What's Become of England?
John Darbyshire writes in the New English Review about Britain’s Iranian hostage crisis and laments the passing of English patriotism. He reminds us of a very different time when a young private, John Moyse, was captured in China during the Opium Wars around 1850. His captors demanded that “kowtow” or submit to their authority. He refused saying he would never bow to any Chinaman and was promptly hacked to pieces.
The incident was celebrated in the poem, “The Private of the Buffs,”
Yes, honor calls!—with strength like steel
He put the vision by.
Let dusky Indians whine and kneel;
An English lad must die.
And thus, with eyes that would not shrink,
With knee to man unbent,
Unfaltering on its dreadful brink,
To his red grave he went.
Vain, mightiest fleets, of iron fram’d;
Vain, those all-shattering guns;
Unless proud England keep, untam’d,
The strong heart of her sons.
So, let his name through Europe ring—
A man of mean estate,
Who died, as firm as Sparta’s king,
Because his soul was great.
Back then, it was a soldier’s duty to die for his country. Today, the Iranians are going to have to launch a dedicated TV channel to keep up with all the confessions they’ve coaxed out of the British sailors and Marines they’ve captured.
What did the Iranians do to persuade Seaman Faye Turney to pose with a headscarf while captive? Not much probably. And imagine the outrage if a Western country had captured a female Muslim and broadcast her image on Al Jazeera while wearing a low cut blouse. Of course, a Western country would never do such a thing nor, for that matter, have Westerners be all that outraged at the sight of one of their own submitting to a headscarf.
The British captives all too accurately reflect the values of their civilian cohorts. Rather than defend Britain’s honor to the death – which is why one used to join the military – these soldiers are hoping to get home with their lives and nothing more. Will they be shamed when they return? It doesn’t seem to matter to them.
Is there anything worth dying for anymore? Our enemies understand this better than we do. How often does some Islamist fanatic boast about loving death more than infidels love life? Invariably, this death-loving jihadist is alive and kicking when he says this which should undercut his argument significantly. What I think he means is that, as fanatic as he is, at least there’s something in his world worth dying for. And I for one am all in favor of helping him on his way.
But for the non-fanatics, there seems little worth risking your neck. This line of reasoning quickly translates into action with self-fulfilling consequences. When you enter a conflict with an exit strategy you will end up executing that strategy. When you enter a conflict with defeat on your mind, you will be defeated.
The British/Iranian incident is a perfect example of this. The division between territorial waters is ambiguous business on the high seas. And when there is a war taking place, you’d be wise to build in an extra measure of safety. So isn’t it a little reckless to intervene in a war and capture military personnel if the border you’re honoring is literally fluid? And wouldn’t then the Iranians be as much at fault as the British, if not more so?
Then why is the benefit of the doubt awarded to the Iranians and not the British? Because the West is desperately looking for a way to lose.
And why, as Mark Steyn points out, if the British are part of a U.N. sanctioned coalition prosecuting a U.N. operation . . . why isn’t the U.N. demanding the release of the British captives?
Most importantly, the British did not resist capture presumably out of fear of provoking an international incident. Why weren’t the Iranians inhibited by this same fear? What will instill in them a healthy fear of future international incidents?
Sadly, an English lad must die one way or another if this episode is to conclude honorably. Fifteen now or perhaps fifteen hundred later. Because as the poem says, the mightiest fleets and those all shattering guns are all in vain unless proud England keeps untamed the strong hearts of her sons.
UPDATE: War Is an Ugly Thing. But Not the Ugliest of Things.