“Kipling On the Front Lines,” by Alpha Unit

Mowgli, the little boy raised by wolves and befriended by Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther, first came to life during a winter in Vermont in the imagination of Rudyard Kipling.

Kipling was in Vermont because that’s where his wife’s family lived; the couple had taken up residence there and started their own family. It was American hubris, however, that soured Kipling on living in the United States.

The focus of all the dissension was British Guiana, which was in a border dispute with Venezuela. Richard Olney, the American Secretary of State, declared that the United States had a right to mediate all disputes in the Western Hemisphere. Because of the Monroe Doctrine, you know.

In other words, the United States ruled the Western Hemisphere.

This didn’t sit well with the British, including Kipling. Anti-British sentiment in America, followed by family troubles, sent him back to England.

It was a period when both Britain and the United States were settling their weight upon all kinds of native peoples around the world. Someone observing the actions of both nations might have been amused by Kipling’s distaste for American interference in Britain’s interference in South America.

“If anybody’s going to be interfering in South America, it’s going to be us,” Secretary Olney would have told him.

Kipling, who actually memorialized the imperialist ambitions of both nations, remains a figure of contradictions.

He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907, though other writers have mocked his abilities, particularly as a poet. People still argue about whether he was pro- or anti-imperialist. Many know of his poem The White Man’s Burden, for which he has been denounced – and celebrated, as a satirist.

Does anyone concerned with world affairs today, particularly heads of state, really care what Kipling may or may not have advised his fellow Whites roughly a century ago?

I’m guessing that the answer to this question is “No.” The fact that people still debate Kipling’s views is a testament to two things: the power of art, in this case literature; and the power of the idea of race.

Kipling is long gone, but there are people who seem to have some kind of stake in whether or not his views on race and empire were justified. It reminds me of the debate we have had from time to time in America over whether kids should read some of the works of Mark Twain.

Kipling’s Kim has been compared to Huckleberry Finn, in fact. Both novels tell the coming-to-maturity tale of a “loose” boy with father issues, traveling with a beloved adult male. Both novels have come under scrutiny for alleged racism – which informs the question of their appropriateness for developing minds.

School children should be taught literature. Adults wrangle over which works are to be presented to them, and how they are to be presented, because adults supervise the indoctrination of children.

They wrangle for another reason, though. The issue of race is intimately wrapped up in another issue: self-esteem.

When I say self-esteem, I mean the popular concept of having a healthy, positive self-image. Who doesn’t want kids to have a healthy, positive self-image – especially “minority” kids, those long deemed to be most in need of it?

So for quite some time, at least here in the US, we’ve been giving historical figures – be they Presidents or novelists – the PC litmus test. If someone reads anything by Kipling other than The Jungle Book (both parts), will he be contaminated by White Supremacist ideology?

We’ve decided we must be very careful about that sort of thing going into the heads of young people.

And so educators and other interested parties have put long-dead authors such as Kipling onto the front lines of their ideology wars.

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9 thoughts on ““Kipling On the Front Lines,” by Alpha Unit”

  1. I just picked up a Kipling anthology to check out his stuff. Probably a reaction to entering into a mixed race relationship. White man + black woman still looks crazy to most outsiders.

  2. When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains,
    And the women come out to cut up what remains,
    Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains,
    An’ go to your Gawd like a soldier.

    1. The poem these words came from gives me mixed emotions.

      “Empire building” and “nation building” as seen by those who have to carry out the neatly drawn-up plans of others.

  3. I like Kipling. As far as I know Twain was an anti-racist, rare in his era, and Kipling was a racist, a white supremacist, and a militarist. He celebrates values I find abhorrent. Young minds will only be contaminated by his values if he is plucked out of context, which is that of British naval and imperial supremacy. Nevertheless, after the great somnolent mellifluous yawn of the later Tennyson and the prolixity of the later Browning, he rediscovered the vernacular in a way that invigorated English verse.
    I usually don’t like what he has to say, but I like the way that he says it. His Barrack Room Ballads read well aloud. In fact they demand to be read aloud. Of course he was an imperialist; he was of his epoch. Here’s his Ballad of East and West:

    notes on the poem here: http://www.kipling.org.uk/bookmart_fra.htm

    The Ballad of East and West

    0h, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
    Kamal is out with twenty men to raise the Border side,
    And he has lifted the Colonel’s mare that is the Colonel’s pride.
    He has lifted her out of the stable-door between the dawn and day
    And turned the calkins upon her feet, and ridden her far away.

    Then up and spoke the Colonel’s son that led a troop of the Guides
    Is there never a man of all my men can say where Kamal hides? ”
    Then up and spoke Mohammed Khan, the son of the Ressaldar:
    “If ye know the track of the morning-mist, ye know where his pickets are.
    “At dusk he harries the Abazai – at dawn he is into Bonair,
    “But he must go by Fort Bukloh to his own place to fare.
    “So if ye gallop to Fort Bukloh as fast as a bird can fly,
    “By the favour of God ye may cut him off ere he win to the Tongue of Jagai.
    “But if he be past the Tongue of Jagai, right swiftly turn ye then,
    “For the length and the breadth of that grisly plain is sown with Kamal’s men.
    “There is rock to the left, and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
    “And ye may hear a breech-bolt snick where never a man is seen.”

    The Colonel’s son has taken horse, and a raw rough dun was he,
    With the mouth of a bell and the heart of Hell and the head of a gallows-tree.
    The Colonel’s son to the Fort has won, they bid him stay to eat
    Who rides at the tail of a Border thief, he sits not long at his meat.
    He’s up and away from Fort Bukloh as fast as he can fly,
    Till he was aware of his father’s mare in the gut of the Tongue of Jagai,
    Till he was aware of his father’s mare with Kamal upon her back,
    And when he could spy the white of her eye, he made the Pistol crack.
    He has fired once, he has fired twice, but the whistling ball went wide.
    Ye shoot like a soldier,” Kamal said. ” Show now if ye can ride!
    It’s up and over the Tongue of Jagai, as blown dust-devils go
    The dun he fled like a stag of ten, but the mare like a barren doe.
    The dun he leaned against the bit and slugged his head above,
    But the red mare played with the snaffle-bars, as a maiden plays with a glove.
    There was rock to the left and rock to the right, and low lean thorn between,
    And thrice he heard a breech-bolt snick tho’ never a man was seen.

    They have ridden the low moon out of the sky, their hoofs drum up the dawn,
    The dun he went like a wounded bull, but the mare like a new-roused fawn.
    The dun he fell at a water-course – in a woeful heap fell he,
    And Kamal. has turned the red mare back, and pulled the rider free.
    He has knocked the pistol out of his hand – small room was there to strive,
    ‘Twas only by favour of mine,” quoth he, ” ye rode so long alive:
    “There was not a rock for twenty mile, there was not a clump of tree,
    “But covered a man of my own men with his rifle cocked on his knee.
    “If I had raised my bridle-hand, as I have held it low,
    “The little jackals that flee so fast were feasting all in a row.
    “If I had bowed my head on my breast, as I have held it high,
    “The kite that whistles above us now were gorged till she could not fly.”
    Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “Do good to bird and beast,
    “But count who come for the broken meats before thou makest a feast.
    “If there should follow a thousand swords to carry my bones away.
    “Belike the price of a jackal’s meal were more than a thief could pay.
    “They will feed their horse on the standing crop, their men on the garnered grain.
    “The thatch of the byres will serve their fires when all the cattle are slain.
    “But if thou thinkest the price be fair – thy brethren wait to sup,
    “The hound is kin to the jackal-spawn – howl, dog, and call them up!
    “And if thou thinkest the price be high, in steer and gear and stack,
    “Give me my father’s mare again, and I’ll fight my own way back! ”

    Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
    “No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and grey wolf meet.
    “May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
    “What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?”
    Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: ” I hold by the blood of my clan:
    Take up the mare for my father’s gift – by God, she has carried a man!”
    The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast;
    “We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, ” but she loveth the younger best.
    “So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
    “My ‘broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrup twain.”
    The Colonel’s son a pistol drew, and held it muzzle-end,
    “Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he. ” Will ye take the mate from a friend? ”
    “A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb.
    “Thy father has sent his son to me, I’ll send my son to him!”
    With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest
    He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest.
    “Now here is thy master,” Kamal said, “who leads a troop of the Guides,
    “And thou must ride at his left side as shield on shoulder rides.
    “Till Death or I cut loose the tie, at camp and board and bed,
    “Thy life is his – thy fate it is to guard him with thy head.
    “So, thou must eat the White Queen’s meat, and all her foes are thine,
    “And thou must harry thy father’s hold for the peace of the Border-line.
    “And thou must make a trooper tough and hack thy way to power
    “Belike they will raise thee to Ressaldar when I am hanged in Peshawur! ”

    They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault.
    They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
    They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
    On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.

    The Colonel’s son he rides the mare and Kamal’s boy the dun,
    And two have come back to Fort Bukloh where there went forth but one.
    And when they drew to the Quarter-Guard, full twenty swords flew clear
    There was not a man but carried his feud with the blood of the mountaineer.
    Ha’ done! ha’ done! ” said the Colonel’s son. ” Put up the steel at your sides!
    Last night ye had struck at a Border thief – to-night ‘t is a man of the Guides! ”

    Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
    Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
    But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
    When two strong men stand face to face though they come from the ends of the earth!

    1. I appreciate your take on Kipling. Some people are as certain as you are about his racism and imperialism. Kipling scholars differ about him continually. Some say that it’s simplistic to declare him a racist and refer to passages in his works that suggest he was not in fact a White supremacist. Others claim that a lot of his “imperialist” writings were actually satire.

      As someone who taught for years, my take is that you don’t judge the merit of a work of literature by the political leanings of its author.

  4. Knock. Knock.

    Whose there?

    Guess.

    Guess who?

    GESTAPO! – Alpha Unit [Bureau of anti-racism]. You’re car is waiting Mr. Kipling.

  5. Kipling was a literary genius and considering he spent his formative years in India, he was as Indian as the natives. He’s widely misunderstood for being an ardent British imperialism sympathizer. He had supported Irish Home rule and spoken out against Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

    One of my favorite poems by Kipling is Norman and Saxon. presumed to be based in the 11th century, it’s about a hypothetical Norman Baron in England who gives his son a piece of advice about how to govern the hardy Saxon subjects.

    “My son,” said the Norman Baron, “I am dying, and you will
    be heir
    To all the broad acres in England that William gave me for
    share
    When he conquered the Saxon at Hastings, and a nice little
    handful it is.
    But before you go over to rule it I want you to understand this:–

    “The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.
    But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice
    right.
    When he stands like an ox in the furrow–with his sullen set eyes
    on your own,
    And grumbles, ‘This isn’t fair dealing,’ my son, leave the Saxon
    alone.

    “You can horsewhip your Gascony archers, or torture your
    Picardy spears;
    But don’t try that game on the Saxon; you’ll have the whole
    brood round your ears.
    From the richest old Thane in the county to the poorest chained
    serf in the field,
    They’ll be at you and on you like hornets, and, if you are wise,
    you will yield.

    “But first you must master their language, their dialect, proverbs
    and songs.
    Don’t trust any clerk to interpret when they come with the tale
    of their own wrongs.
    Let them know that you know what they are saying; let them feel
    that you know what to say.
    Yes, even when you want to go hunting, hear ’em out if it takes
    you all day.

    They’ll drink every hour of the daylight and poach every hour
    of the dark.
    It’s the sport not the rabbits they’re after (we’ve plenty of game
    in the park).
    Don’t hang them or cut off their fingers. That’s wasteful as well
    as unkind,
    For a hard-bitten, South-country poacher makes the best man-
    at-arms you can find.

    “Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and
    funerals and feasts.
    Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish
    priests.
    Say ‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘ours’ when you’re talking, instead of ‘you
    fellows’ and ‘I.’
    Don’t ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell ’em
    a lie!”

    1. Here’s the famous “Gunga Din” poem. I had to chuckle at bits and portions. While the whole poem essentially uplifts the central character (“You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din”), had Kipling written this thing today, he’d have run into tserious rouble with every shade of brown skinned person alive.

      GUNGA DIN
      -By R.Kipling

      You may talk o’ gin and beer
      When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,
      An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
      But when it comes to slaughter
      You will do your work on water,
      An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.
      Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
      Where I used to spend my time
      A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,
      Of all them blackfaced crew
      The finest man I knew
      Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,
      He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
      ‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!

      (That beez racist :))
      ‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
      ‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
      ‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’
      WTF! Reported for racism.

      The uniform ’e wore
      Was nothin’ much before,
      An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
      For a piece o’ twisty rag
      An’ a goatskin water-bag
      Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
      When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
      In a sidin’ through the day,
      Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
      We shouted ‘Harry By!’
      Till our throats were bricky-dry,
      Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
      ‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?
      ‘You put some juldee in it
      ‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
      ‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

      ’E would dot an’ carry one
      Till the longest day was done;
      An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
      If we charged or broke or cut,
      You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
      ’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.
      With ’is mussick on ’is back,
      ’E would skip with our attack,
      An’ watch us till the bugles made ‘Retire,’
      An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
      ’E was white, clear white, inside
      When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
      With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.
      When the cartridges ran out,
      You could hear the front-ranks shout,
      ‘Hi! ammunition-mules an’ Gunga Din!’

      I shan’t forgit the night
      When I dropped be’ind the fight
      With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.
      I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
      An’ the man that spied me first
      Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.
      ’E lifted up my ’ead,
      An’ he plugged me where I bled,
      An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
      It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
      But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
      I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
      It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
      ‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;
      ‘’E’s chawin’ up the ground,
      ‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
      ‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

      ’E carried me away
      To where a dooli lay,
      An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
      ’E put me safe inside,
      An’ just before ’e died,
      ‘I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.
      Poor Gunga Din
      So I’ll meet ’im later on
      At the place where ’e is gone—
      Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.
      ’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
      Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
      An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
      You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
      Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
      This British officer sounds like a self-righteous prick, damn!
      By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
      You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

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