The fifteenth in my ongoing series examining the poetry of Rudyard Kipling. The other posts in the series may be read here, here , here , here, here , here, here, here, here , here, here, here , here and here.
At National Review Online they had the superb idea of taking Kipling’s poem Mesopotamia and applying it to the Benghazi debacle. The Mesopotamian, modern day Iraq, Campaign had been a disaster for the British in 1916 with a British army surrendering to the Turks at Kut. British public opinion was outraged at the incompetence that led to the defeat. When a report by the government on Kut was published in 1917, Kipling responded with his devastating poem. (Ironically the British in 1917, under the able General Frederick Maude, had succeeded in capturing Baghdad by the time the poem appeared.) The lines of the Kipling poem do seem to apply word for word to the Benghazi shame:
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 conform 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?