The house where I spent most of my childhood no longer exists except in my memory. It was a modest wood frame three bedroom house with indoor plumbing and no heat other than space heaters in the bathroom and dining room. During the summers I read in an easy chair with a west facing window in the living room. The World Book Encyclopedia, mother’s Book of the Month selections, and assorted religious references were in the arm’s length book case.
In the winter my brother and I slept in the full length finished attic room. It had no heat, but was warmer than the rest of the house. For some reason I can remember which space I was in when I read various books, and I read everything Rudyard Kipling in the attic. I read the Jungle Book, Just So Stories, Kim, the collected poetry of Kipling, The White Man’s Burden, The Man Who Would Be King, and don’t remember reading, “If…”
Kipling was offered a Poet Laureateship and a Knighthood and declined both. He was once regarded highly in Great Britain.
Kipling was a wonderful story teller. I remember reading The White Man’s Burden and thinking that’s your idea, not mine, and I found some comfort in reading “The Ballad of East and West”. The “Ballad” seemed to say that, despite Kipling’s paternalistic view and belief in the superiority of white European culture, he recognized that there were exceptions to his view.
By the time I got to high school teachers were no longer recommending Kipling’s books, and by college in the early sixties Kipling was viewed as an apologist for European Colonial Imperialism.
I am a dolt when it comes to rote memory. Memorizing poems was and remains a chore, and once memorized poems and lyrics seem to fade rapidly from my memory. The “Ballad” is one of the few poems that I chose to memorize. The message lies in the lines,
“For there is neither race nor creed,
nor border nor breed nor birth,
when two strong men come face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth.”
As I was thinking of those lines this morning it occurred to me that Kipling’s lines once again reflected his British views on what it meant to be a man. Men were strong. Men did not back down. Men fought and died for their ideals.
I looked up the poem because I remembered nothing but the refrain which opens and closes the poem. The story was really about respect and alliance. Kamal, an Afghan raider has stolen the Colonel’s mare right out of the stable. The Colonel’s son rides to retrieve it. As he comes across Kamal, and his twenty men, Kamal remarks on his ability with a rifle, and challenges him to a race; the Colonel’s mare with Kamal astride, and the Colonel’s son on his steed. They ride through the night and finally the Colonel’s son’s horse falls and traps the son. Kamal pulls him free and kicks the son’s pistol to the side telling him that if at any time he had chosen to do so, Kamal’s men, hidden along the trail would have killed the son.
His respect for the son’s courage and ability and the fact that the mare seems to love the son, causes him to return the mare, with Kamal’s silver decorated saddle to the son and in addition pledges his own son to the Colonel’s son to ride at his left side until Kamal dies. Kamal’s son becomes a Man of the Guides. Instead of subjugation there seems to be an alliance of equals.
Kipling has been thrown to the trash heap for political rather than literary reasons. There is no doubt that Kipling’s overriding theme in his writing was European superiority; a superiority falsely believed to be due to keener intellect, greater courage, and superior culture. In more recent times the case has been made that European superiority came from coal and iron ore – the key ingredients for making steel and weapons – draft animals which provided the work necessary to build things and wage war, as well as, a number of diseases for which colonies had no immunity.
I wonder which authors will find their works ignored once America’s imperialism becomes known for what it is; a nation built on slavery, influence on the types of governments and selection of leaders in countries where America had “interests” and a military designed to protect, not the people, but those business interests abroad.
Greed may once again be regarded as bad. “Atlas Shrugged” and everything Ayn Rand wrote would be put on a dusty back shelf of literary oblivion.
Extreme nationalism, in the guise of patriotism, flag waving, and xenophobia may once again be seen as jingoism.
On the other hand, Kipling may once again be regarded highly and his literary exile be seen as the result of liberal bias.
A man named Niall Ferguson has been resurrecting the notion that empire was benevolent. In an article in the Guardian, Priyamvada Gopal has written against this idea in an article titled, “The story being peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale.” In the article he says Colonialism was a “tale of slavery, plunder, war, corruption, land-grabbing, famines, exploitation, indentured labour, impoverishment, massacre, genocide and forced resettlement.” Any attempt to paint the period as one of benevolence during which a few bad incidents and opponents to civilization of natives destroyed a good thing.
Mr. Ferguson and others of his ilk have been encouraged by the missionary zeal of the right in the U.S. to restore America’s role as “leader of the Free World”, a euphemism for imperialist.
Most people know Mark Twain as the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Few know him as a fervent opponent of American Imperialism. Twain’s book “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” railed against the U.S. actions in the Philippines, and the whole concept of Captains of Industry.
In an attempt to regain what they never had through a fairytale time that never existed, there are Americans and British longing for the good-old-days when their families had it easy by bringing Christianity and Western Civilization to places as far-flung as India and the American West.
In politics things are never what they are advertised to be. Knowing that, it was still encouraging to hear former president George W. Bush, this morning, say that “bigotry and white supremacy are blasphemy to the American creed.”
Remember that none of the traditional wing of the Republican Party made any headway against Donald Trump in the last primary. A surprising number of top ranking Republicans who call them selves Governing Republicans, are choosing not to run again. Is this in preparation for a new and revised version of the GOP to run against the Freedom Caucus type of Republicans? Remember that Jeb Bush was one of those who were unsuccessful against Trump.
For now, maybe we should just take this as a nice move by a neoconservative to paint his period of blatant efforts at restructuring the governments of two countries as a statement of contrition.