A PRISONER IN TURKEYby John Still
� Illustrated book
The history of the British prisoners of war in Turkey has faithfully reflected the peculiarities of the Turkish character. Some of these, at any rate to the distant spectator, are sufficiently picturesque; others are due to the mere dead-weight of Asiatic indifference and inertia; others again are actively and resolutely barbarous. It has thus… See more details below
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� Illustrated book
The history of the British prisoners of war in Turkey has faithfully reflected the peculiarities of the Turkish character. Some of these, at any rate to the distant spectator, are sufficiently picturesque; others are due to the mere dead-weight of Asiatic indifference and inertia; others again are actively and resolutely barbarous. It has thus happened that at the same moment there have been prisoners treated with almost theatrical politeness and consideration, prisoners left to starve and die through simple neglect and incompetence, and prisoners driven and tormented like beasts. These violent inconsistencies make it very difficult to give a coherent and general account of the experience of our men. Almost any unqualified statement can be contradicted again and again by undoubted facts; and the whole subject seems often to be ruled by nothing but pure chance.
Yet on the whole there are two principles which may be detected as influencing the behavior of the Turk in this matter, first and last, one being an affair of deliberate policy, the other instinctive and customary. Mixed in with a good deal of easy-going kindness, there is always to be found the conviction that it can matter little what becomes of the ordinary mass, so long as compliments are paid to the great. It has doubtless been a real surprise to the Turkish mind, even in high places, to learn that the rights of the common soldier are seriously regarded by western opinion�the rights, moreover, of a few thousand disarmed men who could be no longer used in battle. This principle has not always been effective, it must be added, in its application to prisoners of higher rank, as some of the following pages will abundantly show; but it has seldom failed in the treatment of the rank and file. These have had small reason in their helplessness to regard the Turk as that chivalrous and honorable foe of whom we have sometimes heard.
It need scarcely be said that the level of surgical and medical skill is low in Turkey. There are good doctors, but not many of them, and it is only in Constantinople that they are to be found. In the provincial towns the hospitals are nearly always places of neglect and squalor, where a sick man is simply left to take his chance of recovery, a chance greatly compromised by Turkey�s total indifference to the first rudiments of sanitation. Such hospitals are naturally the last to be provided with adequate stock or equipment of any kind; and even if some modern appliance is by fortune forthcoming, it will probably be beyond the local talent to make use of it. In a very horrible Red Crescent hospital at Angora, for example, there was at one time seen an excellent German disinfecting apparatus standing idle amidst the filth, because no one could tell how it was worked. It is fair to say that in such places there is no distinction between the treatment of prisoners and that of Turkish sick or wounded; all suffer alike by reason of a state of civilization centuries out of date.
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