wartime Executions

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1967: The USS Liberty attack … after executions in El Arish?

Add comment June 8th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1967, during the Six-Day War between Israel and Egypt, Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats assailed the USS Liberty, an allied American communications (read: espionage) vessel — not an execution by any stretch, but perhaps occasioned by other executions?

On a sunlit afternoon in the Mediterranean the Liberty, about 13 miles off the coast of Gaza which Israel was then engaged in prying from Egypt’s hands, sunbathing American seamen found themselves suddenly being bombed by Israeli planes, and even found their lifeboats strafed by those same planes — clearly intent upon sinking the Liberty with no survivors. A torpedo hit amidships ripped open the ship at the waterline.

The Liberty was the only large ship anywhere in the vicinity and recordings of the Israeli fighter pilots’ communications with their control tower confirm that her prominent U.S. markings were observed by her assailants.

Only by dint of some heroic and lucky jury-rigging was the ship’s communications tower coaxed to send out a life-saving SOS to the U.S. Sixth Fleet, maneuvering hundreds of miles distant. In all, 34 Americans lost their lives in what Wikipedia delicately calls the USS Liberty Incident; another 170-plus were injured, while the Liberty herself limped back to Malta for repairs. She’d be decommissioned in 1968.

This shock bloodbath between two countries who have proven firm and ever firmer allies in the half-century since has long been shrouded in mystery and speculation.

Sure, maybe the U.S. prized its statecraft enough to wave the whole thing off as an accident. But what compelling motivation drove Israel to attack the Liberty — at the risk of jeopardizing its relationship its superpower partner?

Many far wiser than a humble headsman have had a go at this question. In his history of the National Security Agency, Body of Secrets, James Bamford suggests that the Liberty‘s offense in Israeli eyes resided in its proximity to a number of war crimes that she would be able to document — including mass executions of Egyptian POWs at the north Sinai town of El Arish in the aftermath of a nearby battle.

Although no one on the ship knew it at the time, the Liberty had suddenly trespassed into a private horror. At that very moment, near the minaret at El Arish, Israeli forces were engaged in a criminal slaughter.

By June 8, three days after Israel launched the war, Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai had become nuisances. There was no place to house them, not enough Israelis to watch them, and few vehicles to transport them to prison camps. But there was another way to deal with them.

As the Liberty sat within eyeshot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners. In the shadow of the El Arish mosque, they lined up about sixty unarmed Egyptian prisoners, hands tied behind their backs, and then opened fire with machine guns until the pale desert sand turned red. Then they forced other prisoners to bury the victims in mass graves. “I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military,” said Abdelsalam Moussa, one of those who dug the graves, “and they opened fire at them all at once. When they were dead, they told us to buiy them.” Nearby, another group of Israelis gunned down thirty more prisoners and then ordered some Bedouins to cover them with sand.

In still another incident at El Arish, the Israeli journalist Gabi Bron saw about 150 Egyptian POWs sitting on the ground, crowded together with their hands held at the backs of their necks. “The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death,” Bron said. “I witnessed the executions with my own eyes on the morning of June eighth, in the airport area of El Arish.”

The Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki, who worked in the army’s history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs. According to Yitzhaki, Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai, including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish.

Above interpretation suffices as a hook for this here executions blog but its explanatory force feels far less than sufficient.

The facts alleged here against Israel have been contested; one of the sources quoted above, Gabi Bron, has said that only five (not 150) prisoners were executed at El-Arish, and that the dead there were overwhelmingly legitimate battle casualties. But let an intentional massacre number not merely hundreds but thousands upon millions and still we would sit very far from dampening the ardor for any policy that has been decided in Washington or Langley. Surely it is unnecessary to dwell upon what these same statesmen were simultaneously doing in Southeast Asia.

Where that leaves the matter is a still-going debate. Was it a false flag attack meant to be laid to Israel’s Arab enemies? Did the spy ship need to be blinded to hide Israel’s forthcoming (June 9-10) incursion into the Golan Heights? Do war atrocities reveal more than this writer supposes? Or are we really to take seriously the thought-it-was-an-Egyptian-ship official line?

A few books about the U.S.S. Liberty

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Egypt,History,Israel,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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