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If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied
August 30, 2006 1:14 PM   Subscribe

My Boy Jack. A heart wrenching story: "For Rudyard Kipling, the most famous author of the age, the carnage at Loos on the Western Front in September 1915 plunged him into inner darkness. His only son, John, for whom he had written his best-loved poem, If, had been killed in the action just six weeks after his 18th birthday." [more inside]
posted by marxchivist (18 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kipling, having pulled strings to get his son in the army, was wracked with guilt and "the author carried out hundreds of interviews with his late son's comrades, building up a detailed picture of his last moments." Kipling became a prominent member of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but according to the linked article, there is some question if his son's remains were properly identified.

Although the "Jack" in the poem is a sailor, it is generally believed that Kipling's poem "My Boy Jack" was written about his son.

Everybody seems to quote these lines when talking about Kipling and World War I: "If any question why we died/ Tell them, because our fathers lied," but no one seems to acknowledge what poem the lines come from.
posted by marxchivist at 1:14 PM on August 30, 2006


Pretty sure those lines are from Epitaphs of the War, Marxchivist.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:27 PM on August 30, 2006


In fact, the next epitaph is this one:

"A DEAD STATESMAN

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?"

The war to end all wars.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:33 PM on August 30, 2006


Mrs. Kipling wrote: "There is nothing else to do. The world must be saved from the German ... One can't let one's friends and neighbours' sons be killed in order to save us and our son."

It strikes me that, in general, those of us who are Americans don't share this attitude.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2006


Excellent post. Thank you.
posted by boo_radley at 1:54 PM on August 30, 2006


Here's an article by John Derbyshire, where he spends some time on the subject of Kipling's son. Here's a quote:
The news that his son was missing was delivered to Kipling by his friend Andrew Bonar Law, then leader of the Conservative Party. Kipling uttered "a curse like the cry of a dying man". He thereafter handled the tragedy with a proper and manly reserve; but echoes of his grief can be found all through his later poetry-- most unbearably in "The Children".
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given
To corruption unveiled and assailed by the malice of Heaven--
. . . .
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return to us our children?
It is plain that Kipling's great powers of imagination had allowed him to see the fate of his beloved boy's corpse all too clearly.
posted by mragreeable at 2:05 PM on August 30, 2006


It strikes me that, in general, those of us who are Americans don't share this attitude.

Kipling's situation was not comparable with yours: in 1915 the Second Reich were a genuine threat to the world, whereas today's grand claims of an "axis of evil" or "islamic Fascism" are... well... at the very best, an insult to all of those brave souls who gave their lives when there really was a threat.
posted by verisimilitude at 2:22 PM on August 30, 2006


Soon to be a TV movie, with Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as Jack.

Very good post, thanks, marxchivist.
posted by ibmcginty at 2:29 PM on August 30, 2006


Is it cruel to say Served him right?
posted by A189Nut at 2:49 PM on August 30, 2006


John's last letter to his father is almost unbearably poignant:

Dear F -
Just a hurried line as we start off tonight. The front line trenches are nine miles off from here so it wont be a very long march.
This is THE great effort to break through & end the war.
The guns have been going deafeningly all day, without a single stop.
We have to push through at all costs so we won't have much time in the trenches, which is great luck.
Funny to think one will be in the thick of it tomorrow.
One's first experience of shell fire not in the trenches but in the open.
This is one of the advantages of a Flying Division, you have to keep moving.
We marched 18 miles last night in the pouring wet.
It came down in sheets steadily.
They are staking a tremendous lot on this great advancing movement as if it succeeds the war won't go on for long.
You have no idea what enormous issues depend on the next few days.
This will be my last letter most likely for some time as we won't get any time for writing this next week, but I will try & send Field post cards.
Well so long old dears.
Dear love
John


He was killed two days later.
posted by verstegan at 2:58 PM on August 30, 2006


Is it cruel to say Served him right?

Perhaps, and perhaps not. I dare say that Kipling probably thought so himself, on more than one occasion. If you do say so, however, I think that you understand not a single thing about Kipling and his work.
posted by vorfeed at 3:43 PM on August 30, 2006


Kipling's situation was not comparable with yours: in 1915 the Second Reich were a genuine threat to the world, whereas today's grand claims of an "axis of evil" or "islamic Fascism" are... well... at the very best, an insult to all of those brave souls who gave their lives when there really was a threat.

Thanks. Now I don't give a shit that the US military (non-officer class, anyway) is made up mostly of economically disadvantaged kids who joined to make their lives better, only to be dying at a rate of at least two to three a day. Have at it, poor kids!

I certainly wouldn't want to insult all the brave souls who fought in the good wars, after all.
posted by illovich at 3:49 PM on August 30, 2006


illovich, not sure that I follow what you are saying.

Perhaps if I clarify my point: on one hand there are the type of soldiers who fought in symmetrical conflict against competent opposition. Ie The Allied Powers. These soldiers were fighting for a countries whose sovereignty was genuinely under threat from a force that is universally recognised as morally repugnant. Because they were victorious, despite the odds, we hold them in the highest esteem and call them heroes.

On the other hand there are today's soldiers, mostly -as you say- economically disadvantaged kids (so they are fighting for their pay cheques- bravo) who have got caught up in Washington's disgusting debacle in the ME. The threat is highly questionable and the response suspiciously consistent with the USA's various agendas. They may be forced into it through economic misfortune, and they may be dying at a rate of 2-3 per day but the significance of that injustice is negligible when you consider the vast genocidish injustice they are conducting. (Its their fingers on the triggers remember).

So in my opinion, the morale status of a soldier is directly related to the legitimacy of the conflict. It makes me balk when I read comparisons between WW1 + 2 and today's shit. Them ain't heroes.
posted by verisimilitude at 5:15 PM on August 30, 2006


If you think WW1 had a clear moral dimension, I think you need to read more history. Talk about a moral and political morass.
posted by Justinian at 6:00 PM on August 30, 2006


where did I mention this 'clear moral dimension'?
posted by verisimilitude at 6:09 PM on August 30, 2006


Treaty of Versailles (2012)

ARTICLE 231.

The USA and UK Governments affirm and Iraq accepts the responsibility of Iraq and her Fascist allies for causing all the loss and damage towhich the USA and UK Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Iraq and her allies.


(not very plausible)
posted by verisimilitude at 6:26 PM on August 30, 2006


Because they were victorious, despite the odds, we hold them in the highest esteem and call them heroes.

I guess. I think the reasons anyone is called a hero or not are multi-dimmensional and highly relative. I think most people call them heroes because they're told to, because they think they should, or for highly simplified reasons.

So in my opinion, the morale status of a soldier is directly related to the legitimacy of the conflict. It makes me balk when I read comparisons between WW1 + 2 and today's shit. Them ain't heroes.

I think you should rethink that, if you don't mind me saying. In any conflict you will find a number of soldiers who do the right thing for the right reason, some who do the wrong thing for the right reason, and others who will do the wrong thing for the wrong reason.

(I'm thinking for a moment of the irony of Russian Jews welcoming the troops of the Second Reich as they entered Russia in WWI, because they had heard how well treated Jews were in Germany, and what a better life they'd have under the Germans.

O weh mir.)

Many of the US soldiers in the Gulf are there because they truly believed that what the United States holds most dear on our idealistic days (Liberty, Equality, Freedom, Democracy, whatever) was truly threatened by the events of 9/11 or evil axis. Whatever the truth of the call, they believed it to be true, and they answered it -- just like the kids who signed up for the good wars.

Are they heroes? I don't know. I'm sure some of them are. Were there heroes in Vietnam? Yup, on both sides.

There are heroes on every side of every war, as far as I can tell. And a lot of them die, since being a hero tends to be dangerous business. And all of them were somebody's kid.

.
posted by illovich at 6:56 PM on August 30, 2006




There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization,
Charm, smiling at the good mouth,
Quick eyes gone under earth's lid,
For two gross of broken statues,
For a few thousand battered books.

— Ezra Pound, 1920

WWI British casualties ... 942,135
posted by cenoxo at 7:01 PM on August 30, 2006


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