• Kipling's Regret: The Arrogance That Slew

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    any question why we died,
    them, because our fathers lied.

    from “Epitaphs
    of the War
    ” by Rudyard Kipling (1918)

    Many LewRockwell.com
    readers know this couplet well, but it may be that fewer are familiar
    with Kipling’s poem “Mesopotamia.”  That verse is so completely
    applicable to our current situation (especially the title) as to
    cry out to be heard again.  The title refers to the British
    campaign in the Arab lands during World War I.  O so little
    we have learned in some 90 years:

    by Rudyard

    They shall
    not return to us, the resolute, the young,
    The eager and whole-hearted whom we gave:
    But the men who left them thriftily to die in their own dung,
    Shall they come with years and honour to the grave?

    They shall
    not return to us, the strong men coldly slain
    In sight of help denied from day to day:
    But the men who edged their agonies and chid them in their pain,
    Are they too strong and wise to put away?

    Our dead
    shall not return to us while Day and Night divide –
    Never while the bars of sunset hold.
    But the idle-minded overlings who quibbled while they died,
    Shall they thrust for high employments as of old?

    Shall we
    only threaten and be angry for an hour?
    When the storm is ended shall we find
    How softly but how swiftly they have sidled back to power
    By the favour and contrivance of their kind?

    Even while
    they soothe us, while they promise large amends,
    Even while they make a show of fear,
    Do they call upon their debtors, and take counsel with their friends,
    To confirm and re-establish each career?

    Their lives
    cannot repay us – their death could not undo –
    The shame that they have laid upon our race.
    But the slothfulness that wasted and the arrogance that slew,
    Shall we leave it unabated in its place?

    On the same
    note, the epitaph immediately following the famous one above is
    for the headstone of "A Dead Statesman:"

    I could
    not dig: I dared not rob:
    Therefore I lied to please the mob.
    Now all my lies are proved untrue
    And I must face the men I slew.
    What tale shall serve me here among
    Mine angry and defrauded young?

    Up until the
    war Kipling had glorified the British empire and army and wars in
    many of his works. When the war came, he encouraged his son to join
    the army, and even pulled a lot of strings to get him admitted despite
    his physical disabilities. His son was killed in France in 1915,
    at the age of 18. These facts lend added meaning to the epitaph
    at the head of this column.

    Well, although
    Kipling spent his early career glorifying empire, army, and war,
    he has shown us that even such a one can sincerely (and unpopularly)
    change his mind later in life. It seems to me that there is some
    hope in that.

    27, 2006

    M. Montalbano [send him mail]
    is a retired programmer/analyst in rural Oregon.

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