Tongues of Fire on Idris Flaring

Practically Historical reminds us that last Friday was the 137th anniversary of the battle of Rork’s Drift. This was the occasion when the British fought against an attack from the Zulus in Natal. It was held by the B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot, who became not long afterward the South Wales Borderers, and is now part of the Royal Welsh. On that day, 11 Victoria Crosses were earned, a level never surpassed in the British Army. It was immortalized in the film Zulu in 1964, which you can watch here:, It’s pretty well up on my favorites list!

via Men of Harlech | Practically Historical.

The most famous part for many of us, is the regimental march of the 24th, the SWB, and the Royal Welsh. It is called Men of Harlech, and it celebrates the longest siege in British history, the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle between 1461 and 1468, commanded by Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan. This very moving version is by the band of the Royal Regiment of Wales, in the church at Rorke’s Drift on the 120th anniversary of the battle

I always like to note that it has a place in American history as well. It was heard during that bayonet charge at the 1st of Ia Drang, and again on 911, both times a Cornish variant being sung by Colonel Rick Rescorla, ret. of the 7th Cavalry, who was raised in Cornwall.

Since we’re doing the Welsh military today, not to mention Men of Harlech, it should be noted that Men of Harlech is also the slow march of the 1st the Queens Dragoon Guards, more commonly called the Welsh Cavalry, who returned recently from Germany, and are now stationed at Robertson Barracks, in Norfolk, and seem to like it, as they are training on their new Coyote wheeled armoured vehicles. There’s a video here, and I suspect my American readers will enjoy the Norfolk version of ‘coyote’ as well :)

What is politics for?

Gladstone quote

America, as we’ve commented before here many times, is unique in being a country based on an idea, and that idea was most famously expressed by Abe Lincoln as ‘government by the people and for the people’. It was to secure that that ideal did not perish that the Civil War was fought, and it has been in its defence that the USA became the defender of the free world. Despite George Washington’s farewell address, post world war II America discovered that if it did not go abroad to slay them, the dragons might well get to place from which they could do it serious harm.

That huge effort, entailed real dangers for the nature of the US political system. As Commander in Chief, the office of the President assumed greater important in time of war, POTUS had to be more than just first among equals, but with that came the trappings of what came to be called the ‘imperial presidency. A huge defence budget created what Ike called ‘the military-industrial complex’ which, in many ways, was the opposite of government by the people and for the people; it was government on behalf of the defence of the people, which carried with it the real risk of depriving the people of some of its freedoms in order to defend others.

Allied to that danger was another which is inherent in all democracies – that of the debauching of electoral politics by pork-barrelling. At its least harmful (which is still harmful) this was a matter of Congressional districts getting something in return for the way a Congressman voted; at its worst it becomes systematic bribery in which politicians promise to tax one group for the benefit of the other – what ion other walks of life we’d call robbing Peter to pay Paul; as long as Pauls outnumber Peter, you win: the problems tend to kick in when you run out of Peter’s money – which always happens.

We like to think that politics is the pursuit of the national interest, but how is that defined and who defines it? On the level of war and peace you can do it with a pretty broad consensus – not many want the USA to be conquered or weakened (though some seem unable to see these things might follow from their preferences), but when it comes to domestic politics, interests are harder to define. Some will not want big government, others might if they get told it is going to look after all their needs, and some would reject it even with that bribe because they don’t believe that in this life you get something for nothing.

Political decision makers reflect a variety of assumptions, some stemming from their own education and social and political biases, others from what they suppose the public wants, or can be persuaded to votes for. The temptation to cultivate popular prejudices for political gain is so hard to resist and so prevalent that one might doubt some politicians even know they are doing just that half the time. We all want politicians to be decent, honest and truthful, but as electors, we tend to reward them when they are not. Civic virtue rests with ‘we the people’ and if we won’t exercise it, then I guess we can’t expect our politicians to do so either.

You can correct me here, but I think Harry S Truman was the last POTUS to leave office without being a very rich man (query Gerald Ford here?). It’s true some of them were rich before they were President, but as the career of Bill Clinton has shown (and Obama’s will show) you can make a pot of cash after the Presidency.  In such a world, money becomes the touchstone, and in that world, where cash is king, civic virtue tends to leak away.

It was Churchill who popularised the saying that democracy is the worst form of government – except for all of the others. He was, as so often, right, but if we don’t insist on a straight and clean politics, then we’ll get what we have. It is this feeling of disenchantment which fuels the cynicism that is such a threat to our democracy.

Original Sins?


All nations have narratives about themselves, it is America’s unique position to have done this in filmic form. The films my father watched – John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart films, often dealt with the theme of ‘the way the West was won’. It is sometimes said by those who haven’t watched enough films, that the narrative around this theme is simplistic and triumphalist – which is code for ‘the white guys won and are celebrating that’. Let’s hold back for a moment the question of why that might be a bad thing, and say that you couldn’t watch a movie like ‘the Searchers’ and come away with something that crude. Ethan Edwards, the character played by John Wayne, is prepared to scalp the Indian he kills, and even to kill his niece Debbie because ‘living with Comanches isn’t living’. There are times he’s as brutal as those he is fighting. The whole film is far from presenting a black and white image of the ‘old West’.

Such films now fall under the general suspicion to which it seems to me many of the achievements of Western Civilization have succumbed; it is as though we no longer have the confidence to face our own past squarely, but must, instead, offer mumbled apologies for it. It isn’t hard to see why. The legacies of the history of the USA are bad as well as good. The great civilization which was built up and which created the greatest Power in the world, was not without its casualties. As the Native Americans had no ‘green card’ system or immigration rules, no one thought to ask the Pilgrim Fathers for their work-permits. The great cities and the railroads which linked them, and the great population expansion all took place in a manner where there were losers as well as winners. The Native Americans were displaced and largely destroyed as a people, their customs and history derided, and their lands taken; they became a remnant in a continent they had once roamed freely. They were the ‘other’, the ‘enemy’ in those old Western, because they were to the European settlers; there was violence on both sides, but they lost, as they were bound to given the disparity in weaponry and resources. That’s a kind of original sin about which it is not surprising there are bad feelings. My own Briton ancestors were largely exterminated or pushed to the margins of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, but that was 1500 years ago, and I’ve probably got as much Anglo-Saxon in me as I do Welsh. History has, if not healed that hurt, made it irrelevant. But in the USA the history is too recent for either of those things, although it will have to deal with it – what’s the alternative – everyone of European ancestry goes away and leave the place as their ancestors found it? Hardly!

The other great casualty of the making of America was, of course, the huge number of African slaves brought over to work the plantations of the South. Here, too, the history is too recent and too sore for the hurts to have healed, and how this will work its way through only time can tell. The arguments for slavery bore a remarkable similarity to those for abortion now – the ‘negro’ was dehumanized, which allowed those who supported the evil to justify it on the ground that those being dehumanized were not humans. We can only hope that the evil of abortion will, one day, be looked upon as we look at the evil of slavery. What comfort there is comes from the fact that in the end, the majority descended from white European immigrants ended both slavery and then the ‘Jim Crow’ system. It does not mean that either their traces or their consequences have gone away, only time and political effort and vision can accomplish that. The things about Dr Martin Luther King which strikes me most is Christianity, and his vision for the future was that of a Christian prophet.

For our true Original Sin there is only one cure – Jesus – and it is in him, if anywhere, that the cure for the other ‘original sins’ discussed here will lie.

Saturday History Videos

With no quiz. Enjoy!

Got that? Wait there’s more

Sort of related, and interesting:

Kipling: Norman and Saxon A.D. 1100


The Unit commented the other day that Jess’ influence on me was pretty obvious. He’s right, it is, and its all to the good, I suspect. I also notice that many of you go back into our archives to read her articles. (I do too!). I’ve decided we should share some of those articles, which are favorites of mine (and yours) once again on the front page. Enjoy! (Neo)

Of all the poets who have ever written about England and Englishness, Kipling did it best.  There are many poems one could choose to illustrate the theme that Neo and I are dealing with, but this is one of my favourites. I think it should be on the wall of Congress and Parliament:

“My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will
be heir
To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for
When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little
handful it is.
But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

“The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice
When he stands like an ox in the furrow–with his sullen set eyes
on your own,
And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon

“You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your
Picardy spears;
But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole
brood round your ears.
From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained
serf in the field,
They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise,
you  will  yield.

“But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs
and songs.
Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale
of their own wrongs.
Let them know that you know what they are saying; let them feel
that you know what to say.
Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes
you all day.

They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour
of the dark.
It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game
in the park).
Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well
as unkind,
For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-
at-arms you can find.

“Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and
funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish
Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you
fellows’  and  ‘I.’
Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em
a lie!”

Decadence, Episode 4: Education

I’m going to post another one of these today, simply because I’m tied up and am not going to get anything written for you. Still, I intend to present the whole series, anyway, so it’s really a question of timing.

This one, on education, I think makes some very excellent points, although as we all know, if I agreed with everything he says, one of us would be superfluous. :)

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