Category Archives: war

‘If’- Rudyard Kipling’s Benghazi Moment

Here is the remarkable story behind ‘If’. Original source

Kipling was inspired by a failed British raid against the Boers in 1895

Empire building

… the unlikely truth is that [‘If’ was] composed by the Indian-born Kipling to celebrate the achievements of a man betrayed and imprisoned by the British Government – the Scots-born colonial adventurer Dr Leander Starr Jameson.

Although it may not seem so to the millions who can recite its famous first line (‘If you can keep your head when all about you’), If is also a bitter condemnation of the British Government led by Lord Salisbury, and the duplicity of its Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, for covertly supporting Dr Jameson’s raid against the Boers in South Africa’s Transvaal in 1896, only to condemn him when the raid failed.

Kipling was a friend of Jameson and was introduced to him, so scholars believe, by another colonial friend and adventurer: Cecil Rhodes, the financier and statesman who extracted a vast fortune from Britain’s burgeoning African empire by taking substantial stakes in both diamond and gold mines in southern Africa.

In Kipling’s autobiography, Something Of Myself, published in 1937, the year after his death at the age of 70, he acknowledges the inspiration for If in a single reference: ‘Among the verses in Rewards was one set called If – they were drawn from Jameson’s character, and contained counsels of perfection most easy to give.’

But to explain the nature of Kipling’s admiration for Jameson, we need to return to the veldt of southern Africa in the last years of the 19th century.

What was to become South Africa was divided into two British colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal) and two Boer republics (the Orange Free State and Transvaal). Transvaal contained 30,000 white male voters, of Dutch descent, and 60,000 white male ‘Uitlanders’, primarily British expatriates, whom the Boers had disenfranchised from voting.

Rhodes, then Prime Minister of the Cape Colony, wanted to encourage the disgruntled Uitlanders to rebel against the Transvaal government. He believed that if he sent a force of armed men to overrun Johannesburg, an uprising would follow. By Christmas 1895, the force of 600 armed men was placed under the command of Rhodes’s old friend, Dr Jameson.

Cecil RhodesCecil Rhodes, left, in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1896

Back in Britain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had encouraged Rhodes’s plan.

But when he heard the raid was to be launched, he panicked and changed his mind, remarking: ‘If this succeeds, it will ruin me. I’m going up to London to crush it.’

Chamberlain ordered the Governor General of the Cape Colony to condemn the ‘Jameson Raid’ and Rhodes for planning it. He also instructed every British worker in Transvaal not to support it.

That was behind the scenes. On the Transvaal border, the impetuous Jameson was growing frustrated by the politicking between London and Cape Town, and decided to go ahead regardless.

On December 29, 1895, he led his men across the Transvaal border, planning to race to Johannesburg in three days – but the raid failed, miserably.

The Boer government’s troops tracked Jameson’s force from the moment it crossed the border and attacked it in a series of minor skirmishes that cost the raiders vital supplies, horses and indeed the lives of a handful of men, until on the morning of January 2, Jameson was confronted by a major Boer force.

After seeing the Boers kill 30 of his men, Jameson surrendered, and he and the surviving raiders were taken to jail in Pretoria. The raiders never reached Johannesburg and there was no uprising among the Uitlanders.

The Boer government handed the prisoners, including Jameson, over to the London government for trial. A few days after the raid, the German Kaiser sent a telegram congratulating President Kruger’s Transvaal government on its success in suppressing the uprising.

When this was disclosed in the British Press, a storm of anti-German feeling was stirred and Jameson found himself lionised by London society. Fierce anti-Boer and anti-German feelings were inflamed, which soon became known as ‘jingoism’.

Jameson was sentenced to 15 months for leading the raid, and the Transvaal government was paid almost £1million in compensation by the British South Africa Company. Cecil Rhodes was forced to step down as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

Jameson never revealed the extent of the British Government’s support for the raid. This has led a string of Kipling scholars to point out that the poem’s lines ‘If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you’ were designed specifically to pay tribute to the courage and dignity of Jameson’s silence.

Typical of his spirit, Jameson was not broken by his imprisonment. He decided to return to South Africa after his release and rose to become Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1904, leaving office before the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

His stoicism in the face of adversity and his determination not to be deterred from his task are reflected in the lines: ‘If you can make a heap of all your winnings / And risk it at one turn of pitch and toss / And lose, and start again from your beginnings / And never breathe a word about your loss . . .’

As Kipling’s biographer, Andrew Lycett, puts it: ‘In a sense, the poem is a valedictory to Jameson, the politician.’

All in all, an impressive hero for Kipling’s son, John. ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute/ With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run/ Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it/ And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!’

But Kipling’s anger at Jameson’s treatment by the British establishment never abated.

Even though the poet had become the first English-speaking recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, he refused a knighthood and the Order of Merit from the British Government and the King, just as he refused the posts of Poet Laureate and Companion of Honour.

The tragedy was that Kipling’s only son, Lieutenant John Kipling, was to die in World War I at the Battle of Loos in 1915, only a handful of years after his father’s most famous poem first appeared. His body was never found.

It was a shock from which Kipling never fully recovered. But his son’s spirit, as well as that of Leander Starr Jameson, lives on in the lines of the poem that continues to inspire millions.

As Andrew Lycett told the Daily Mail: ‘In these straitened times, the old-fashioned virtues of fortitude, responsibilities and resolution, as articulated in If, become ever more important.’

Long may they remain so.

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New Photos of the Trenches of WWI

Life and death in the trenches
Never-before-published images show daily life for soldiers during World War I

Soon enough, the front lines became home to millions of soldiers from France, Germany, Russia, the U.S., and many other nations. For the next four years, soldiers slept, ate, bathed, prayed, and died on these front lines.

And now, thanks to a collection of never-before-seen photographs released by Reuters Pictures, we can witness those everyday actions as they unfold in muddy trenches, at camp sites, and across the dried out fields tragically peppered with freshly dug graves. Hundreds of glass plates were reportedly left behind by a viscount who was entrenched with the Armoured Cavalry Branch of the French Army at the time. That the specifics of the photographer and the dates go unknown make the bleak scenes all the more powerful.

Soldiers maneuver a cannon on the rear guard near an unknown front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Officers inspect trenches on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Artillery officers relay instructions via telephone on how to adjust cannon fire in a trench. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier aims an anti-aircraft machine gun from his post in a trench at Perthes les Hurlus, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Carcasses of animals await cooking by soldiers on the Champagne front, in eastern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Troops from the rear guard pause to eat lunch near Arras, in northern France. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A soldier pauses after taking a shower, next to a placard which reads: “Thermal complex of the Poilu, showers, massages, chiropodist, manicurist. Free massages for women.” | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers attend an entertainment show at Suippes, on the Champagne Front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

A priest conducts mass for French soldiers on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

Soldiers pose outside their shack, which they called, “The Chalet,” at la Sapiniere, near Lachalade on the Argonne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

An officer stands near a cemetery of recently dug graves, at Saint-Jean-sur-Tourbe, on the Champagne front. | (REUTERS/Collection Odette Carrez)

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The volatile life of the father of the bomb

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What Made Him Tick

By the time I was 300 pages into Ray Monk’s formidable biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, I couldn’t imagine why anyone in his right mind would have chosen this man as director of the secret laboratory that built the first atomic bomb. If the whole thing had failed, what a harebrained scheme it would have seemed.

True enough, Oppenheimer had established himself as a brilliant theoretical physicist, even if his mathematics, by the standards of his profession, was considered a little sloppy. While he had applied the new quantum theory to solve some important problems, his contributions paled alongside those of Paul Dirac and other wunderkinder. Far from being a team player, he was a loner and an elitist, as Monk recounts in “Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center,” expressing his ideas in the most oblique, Delphic terms.

Charming one moment, caustic the next, he still carried, at age 38, the markings of a spoiled, impetuous rich kid whose depressive behavior occasionally swung toward the erratic. There were times when he even seemed crazy. During a year abroad from Harvard to study at Cambridge University, Oppenheimer confessed to putting a poisoned apple on his tutor’s desk. The truth of the matter remains murky, but it was serious enough that Oppenheimer’s father intervened with university officials, promising his son would keep regular appointments with a London psychiatrist. When the school term ended the boy was taken away by his parents on a “recuperative holiday” to France, where, in Paris, he locked his mother in a hotel room.

This recklessness didn’t end entirely with his student days. As a young professor in California, he crashed his car while racing a train, an accident that left his girlfriend unconscious. His father made amends by giving the young woman a painting and a Cézanne drawing.

By the time Brig. Gen. Leslie Groves was seeking a director for the bomb laboratory, Oppenheimer had gained the respect of the world’s most eminent physicists, and he had attracted a coterie of admiring students. But he seemed aloof and lost in abstractions, pretentiously interjecting among his equations riffs from French literature or the Upanishads. And while hardly a threat to American security, Oppenheimer appears to have been as close as a person can get to being a supporter of the Communist Party without actually carrying a membership card.

As soon as Groves met the young scientist, none of that mattered. In a meeting at Berkeley, he impressed the general with the breadth of his knowledge and, of all things, what Groves saw as his practicality. More than any other scientist the general had talked to, Oppenheimer appeared to understand what had to be done to go from abstract theories and laboratory experiments to the making of a nuclear bomb.

This was not just a physics problem. It would be an unparalleled feat of engineering, and one that must progress while basic theoretical problems were still being solved. There was no place better to do this, Oppenheimer believed, than outside the universities — in a remote, central laboratory. He didn’t object to the idea that the operation be overseen by the military. Oppenheimer, as Monk observes, seemed to have had “an unerring sense of what Groves wished to hear.”

Groves may have also seen in Oppenheimer a man driven far less by ideology than by ambition, whose need to be an important player ensured that anything he directed would be a success.

History, of course, has vindicated the decision. The brooding introvert became a leader, harnessing the efforts of a headstrong cast of brilliant physicists for an all-but-impossible task: assembling on a barely accessible New Mexico mesa top — an unlikely spot Oppenheimer had discovered on a vacation horseback ride — not just an advanced nuclear laboratory but a whole town. While he worked, he remained under surveillance, just in case Groves had misjudged him and he turned out to be a Soviet spy.

George Johnson is the author of “Strange Beauty,” a biography of the physicist Murray Gell-Mann. His book “The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery” will be published in August.

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It is an extraordinary story, and Monk — the author of acclaimed biographies of Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein — tells it well. Other major biographies have been published in recent years: David C. Cassidy’s “J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century” is especially strong on the science, and Monk acknowledges Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s groundbreaking “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer” as an important source for his own research. Monk (who reviewed one of my early books) says in his preface that his aim is to produce “an internal rather than an external biography,” one that gets deeper into Oppenheimer’s psychological complexity and that ties his contributions to physics more firmly into his life.

The result is an impressive work that stands as a strong challenger to other contenders. But I’m not sure it has brought us that much closer to the man. The details of Oppenheimer’s physics, though laid out clearly, reveal little about his perplexing psyche. While his childhood is neatly drawn — the privileged son of non­observant German Jews and a product of the private Ethical Culture School in New York — we learn almost nothing about his mess of a marriage or his distant relationship with his children. Bird and Sherwin’s book is more vivid on that ground.

Whatever Oppenheimer did to so thoroughly impress Groves and to motivate the scientists at Los Alamos doesn’t really come across here or in anything else I’ve read. What made him so inspiring, so indispensable? It almost seems as if he had everyone ­hypnotized.

But when the war was over, the spell was broken. Now the enemy was the Soviet Union, and Oppenheimer’s calls for avoiding a thermonuclear showdown by sharing technology and holding back on the hydrogen bomb were used by his opponents to mark him as a Red. His past indiscretions gave them plenty of ammunition.

During his directorship he had lied to a military intelligence officer. Pressured by Groves, he named old friends who had been Communists, including his own brother, Frank. There was almost no end to what he would do to protect his position — he so loved being an insider. Yet such was his carelessness that, knowing he was under close watch, he spent a night in San Francisco with an old girlfriend and party member, Jean Tatlock.

After the war came the legendary security hearings — what a government lawyer reviewing the case later called “a punitive, personal abuse of the judicial system.” No evidence came out that he had engaged in espionage. An Atomic Energy Commission personnel board concluded he was a loyal citizen. But he was not above suspicion. That was enough for them to strip him of his security clearance.

Maybe that would have been a defensible reason back in 1942 not to choose him to lead the Los Alamos project, though it would have been a mistake. Now it was just an empty vendetta.

An authority on self-destructive behavior, Oppenheimer memorably described the United States and the Soviet Union as “two scorpions in a bottle, each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life.” He was himself the casualty of scorpions fighting each other in Washington. And of the scorpions that remained corked tightly in Oppenheimer’s mind.

George Johnson is the author of “Strange Beauty,” a biography of the physicist Murray Gell-Mann. His book “The Cancer Chronicles: Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery” will be

 

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The aesthetic Führer

An ardent patron of the arts, Hitler drew around him men with an aesthetic bent. (Speer was an architect; Goering, an art collector. Alfred Rosenberg had studied architecture; Goebbels had written plays and a novel.) He insisted that artists were as crucial to society as mathematicians and men of science.

– Maureen Mullarkey

Read the article, Aesthetic Drive

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Californian saves Japanese family farms in WWII

“a former California agriculture inspector who, ignoring the resentment of neighbors, quit his job in the middle of World War II to manage the fruit farms of Japanese families forced to live in internment camps”

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