Sunday, January 21, 2007

Bushie and Flashie

Rozius Unbound

MoDo suggests a few more books that the Crawford Clown needs to read.

George Bush may have lost his swagger, but Harry Flashman hasn't.

Maybe the president presiding over a quicksand empire got a vicarious thrill out of the fictional Victorian brigadier general who roamed from Chillianwalla to Isandlwana to Abyssinia at the height of the British Empire, always making conquests in love andwar despite his cowardly, caddish behavior.

In our continuing odyssey of discovery through the president's reading list, we learned that he perused two of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman books, "Flashman at the Charge" and 'Flash for Freedom."

"Flashman" is based on a devastating British defeat during one of their wars in Afghanistan. After invading Kabul in 1839 and setting up an unpopular puppet shah, the British trekked through the snowy mountains to Jalalabad. Of more than 16,000 troops and camp followers, only one doctor survived; the rest were picked off in ambushes by Afghan warriors.

The lesson is that Afghanistan is a no man's land that can't be tamed by gringos. The British Empire, on which the sun never set, never succeeded in occupying Afghanistan even as it engaged in the Great Game with the Russians for influence there. It was terra incognita and terra fuggedaboutit.

"Eventually, I suppose, we'll get out of Iraq and pretend it's been a success when it's just a mess. ... "Afghanistan is slightly different. You cannot ever win. When you consider the Russians put in more than 100,000 troops and couldn't do it. There's only one way to deal with the Afghans, and that's to buy them."

Mr. Fraser recites the end of Kiplings "The Ballad of the King's Mercy":

Abdhur Rahman, the Durani Chief, of him is the story told,
He has opened his mouth to the North and the South,
They have stuffed his mouth with gold...
and sweet his favours are...
from Balkh to Kandahar.

"It wouldn't do Bush any harm to read Kipling," he concluded before signing off.

It wouldn't have hurt Bush to read Kipling's work about the British mess in the Middle East either. Just one example, from "Mesopotamia" (1917):

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?

Go see A Complete Collection Of Poems By Rudyard Kipling. I know you'll find many you like, and many that are as totally applicable today as they were 90 and more years ago.

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