Thursday, February 24, 2005


A Different Churchill, A Different Time

I think I need to read more about Winston Churchill.

Powerline links to Steven Hayward's 2001 review of a book written by Winston Churchill in 1900, The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan, Carroll & Graff, 380 pp., $14 (to be republished soon). Steven Hayward has been one of the best writers on the Global War on Terror and the war in Iraq. But here, dusting off words written over 100 years ago, he rises to the brilliance of his material. To preface, from Hayward:

"The River War" tells the story of the British reconquest of the Sudan in the 1890s. Amidst the squalor and misery of the native peoples of the Sudan, which was then a part of British-administered Egypt, a leader named Mohammed Ahmed arose, proclaiming himself the second great prophet of Islam--the Mahdi--who would lead a crusade to conquer Egypt and drive out the European infidels. The Mahdi attracted a wide and fanatical following, whose warriors became known as the Dervishes (from which we got the image of the "whirling Dervish," the warrior swirling his sword over his head), and began to make good on his boasts.
Hayward then recounts how Churchill responded to those who couldn't comprehend those who discounted the "fanaticism" of the Dervishes.

IN ANOTHER PASSAGE astonishing for its prescience, Churchill describes a oment near the end of the Battle of Omdurman, when two thousand lightly armed Dervishes on horseback made a futile last charge into the British lines. They were all wiped out. Churchill observed: "The valour of their deed has been discounted by those who have told their tale. 'Mad fanaticism' is the depreciating comment of their conquerers. I hold this to be a cruel injustice. Nor can he be a very brave man who will not credit them with a nobler motive. . . . Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilized men?"
And then, Hayward focuses on what could be the testimony of so many of our soldiers on the front lines in the current War on Terror, written by Churchill over 100 years ago:
What follows is the most remarkable passage of the entire book: "For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some--even in these modern days--who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster."

What began for Churchill as a young man in Sudan as simple recognition of the Dervishes devotion to their cause, years later would embolden the "Last Lion" with enough fierce determination to advise his countrymen to fight to the last person, and "take one with you when you go."

I have a soldier here with us who joined the Army at age 34. He watched the towers falling on September 11, 2001, in horror. He felt welling up inside of him something of what Churchill felt. He put his life and career on hold, determined to join in whatever fight the country felt it needed to fight to defeat this new enemy. Many of our soldiers feel the same.

Hayward goes on to quote Churchill:
"No terms but fight or death were offered. No reparation or apology could be made. . . . The red light of retribution played on the bayonets and the lances, and civilization--elsewhere sympathetic, merciful, tolerant, ready to discuss or to argue, eager to avoid violence, to submit to law, to effect a compromise--here advanced with an expression of inexorable sternness, and rejecting all other courses, offered only the arbitration of the sword." Churchill understood that Western culture and civilization embody an idea of justice based on reason and inclined toward moderation, while barbarism lacks any reasoned principle of justice or progress or moderation.

This can not be expressed any simpler. There is brutality and evil that knows no pity or restraint. The enemy has been at the gates for a very long time now, and though beaten back, still wields the power to use our own humanity against our better (but rarer) judgement. As Michael Ledeen says, "Faster, Please."

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