Tuesday, August 30, 2005

English Victories & American Destinies

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England
~ John of Gaunt, Shakespeare's Richard ll

Tho' I've belted you an' flayed you,
By the livin' Gawd that made you,

You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
~ R. Kipling


A few years ago, after the World Cup, we heard German football fans taunted some British fans by saying "We beat the Brits at their national sport!"

"No big deal," replied the Brits, " we beat the Germans at their national sport twice in the last century."

That was pretty witty and pretty clever, if only partly true.

If not for America, things would have turned out worse.

It must be admitted,the ferocious Red Army played a part too,to say the least.

Ahhh, but that further muddles the whole freedom narrative, so some pretend not to have noticed that, especially when evaluating quips.

Yet, no matter what, the Brits still win the exchange.
It hit the Germans where it hurt the most. Also, the aggression of the rejoinder managed to camoflage itself inside a thin shell of comedy.

The English are good at this type of thing.

When Gus, an elderly Greek man we know, was elaborating on some aspects of historical Albion that he found perfideous, we reminded him of a famous quote from Winston Churchill:

"No longer will people say that Greeks fight like brave men, they will say brave men fight like Greeks."

Suddenly Gus stopped complaining about England and started recalling all that he found admirable in the English soul.

Turn to page fifty-six of
Blood, Class, And Empire, by Christopher Hitchens.

Owen Wister, friend of Teddy Roosevelt , author of "The Virginian," not only invented the romance of the cowboy, but also published many defenses of the British Empire before, during, and after World War One.

Wister was an anglophile and he thought anglophobic Americans were just suffering from an inferioity complex.

Wister referred to England as the "lion" and America as her "cub." Wister claimed that England saved America from France and Germany, rather than the other way around.

Wister, as such, became a target of opportunity for Daniel T. O'Connell's Fenian frame of mind.

O'Connell was an Irish-American attorney and director of the American Friends of Irish Freedom.

O'Connell's pamphlet, gently titled "Owen Wister, Advocate of Racial Hatred," accused Wister of being a parasite looking for favor from England and then projecting that attitude onto America.

Hitchens excepts O'Connell:


There is not in the history of any country, nor in criminal annals anywhere a record of crimes so shameful, so callous, so vile as England's opium war or England's present opium trade, or the rape of the Boer Republics, of the crimes in India and in Persia and in Ireland and in Egypt, of Amritsar and of Congo.

That's pretty clear, but he goes on:

What he [Wister] says leaves the impression that he is a frank sycophant. He is always in awe of persons and things English ... he should know that gorge of anybody, even an Englishman, will rise at cringing servility and flattery.

England's power has since declined, and so has hatred of her, the Royal Standard, and the Union Jack.

Yet, one can not help but be impressed by the British Empire as O' Connell denounces it, in part because of it was worthy of denounciation and it inspired declarations. It was a very bloody affair.

However, history mutes O' Connell's complaint as memories merge with nostalgia. The 'exoticism' of the conquests, with historical 'distance,' can sounds poetic, especially in its twilight:

Lord Kitchner, Cecil Rhodes, Chinese Gordon, Glubb Pasha, Araby, The Orient, East of Suez, Mespot, Khyber Pass, Lahore, Amritsar, The Grand Trunk Road, etc.

Further, O' Connnel's excellent English rhetoric further adds to the irony; his use of the English language serves to remind everyone of one significant result of the English occupation of Ireland.

Christopher Hitchens, recently wrote of India and the romance of Empire:

My father was a Royal Navy man and I was brought uplargely on navy bases, and sent to a boy's boarding school that was attended mainly by the sons of officers.The school library was full of books devoted to the romance of colonialism, and I loved to steep myself inthe work of G.A. Henty and, as time went on, John Masters and Rudyard Kipling. Maharajahs, elephants, dusty plains, imposing mountains, teeming bazaars...and loyal Indian jemadars and subedars who made sturdy and trusty subordinates. The history lessons more or less repeated these tropes: we had to know about the Battle of Plassey, the Siege of Lucknow and the Black Hole of Calcutta, though if you paid attention and did a little extra reading you might discover, from Edmund Burke's impeachment of Warren Hastings, that not everything had been part of a civilising mission.

Not everything?

After reading this, you can be forgiven for forgetting to ask:

"What were the English doing in India anyway? Why did they partition the Subcontinent? India? Bangladesh? Pakistan? Afganistan? What about Israel and the West Bank?

Are not both the Israelis and the Palestinians, in many ways, both victims of this British method? What about the odd creation of Iraq after the Great War? The divisions of the Kurds? The Transjordon? Cyprus partitioned? Ireland? Etc.

Partion, so as to divide and conquer, was necessary for conquest. It became necessary in retreat too.

Are we Americans condemned to repeat this in Iraq?

Are we just treading the same ground and repeating the same mistakes?

Americans rejected Empire over two hundred years ago, so serious Americans feel obligated to mock the idea of romance in Empire. We are not English.

Nevertheless, growing up we were still thrilled by the stories, myths, and histories that grew out of the British Empire.

We are now paying the price for all these old partitions. Partitions are like wounds that do not heal, but continue to blee royal red.

The romance of colonialism, of which Hitchens speaks, sound compelling. Those were heady days. Thus, you have the English victory of historical style over the substance of current reality.

In some ways, you can see a similar pattern, in some movies. Consider the fact that the film "Wall Street," tells a tale that is critical of Wall St.. Yet, the movie is exciting and that causes people to be attracted, rather than repelled, by the characters and settings on screen. The actor who played "Gekko" noted this; he was puzzled why fans would express admiration, along with a desire for emulation, for his villianous character.

In the movie "Chariots of Fire," the English writer and director craft a modernist message that conforms to their progressive politics and serves as critique of the old order. Nevertheless, the visual images of an older England overwhelm the script and serve as a powerful counter-argument. It's a compelling mix.

Maybe tales of the British Empire, especially when purged of bloodier chapters, are just too thrilling. Yet, the fact that they are so uniquely English may serve to remind us why America should not decay into Empire, but restore the republican ideals that made us a place apart.

Maybe tales of the British Empire better explain why some of the most articulate and most aggressive voices for America to act imperially seem to come from that 'happy breed of men,' who come from that 'blessed plot,' that 'seat of Mars,' England.

11 Comments:

At 12:49 AM, Blogger Copeland said...

There is a line in the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" where Omar Sharif says "The sands of my country have soaked up more blood than you can imagine". And the English have had their darker moments. "The jackal and dog rule all England, under the hog." (but that would be Richard III).

My sisters still tease me about how much of an Anglophile I was when I was a boy. When we were home from school, in the summer, I would make my younger siblings watch all those B-movies of WWII, where the Englishman saves the day; and there was the dashing Errol Flynn in "The Charge of the Light Brigade". In "King Lear", "Macbeth", "Othello", and "Richard III" Shakespeare makes us wonder if human beings really regain quite all the moral ground they cede.

America is no stranger to Empire, ethnic cleansing, or the labido's urge for vast booty and endless nookie, and wealth beyond dreams of avarice, which only empire can provide. The richness of experience and duration is all that separates us from our English cousins. America is a Two-Act play, and England is the full Shakespearean opus.

Our own country was not the same after the Indian Removal Act, not the same after the Mexican-American war, after the Wounded Knee Massacre and other related acts, not the same after the boiler exploded on the Battleship Maine, or later, when whole Philippine villages and their inhabitants were eradicated by our expeditionary force. We are stuck in another rut in Iraq; and if it's the awkward end of an awkward series of lies, we have only ourselves to blame.

"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

 
At 1:58 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Thanks Copeland- much to think about, as usual.

Maybe only a Frenchman can fail to be moved by Shakespeare's John of Gaunt.

The point we were trying to make, was less about specific events in American history, which can always be contested, but more about an idea that was, if you will, 'present at the creation.'
The idea being, 'an end to Kings,' and the attendent presumption that accompanied the older order.

The Kingly temptation may be the hidden hand - that has caused America to be endlessly familiar with repeated loss of innocence.

Russia is bloodier, so was Germany. Belgium greased the Congo, and Spain despoiled S. America. Japan havoced China, China laid wast to itself , and to Tibet. Hindus attacked Muslims in India, while Muslims attack Christians in Africa. Africa is a vast charnal house of despair, war, and ruin. In Afganistan, the mountains are called the Hindu Kush, for reasons Kipling can speak to.
The world is a blood place.
The English are just better than others at telling their tales.

"Lawrence of Arabia!" Now that's a great movie. It captures so much. You can never really disapprove of British imperialism properly, until you acknowledge the thrill the accompanies the story.

Lawrence was 'present at the creation' of the modern middle east- witness to the orginal sin(s),

Regarding the Phillipines, that was one area of the past that modern war advocate, Max Boot, cites as a good example of how America can take on an insurgency. Of course, he talks tough, like many who know not, nor care not, how theories play out in reality.

Regarding:

"The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

We alluded to that commentary by Cassius in our previous post about Hitchens, when we talked about Collosi of Polemic.

Emman Lazarus, in her Statue of Liberty poem 'The New Colossus' offers a rebuke to the historical old Colossus. You can imagine what she would think of Dubya, arms akimbo, strutting about his Texas pig farm (which he calls a ranch), talking shock & awe, while his supporters trash grieving mothers.!

Here's a larger except, from JCaesr (i,ii), that included that 'dear Brutus' line- there are many insights contained therein:

Cassius:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Cæsar: what should be in that ‘Cæsar?’
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with ’em,
‘Brutus’ will start a spirit as soon as ‘Cæsar.’
Now, in the names of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Cæsar feed,
That he is grown so great? Age, thou art sham’d!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was fam’d with more than with one man?
When could they say, till now, that talk’d of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass’d but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
O! you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.


Brutus: That you do love me,I am nothing jealous;
What you would work me to, I have some aim:
How I have thought of this and of these times,
I shall recount hereafter; for this present,
I would not, so with love I might entreat you,
Be any further mov’d. What you have said
I will consider; what you have to say
I will with patience hear, and find a time
Both meet to hear and answer such high things.
Till then, my noble friend, chew upon this:
Brutus had rather be a villager
Than to repute himself a son of Rome
Under these hard conditions as this time
Is like to lay upon us.

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

GI, whereas I agree with the theme of your post, I must take issue with your comment about Bush's supporters trashing grieving mothers. Most serious Republicans do not find fault with Cindy's action because she's against the war, but because she claims absolute authority of opinion and because she expresses that opinion in a form unpalatable to Americans. (i.e. "this country is not worth fighting for", not to mention the comments implying that the war in Iraq was actually the war for Israel") Many Democrats call such criticisms "trashing" her, but in reality what's being trashed is trashy ideology hiding under the guise of democratic opposition to the war.

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Copeland just got back from there, and may have met her, so maybe you can ask him about her and what she thinks, but one thing that you can be sure of is that people are attributing false views to her.

She claims no authority- you are attributing Maureen Dowd's words to her. She makes no claims and has no theories. She has said publicly and no one suggests she is a liar- they suggest otherwise, to a fault.

She is asking for the answer to a question, "What is the noble cause, Mr. President?" - She took note that the President has tried to change the reasons for war, since the congessional authorization and she wants answers.

Regarding those quotes, she disputes those attributions- how you gonna believe anyway- her or proven BS artists? Also, as a grieving mother, who was not political, understandable will change her views many times over the course of her unwished-for education. Further, the comments that she is alleged to have made,asnd denies, are far more elipitical than earlier quotes of HItchens and they are not any different that Tom Friedman has said, in so many words, on the NY Times op-ed page. The BS being pushed against her is a cynical campaign- directed against a grieving mother. They know that is all baloney. It's shameful. Two years ago, if someone suggested that there would be such a campaign of vilification against a Gold Star Mom, you would never have believed it.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Yet, as Kipling might have said:
You're a better blogger than we are , Irina Tsukerman.

 
At 9:51 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Copeland says:
"America is a Two-Act play, and England is the full Shakespearean opus"

Maybe not. What Shakespeare seems to capture is the fact that everyone is the same - every society recognizes itself, and recognizes those familiar personalities. It may be that we are a in the middle of a play within a play, like in Hamlet, so we just cannot see the larger structure being built around us. Or maybe we are in act 1 or 2, and it looks sitcomish, but when act 3 comes, we will feel the change.

Bush has been compared to Richard lll by some Bard buffs, but some suggest that Shakespeare was unfair to Richard. Clinton was often compared to Hal, but that comparison has problems too.

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger Copeland said...

The impression that I get from hearing Cindy's speech in Crawford is that "our country" is not the issue in the Iraq war. We are not fighting for America in this war. The question that is being asked is: what in fact are we fighting for? Cindy Sheehan was emphatic that these deaths, like the death of her son Casey, are pointless deaths, which must be brought to an end.

Bush can't really respond to Cindy's inquiry, regarding the alleged "noble cause", because Bush is out of his depth as a leader, and has been a lousy leader. The President's constant appeal has been through his happy talk, to allay domestic fear with delusions and unrealistic optimism.

Sheehan's speech did emphasize her belief that Bush has been seduced by his own power over life and death. Having spilled our soldiers blood in Iraq, he is inclined to spill even more blood.She insists that the pointless deaths should be brought to and end, and that our soldiers must be brought home.

 
At 1:31 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Again, I have no problem with her questioning the war or demanding the meeting with the President. I may think of it as absurd, but that's her right. What I really can't understand is some of the more extreme statements she's made.

 
At 1:08 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Irina, maybe we'd agree with you a bit if we thought she said what she was accused of saying, but we don't and we doubt most of the people who decided to target her actually care or think she said those things. She is a victim, not a perpetrator; there as an attempt to paint her otherwise, so as to serve the powers that be.

 
At 10:20 AM, Blogger NYCbeauty said...

Wow, a smart, fabulously written political and social commentary. I love your blog now. I'm going to add you. Thanks for visiting mine. It's nice to get some intelligent feedback!
-jw

 
At 10:30 AM, Blogger Gothamimage said...

Thanks Jenn. You are very generous.
A compliment from NYCBeauty goes a long way.

 

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