"Guests of the Nation" by Frank O'Connor is about a strange friendship between two English prisoners of war and their Irish guards. Belcher and Hawkins are English prisoners of war; Noble and Bonaparte, with whom they immediately establish an authentic friendship, are their guards. The guards and their prisoners lead a routine life, which consists of evening card games, religion and capitalism discussions, and helping with the chores. One evening Jeremiah Donovan, another Irish soldier, informs Bonaparte that the purpose of keeping the Englishmen is to use them as a reprisal if the enemy kills any of their Irish prisoners. The next day this occurs and they are faced with the reality of fulfilling their duty. The prisoners' first reaction is to believe that it is all a joke; however, as soon as he is convinced of the truth, Hawkins tries to talk them into letting them join the Irish side.
This is useless and Donovan shoots him. Hawkins is not killed by the first shot, and Bonaparte gives him the second shot that ends his life. Donovan shoots Belcher next, Noble tries to stop him but is too late. Noble is left feeling overwhelmed by the event; while Bonaparte feels powerless and diminished. Both live with the memory of failing to save their friends' lives. O'Connor shows that in a war the choice between friendship and duty can have devastating effects on individuals.