Thursday, December 12, 2013

Kipling on Afghanistan 2013, and other subjects

Real classics seem to be about universal things, to a great extent, and most everything Kipling wrote is still applicable to life and reality, and probably will be a thousand years from now. Kipling, for all his flaws, is a remarkably accurate critic of things going on now, decades after his death. Kipling came along at the beginning of the modern age, when a lot of our more idiotic trends originated. Interstingly, a contemporary of his, Mark Twain, advocated a lot of the idiotic trends that Kipling opposed. With hindsight, the realists among us have to admit that Kipling was way ahead of Twain as a prophet. This goes all the way from our debilitating welfare state mentality to our cultural hostility to the best among us. And this also serves as an update about the mistreated Royal Marine mentioned HERE before. From Takimag, John Derbyshire writes:

The City of Brass

Little more than a hundred years ago the modern British welfare state was born in David Lloyd George’s 1909 finance bill, the “people’s budget.” Hearing of the bill’s provisions—old-age pensions! unemployment benefits! land taxes! (in those innocent times it was thought prudent to pay for social programs with taxation)—Rudyard Kipling was furious. He vented his fury in a poem, “The City of Brass,” 32 couplets of anapestic pentameter thundering with internal rhymes.

The gist of the thing was that Kipling’s countrymen, “smitten with madness” by their commercial and imperial success, had given themselves over to fantasies of social perfection, egged on by demagogues—“prophets and priests of minute understanding”:

They rose to suppose themselves kings over all things created—To decree a new earth at a birth without labour or sorrow
To declare: “We prepare it today and inherit tomorrow.”

Ants were to be punished, grasshoppers rewarded:

They said: “Who is eaten by sloth? Whose unthrift has destroyed him?
He shall levy a tribute from all because none have employed him.”

Criminals were to be set above the law:

So the robber did judgment again upon such as displeased him,
The slayer, too, boasted his slain, and the judges released him.

The people, led by demagogues, “awakened unrest for a jest” among the subject peoples of the Empire and “jeered at the blood of their brethren betrayed by their orders.”

Worse yet, they mocked the bourgeois virtues:

They nosed out and digged up and dragged forth and exposed to derision
All doctrine of purpose and worth and restraint and prevision.

It was all a bit splenetic. Kipling worked the general theme much better—more soberly, more reflectively—ten years later in “The Gods of the Copybook Headings.” If you are feeling splenetic rather than reflective, though, the earlier poem suits your mood better. And yes, that’s how I’m feeling, looking across the Atlantic to the land Kipling loved and to which I still have, I confess, some emotional connection.

Here, for example, is a story that got my spleen overheating. Sergeant Alexander Blackman of the Royal Marines has been given a life sentence at court-martial for shooting dead a wounded Taliban captive in Afghanistan. He was told he would serve at least ten years, which is around normal for the number of years that civilian murderers serve in Britain. (The average is 14 years, but this average is pushed up by very long terms for the worst kinds of murders—of children, police, etc.)

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty sure not one person in Sgt. Blackmans chain of command from his platoon commander right up through the CENTCOM commander told him to do that. Matter of fact, I'd bet my next six paychecks he was told from day one at Lympstone not to do that (along with several other things not to do).

    I know I was told not to kill enemy wounded in the USMC and US Army both. I was also told some of the reasons why you don't kill them and later in life found more reasons on my own.

    Perhaps in view of other sentences his was more harsh but he had also put himself in a position requiring great responsibility, something your average murderer doesn't. That deserves a harsher sentence.

    He knew he fucked up because he told the boys in his platoon that he had "violated the Geneva convention". As a platoon sergeant he's supposed to be setting an example and keeping the lads in line...

    What sets Blackman apart from the uncountable numbers of identical killings throughout history is modern technology. Nobody had helmet cameras and cellphones during the Peninsular War or on the Plains of Abraham or the assault on Seringapatim or the Imjin River fight... well, you get the picture.

    It may well be a shame that a garden variety murderer in the UK gets 14 years but that doesn't let Blackman off the hook.

    Regards, some guy who knows better