Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 12 - Edith Cavell, Martyr, Nurse, Victim of War

It was a long walk from her cell to the yard where she would meet her calling. She had been in the cell for several weeks but the last two had been the worst. For the preceding two weeks, Edith had been kept in solitary confinement as she was tried by the German courts in Belgium. World War I was in full swing and Edith was being accused of helping British and allied soldiers within Belgium and aiding some to escape to the neutral Netherlands. This was unacceptable to the suspicious German officers and they insisted on her condemnation and execution. Both of these goals were achieved in the military tribunals.

As a nurse, she had found much work in Belgium as the war made shreds and husks of people. She was indiscriminate in whom she chose to offer medical assistance to. It was her earnest desire not to wage war by healing her "allies" and refusing her "enemies" but, rather, to limit and the seemingly unstoppable ravages of war. She saved many lives--Britons, Belgians, Germans--and helped those looking for sanctuary to escape. When asked about her indiscriminate mercy--even for her "enemies"--she would say, "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Many important and influential people lobbied for her release on the grounds that she had helped so many regardless of nationality or political position. Britain and the United States of America petitioned the powerful among the Germans first on the grounds that they would interpret her execution as another act of ruthless aggression. In essence, they made a threat and when this didn't immediately achieve their goal, they appealed to the mercy of the German officials. This happened too late, however, because the Germans who had captures Edith were aware that a pardon was likely coming and so hurried to have her dragged from her cell at dawn and shot by a firing squad. She had been given multiple opportunities to explain herself but her only defense was to insist: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved."

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