Monday, January 27, 2014

"We do not wait till a boy is eighteen years old . . . before we give him a rifle..."


By L.L.

"There is nothing which the dear public will forgive less easily than being made fun of."

   The thing which ruins Mr Kipling as a statesman is his sense of humor. This is distinctly proved by the performances which he has gone through in that line since the beginning of the Boer war. One may contend that a sense of humor is not fatal to statesmanship but it must be remembered that the Hon. Thomas B. Reed's definition of a statesman as a politician who dead has never been invalidated and that Mr. Reed is himself a shining and conspicuous example of the truth that a keen wit punctures political ambitions. If a man is truly ambitious to serve his country in prominent places he had better make up a serene but unsmiling visage and wear it reserving all eye-twinkles for other people's jokes. There is nothing which the dear public will forgive less easily than being made fun of.

   The sense of humor which is one of the salient characteristics of Rudyard Kipling crops out in his latest speech. He made the speech in opening a rifle range at Sydenham and took occasion to have a little gentle fun with those who violently oppose the idea of having boys taught to handle firearms. He says:

   "We do not wait till a boy is eighteen years old and thinks he would like to be lord chancellor before teaching him the alphabet. Similarly we ought not to wait till a boy is eighteen and thinks he would like to die for his country before we give him a rifle and teach him to stand straight in a line. We should catch the boy bright and early, when he is about twelve. The man who can read and write does not persecute his neighbors by immediately writing a book. Similarly a man does not run about the streets firing his rifle because he is a volunteer; nor does he fall into military formation whenever he wants to get on an omnibus."

   And he remarked in closing:

   "So we may hope that the next time the nations see fit to love us with the love which has found such perfect expression during the last thirty months, we may not be wholly ignorant of one or two of those less spiritual accomplishments, which, if they do not secure affection, at least command respect."

   For something over a hundred and fifty years the great British nation has gone on in the solemn conviction that pretty uniforms, "formation," style social prestige, and absolute obedience to system would take the place of marksmanship and brains in the British army; and if there had been half as much of a fallacy in its diplomacy as in its military system the nations of Europe would long ago have given Britain "what for." The British nation might have forgiven Mr. Kipling for being practically the first man to state bluntly that there is a hole in its military conviction, if he only had been straight faced about it, but it never will forgive him for his grin.

   The great British nation does not insist on being thought perfect, but it violently objects to being represented as ridiculous, even when it is. Mr. Kipling has not only shown his superiors their failings, but has sharpened his criticisms with an impertinent colonial satire which makes them felt. Despite itself, the British nation is going to remember the things he has said, and think about them, and act upon them. The pith of the matter is that if you want to guide the policy of a large country from the position of figurehead it is wise not to be facetious, but if your desire is satisfied with having it do as you wish and kick yon for your pains, there is no better road than that of wit.

[The Washington Times, Washington, Tuesday, August 19, 1902. Number 2990. Pg. 6]

No comments: