Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Drums of war.

Islam spread by the sword. Christianity, I'd argue, spread initially because of an acceptance of it's message of brotherly love (and later it became the State Religion of Rome). As religions go, few are more peacable than Budhism (the Jains perhaps). It is timely to remember that Christianity replaced many pagan religions in what was to become The West. In fact many 'Christian' holidays - like Easter and Christmas - borrow heavily from pagan predecessors.

If Islam views the west as effeminate, decadent, and unwilling to fight, they should examine the military history of the Anglosphere countries. 'Twould be telling. What underpins the Western soldier's value system?

First, I would identify chivalry, which some may identify as weakness, but I would argue is a noble difference between us and the rest. That and the fact that individual freedom MATTERS to us, and an individual life MATTERS. A loss of each individual soldier MATTERS, and his (or her) sacrifice matters more, and is honoured more (I argue) in our culture than in most.

But a westerner who becomes a soldier generally becomes a very good one, and the whole is much more than the sum of it's parts. So, I ask again why is the source of that drive? I don't have the answers, but I have my suspicions.

For a start. most of what became 'the West' has it's genesis in the migration of the Teutonic tribes c450AD - the ones who engulfed Rome. The Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and those who became the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes. Who in turn gave rise to the Anglo-Saxons, and the Vikings in particular. That's where 'we' in large part come from in terms of our culture and mythology. Though you must add in equal measures of Greek learning, and Roman ways of doing things, and the values of Judeo-Christian theology.

Of course, the poets distill it best;
...I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,
As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.
How white their steel, how bright their eyes!
I love each laughing knave,
Cry high and bid them welcome to the banquet of the brave.
Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,
When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.
The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose,
- You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes....
( From: The Last Hero - G K Chesterton).
and more

...Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon;
let the brow o’erwhelm it As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit To his full height.
On, on, you noblest English. Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war.
And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England,
show us here The mettle of your pasture;
let us swear That you are worth your breeding;
which I doubt not; For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start.
The game’s afoot: Follow your spirit,
and upon this charge
Cry “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”....

That is from Shakespeare's Henry the Fifth, which is best known for this passage;

...This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian:”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say “These wounds I had on Crispin’s day.”
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember’d.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers...

"..In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man As modest stillness and humility: But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Then imitate the action of the tiger..."

So to the Ahmadinejad's of the world, we could say; 'beware', keep pushing and you will see another side to our cultural makeup. You may promise paradise to your footsoldiers, but ignore at your peril the righteous rage of those who fight for a noble ideal, and heed that we have a Valhalla in our ancestry and the warriors creed comes from deep in our DNA as well. Will there be time again for Viking and the ride of the Valkeries?


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