Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Peace Agenda

By Margery B Donis

‘My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.’

‘What is peace, O jesting Chamberlain?’
Such might have been the words of the few prophets in the late 1930s when Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, returned from Munich waving his infamous piece of paper and saying those words, ‘Peace with honour.’ The incident is seen today as having bearing only on the events that followed it--events which ultimately climaxed in the eruption of the Second World War. But to look back now on his statement and his whole-hearted pursuit of peace amidst a turbulent world plummeting irrevocably into war, we might find behind the words a man, behind the man a mind, and behind the mind a hundred, a thousand, a million minds; all--unconsciously, perhaps--thinking the same thought and wanting the same thing. Chamberlain was not jesting. He was in dead earnest, desperately seeking a way to keep his country from war. Today, our question may not be ‘What is peace?’ though that is a question I propose to address, but ‘What is honour?’
The greatest wars in history have all been in some way moral wars--if not inherently, made so by their proponents in order to gain support. To choose the greatest wars of history would, of course, be a difficult, if not impossible, task. War is by nature a deeply biased thing. There will be wars which come to mind automatically to a South African that will never occur to the Norwegian. But some wars are considered by most western peoples as very great. Yet there is a universally known war--a great and terrible war, one which affected every continent but which nearly all who remember will agree to be, indeed, a moral war.
It was the war Chamberlain fought to avoid.
The Second World War, which lasted over six long years (from September, 1939, to August, 1945), was not called a world war for no reason. There was no continent on the globe it did not influence. There have been other great wars--there have been arguably more moral wars. But none was as extensive, as terrible, and as remarkable as World War Two. It is rightfully called a world war.
I do not choose this war merely because it is the best known war to English speaking people of this day, nor merely because there are men and women alive today who witnessed it, though both considerations are great and have a large bearing on the reason. I make my choice, rather,  because the Second World War was arguably the greatest, most influential, and most moral war of the 20th century. In such respects it can be compared only with the First World War, which was not as far-reaching, not as well-remembered, and has few veterans alive today.
It is, in the words of Virgil, ‘Useless to tell again tales already plainly told.’ World War Two was a disastrous, catastrophic, devastating war which destroyed more than the lives of millions of soldiers and hundreds of towns and villages. Any one who has studied history has studied this second great war and knows of all its atrocities. I do not need to repeat them.
One may say, this war ended nearly seventy years ago. Why then do we still speak of it? What bearing does it have on today?
That is a great and foolish question--a question which more and more people ask as time goes on. What is the past? It is gone. Why look back? Today, people look into the future. But the future changes nothing. The past is what changes the present. The Second World War has as much influence today as it ever did while it was raging. But we do not always realise it. Sometimes we must ask that question.
To look at the atrocities committed during the war makes us wonder if Chamberlain was not right in his pursuit of peace. Indeed, peace is a noble goal, often an admirable goal, but sometimes it is not an honourable goal.
Any sane, intelligent person must admit that war is horrible. Barbarities happened. The hand of death stretched out too rapidly over too great a number. But is ‘peace’ the answer? Is ‘peace’ honour, in every situation? Even if it is to avoid such a horrible war as was World War Two?
There can be little argument that the contest in the first half of the 1940s was moral. Adolf Hitler is a name that will ‘go down in infamy’--indeed, has gone down in infamy. I am sure that is irrefutable. Next to the devil, he is the universal symbol for all that is evil. As a man with total power, he committed unthinkable brutalities. The immortal symbols of the Nazi regime are not the Aryan race Hitler longed for, nor the thousand-year Third Reich he promised. The things that live on to remind us of the most dreadful period in German, perhaps European, history, are concentration camps, gas chambers, reprisals, and purges. The violence of Nazism has obliterated all trace of anything good in it. Yes, men agree, the Second World War was a moral war.
Chamberlain spoke of ‘peace with honour.’ But, as I have asked before, what is honour?
William Pitt the Younger, a Prime Minister for somewhere near twenty years at the end of the 18th century, had a different view than Chamberlain on the matter, in his great speech against Napoleon in          . He said;

‘...There is no extremity of war, there is no extremity of honourable contest, that is not preferable to the name and pretense of peace, which must be in reality a disgraceful capitulation, a base, an abject surrender of everything that constitutes the pride, the safety, and happiness of England....’

What Chamberlain fought for was not what he thought it was--honourable avoidance of what would necessarily be a cataclysmic war. His was a regrettable mistake. He made treaties with a man who couldn’t and wouldn’t keep treaties if they went against his own desires. He argued against war, he fought against war, to save lives he knew would have to be lost if his country fought Germany. Those lives were lost, but were they lost wrongfully?
Nazism fell in 1945, and with it fell a great and terrible disease that was growing in Europe and elsewhere--the disease of Fascism. From Oswald Mosley in Britain to Vidkum Quisling in Norway, Fascism was like cholera--extremely contagious and likely to be terminal. But Fascism practically disappeared with Hitler’s suicide. Nor was it the only thing that began to disappear with the death of the Nazi Empire. Anti-semitism fell, and Communism, Faschism’s ugly, hated step-sister, began to appear as the cancer it really was.
Today, one must wonder how there can be any doubt that the Second World War was necessary. It was the only way to stop Hitler’s wild pursuit of power and the destruction of the Jews and other races, and this should be obvious today. Hitler’s terms for peace were like those of Napoleon, in other of Pitt’s words;
‘[The French were] determined to accept of no terms of peace but such as . . . could only be accepted by this country by a surrender of all its interests and by a sacrifice of every pretension to the character of a great, a powerful, or an independent nation.’

Chamberlain is not to be indited. He is a man since gone who tried to do best for his country, was condemned by many for his actions, but who did, at any rate, value his honour. We cannot go back today and refight the Second World War, even should we wish to. But it was even more influential than it seemed at the time, and so were the times leading up to it.
What was honour in those days? Honour, a fleeting, intransient idea, is only as honourable as men make it. There seems to be no absolute honour. Honour is a creation and endowment of man, and therefore its honourableness must be measured by man. In some cases men make their own honour, in other cases, society gives it to them. Honour for a man--personal honour--must be stated shortly, then, as a moral code.
A moral code may seem intransient too--it is merely, one might say, a way of looking at the world. But that is not so. A moral code is the way men live or know they should live. It is a man’s moral code that defines his honour--this is why one man’s dignity is another man’s disgrace. Society’s honour must be, then, a generally accepted, communal moral code. But it is the individual’s moral code that I wish most to discuss. And it is in this idea of a moral code that honour becomes understandable--because there is either a good moral code or a skewed moral code, and in right and wrong, there are absolutes.
Chamberlain’s moral code must have followed the English moral code of centuries--fight for the weak, help the man who’s fallen, uphold the principles of faith, loyalty, and honesty. His would have been an honourable moral code. Hitler’s moral code was irrefutably different--get what you want when you want it, at the expense of the weak, over the body of the fallen, dismissing faith, loyalty and honesty when you can’t use them. Though he (a man who never smoked or drank on principle) would never have said it in this way, the actions of the Nazis and of their leader spoke it through a megaphone to the world. Why would Hitler and his party, especially propagandist Dr. Goebbels, never state what truly was their moral code? Because there is, and always will be, an actually absolute moral code. And it was a form of this absolute code that most of Europe held at the time of the Second World War.
It is hard to deny--I dare anyone to deny--that the generally accepted, societal moral code of today is a diminutive, shrunken code compared to that absolute moral code--the Judao-Christian moral code--generally accepted in the western world from the Medieval Ages up into the 1900s. It was this code that made men protect women and children with their lives. It was this code that told men it was wrong to steal and kill unarmed persons. It was this code that, in a smaller way, made men open doors for ladies and children stand up for the aged. It was this code that made men fight for their principles.
These things still exist some places, in a small way. But the formerly widely-accepted Judao-Christian values of marriage, family, faith, and country have begun to fall aside and leave the individual to make his own moral code and his own honour. What is even worse, they have left society to make a moral code for the individual.
What is honour, Mr. Prime Minister? Chamberlain felt it to be best for Britain to keep out of war. But to all appearances, that was impossible. The Munich agreement annexed the Sudetanland to Germany in order to appease her power-hungry dictator. This coincided with Chamberlain’s moral code--doing best for his country, above all else. But in doing so, he ‘betrayed’ Czchechoslovakia, which was later invaded and overcome by the Nazi empire. Winston Churchill, later to become Prime Minister himself, had this to say against the Munich Pact;

We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat... you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi rĂ©gime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude...we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road...we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: "Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting". And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.’

This, then, is honour--a man’s moral code. True honour is the perfect moral code which God placed in the heart of man at the beginning. False honour is the skewed moral code man made for himself through centuries since the fall. But where does peace come in? Why fight for it as desperately as Chamberlain did? And why, today, is it even more desirable than ever?
I must say that it all still springs from that moral code. It began in World War One, this quest for peace, this pursuit of happiness without fighting. But it shouldn’t make sense this way. Why should there suddenly be a hatred of war, so shortly after Queen Victoria’s death and her wide, global empire? The Royal Navy was the greatest on the globe. The British Army was strong as ever. King Edward VII had reigned for nine years, through the Second Boer War in South Africa, and King George V had been on the throne for but four years when the First World War broke out.
The world in the 1910s was changing. Socialism had begun to spring up, powered flight was progressing rapidly (the Royal Flying Corps was formed in 1912), and women in Britain were fighting for the vote. But, in many ways, the world was still the same. Countries in Europe were still power-hungry and imperialistic. And Germany, longing for world domination, was getting ready to war with France.
There were multitudes of pacifists during the First World War. It was, indeed, a terrible war which devastated Europe’s economies and lands as well as her armies. During the war, such disillusioned men as Wilfred Owen wrote dark and dismal poetry. After the war, such men as Ernest Hemmingway wrote dark and dismal books. Many of these men could not justify the death and destruction the war caused. And there is one good explanation. They had forgotten what they were fighting for.
The twenty years between the two world wars were ones of socialism, fascism, and communism. Lenin’s Soviet Russia, which rose with the Bolsheviks in 1917, had grown into a dreadful communist nation under Josef Stalin. Franco’s fascist government in Spain triggered the Spanish Civil War. And Adolf Hitler became ‘der Fuhrer’ of Germany in 1933 and began kicking down the ladder by which he had ascended. In 1939, King George VI was on the throne in Britain, Hitler was ruler in Germany, Roosevelt was President of the USA, famed Mussolini was dictating in Italy, Hirohito was emperor in Japan, and Stalin was carrying out his own cruelties in Russia, while allying with the Nazis.
And Chamberlain wanted peace.
Today, more than ever, people want peace. It is a cry from every new political candidate, a catchword in newspapers, a symbol on children’s pajamas and backpacks. It is thought to have begun in the 1970s, with the hippy movement. But I sometimes wonder if it did not begin in WWI, when men began to forget their moral code--and that it was worth fighting for.
What is peace? A freedom from war? Freedom from strife? The absence of death? Why do men want peace? Do they desire it so that they will not have to make sacrifices to uphold their principles? That is not an honourable peace, but ‘a base, abject, and disgraceful’ peace. Do they desire peace that men will not die? That, indeed, is honourable. But can it be?
The world was created peaceful. But near the beginning there was a disruption, a ‘revolution’, and paradise was lost. Since then, war has become more and more common, more and more destructive. Man’s ability to make great scientific and technological discoveries has ennabled him to make more and more dangerous weapons. And man will do that. It is the nature of the universe. The second law of thermodynamics states that the disorder of the universe must always either increase or remain the same. I think it is the same way with peace. Each war affects the world, and often leads to another war. Sometimes, by great effort, men can avoid war, and maintain peace. But sometimes that is not desirable. Sometimes, that is not honour.
Chamberlain made the Munich agreement to maintain peace, but in doing so he delivered Czchechoslovakia into the hands of the Nazis, who would enslave her. The United States fell out of the Vietnam war in 1975 in response to a nation-wide cry for peace, but in doing so it delivered Vietnam into the hands of communists.
Why did we leave Vietnam? Why did we forsake a country fighting against tyranny and opression--fighting for liberty, as we have fought in our own history? Were we satisified with what we had, intent on keeping our delicate peace, unwilling to fight for others who wanted the same things our forefathers wanted?
Why do men fight? Why do men war? Evil men are willing to fight for what they should not have, for principles that are not right. Are we too weak, too cowardly, too passive, to fight for what we should have, for principles that are right? Peace is not something that one automatically has. Peace must be fought for. No one understands peace until he has fought and experienced strife. Peace today has become a mere word; an excuse that exempts us from fighting against the wrong things in the world.
War should be avoided, but the enduring morals of the Bible sometimes demand to be fought for. The words of Patrick Henry’s famous ‘liberty or death’ speech still echo in the halls of American history two hundred years later. In it, the patriot demanded;

‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!’

Is it? John C. Calhoun, South Carolinian Senator in the mid-1800s, spoke thus of war;

‘War has something ennobling about it, and, with all its horrors, brings into action the highest qualities, intellectual and moral.’

I quote William Pitt again, once more speaking against peace with Napoleon;

‘There may be danger; but on one side there is danger accompanied with honour, on the other side, there is danger with indelible shame and disgrace. Upon such an alternative Englishmen will not hesitate.’

Peace is not to be bought at the price of our principles. Is any man’s life so precious that he will forsake his honour, his principles, and his faith, to save it?
‘Gentlemen,’ said Patrick Henry, ‘May call peace; peace. But there is no peace.’
Men must know what it is they want, and they must know what they are willing to pay for it. Without a firm faith in and loyalty to the moral code, the world will never find true peace, but only a semblance of it--a peace that is selfish, artificial, and will never satisfy.
Peace is precious. Chamberlain knew that to be so. But, like all worthy, noble, and really important things, it sometimes must be fought for.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Code of the Black Umbrella

By Ernest Reedbuck

It is generally the concern of thinkers and writers (for this first group must necessarily fall into the second if its members intend to produce anything useful) what it is the world needs; and this, changing as it does from time to time, is a broad and nearly inexhaustible subject. That is why, I suppose, people do not tire of hearing about it, whether or not they agree with the propounder’s conclusions.

Yet, for myself, I feel that what the world needs is not something which it has not got, but something which it has, and which it is in danger of losing. We do not, in my opinion, need new experiments, but we do need old principles. The things which we have taken for granted since the beginning of the world are the things which will probably save it in the end. But I am not concerned here with saving the world, so much as simply preserving something in it which I believe to be of value.

I hesitate to give a name to what I am going to discuss. It goes under many—traditionalism and conservatism are two appellations—yet it is scarcely a thing that can be summed up in a word. It is more than a manner of thinking—it is a way of life. It is not a creed but a code. It is what makes those who subscribe to it see the world upside down from the way other people see it. It is not even one thing, but a conglomeration of many and three things in particular. It is impossible to understand the world view under discussion without first understanding the nature of these three elements.

The three elements so vital to the moral health of the world are not strange things, but familiar things; so familiar that, in accordance with the old adage, they have almost become contemptible. They are Civilisation, Rationalism, and Decency.

When I use these three words, I don’t mean by them what perhaps they really mean. The ideas embodied by them cannot be summed up in one word anyway. I chose these three words because what they basically mean to most people is fairly close to what I have used them to mean here.

Civilisation is, simplified, you eating animals instead of animals eating you. Or, if you prefer, complexity in the interests of life. The whole reason men have chosen to band together instead of living separately (which is far easier to do) is for the sake of a better quality of life, whether it be in the nature of safety, comfort, productivity, or social prestige. Men would never work in harmony with other men if they could get what they wanted without having to do it. The reason why they do have to work in harmony is, I suppose, because God did not want seven milliard nations on earth. Man can, however, get carried away by this idea of civilisation. You will recall that God was obliged to confuse the languages at Babel in order to keep mankind from the disgrace of over-achievement. The necessity that forces men to work together and the lingual and ethnic barriers that separate them create a fine balance which helps man along far enough and keeps him from going too far.

Since the beginning of time man has had rules—rules that God gave him and rules that he invented for himself. Adam took the trouble to name the animals, probably as part of a greater project of compiling the first dictionary. Men like structure and definition and where there isn’t a sharp line, they will draw one.

For instance, it was men who made up the rule that the father was dictator in his own family. God set this rule in a milder form in the fifth of the Ten Commandments, but the Ten Commandments were not given until Moses and men held absolute sway in their families before Moses’ time. The idea of authority and government outside oneself is one of the most important cornerstones of civilisation. God made man to govern himself. Man made it necessary for other men to govern him.

The form this sort of government takes is that of the coercion of the individual by the group for the sake of the group. Even in the most absolute monarchy power does not rest with one man—power is men: the group.

And it is here where the most serious problem of civilisation appears. Man was never made for the sake of men. Man was first made an individual. Civilisation is not and never could be an end in itself; it is simply (as mentioned before) a means to an end.

The whole trouble begins with men’s rules. Men are creatures of habit. In order to save themselves the trouble of thinking, they invent rules which will make the decisions for them. The trouble starts when men forget why they made the rules in the first place and that rules are made for men, not men for rules. A group of men acting according to a set of rules can become a very ugly monster indeed.

You will recall that civilisation’s purpose is to make life better in some way. This function of making life better is sometimes confused with efficiency and efficiency becomes the goal. But efficiency cannot be a goal any more than civilisation can. To do something faster or better in order to be able to do something else faster or better never did anybody any good. Progress for its own sake is not progress.

Civilisation certainly does make things better in certain ways. A group of men may more easily defend each other. They can build cities and fortifications. They can trade and do business. They can explore new territories. No one man ever built a cathedral or a suspension bridge on his own. Civilisation stands for scientific progress, national security, and a higher standard of living. These things are not common to small, scattered tribes, but to large empires. But again arises the qualification that there must be somehow a balance. The tower may rise so high that it falls and crushes those it was intended to protect.

It is on this basis that civilisation, in the form of government and authority, is attacked. It is true that when men work together they defraud, cheat, and wrong each other, but it is also true that when they work together they help and benefit each other. It may be a simpler life to follow the clan model and appoint each man the lord of his own home and his own property, but it may not be a better life. It may be more free to wear a grass skirt instead of a silk tie, to hunt goats instead of buy butter, to jump naked around a bonfire instead of sit in a pew and sing hymns, to eat a man for lunch instead of ask him out to lunch: but it may not be more desirable.

And there is more to the idea of civilisation than mutual collaboration. It is expressed in the adjective ‘civilised.’ Civilised men put on with their clothes a certain decorum and sense of propriety. Politeness is policy. They know that no matter how much they may hate a man they do not call him names to his face because that would upset the delicate social balance, the necessary link between man and man on which civilisation is based. Men conduct ‘civilised’ warfare, a ludicrous mixture of enlightenment and barbarism in which even a life and death struggle has rules. These rules are based on the remaining two pillars, rationalism and decency.

But the most evident point of civilisation is not so much its necessity or its expediency, as the simple fact that it is preferable to savagery—that people want it. Perhaps it is more natural for man to live in a barbaric state, but I think it is the other way round—that men started out civilised and some few bohemians and freethinkers set out to explore the uncharted waters of primalism. It is certainly true that the majority, even without knowing it, prefer civilisation.

This is not in the slightest sense unnatural. Men don’t prefer civilisation only because it makes life better but because it appeals to an inborn sense of dignity as well. I have said that men love rules; they love rules because they protect men from themselves. Civilisation is not only men not being eaten by animals, but men not being eaten by other men. It is this love of the ritual of rules and government that makes the word ‘civilised’ a complimentary adjective.

Civilisation and rationalism are often thought to go hand in hand. This is not necessarily true, but in one sense it is, because rationalism is a necessary prerequisite to civilisation. Rationalism allows a man to give up present comfort in return for future good. Without this ability a man would never be able to work with other men for the sake of a common goal.

Rationalism has become a negative term to some because of the rationalistic idea that nothing exists that cannot be encompassed by the mind. This is certainly wrong because the mind cannot even encompass its own self. But although rationalism has its faults, it is still in some respects a good and commendable thing. 

Although there are many definitions of rationalism (and probably none of them are right), I’ve added yet another to the tally--my own: Rationalism is being grateful to God for giving you a head by using it. I really think that the best way of being grateful for anything is to use it for its intended purpose. God would never have given us heads if He had not intended us to think, and it would be base ingratitude if, after having been given the invaluable gift of a complex and powerful thinking organ with ability to store huge quantities of memory, we went about all day doing nothing but stupid things. 

It is arguably morally wrong to do stupid things. I will not make this argument. I think that doing stupid things is an inevitable by-product of doing anything at all. The bravest men and those who have accomplished the most for mankind have all done many stupid things in the process, as you may learn from any biography. In order to do something good you must first overcome the fear of doing something stupid.

But despite the impossibility of completely eradicating unintelligent deeds from one’s record, the brain was given to man so that he might avoid idiocy as much as possible. In my definition I do not mean rationalism to mean using one’s intellect to explain everything he observes around him, but rather using his intellect (in accordance with divine direction) to determine how to respond to his environment. I mean this especially as opposed to allowing man’s desires or emotions to control his actions. The greatest asset of man’s intellect (and one signal area where it differs from an animal’s) is its ability to grasp time and eternity. Man is able to interpret the present with the aid of the past, and to compromise the present for the sake of the future. He has a perspective in the fourth dimension.

This was not given him by accident, and it carries with it a grave responsibility. Men know that their actions bring consequences and these consequences are typically foreseen. Rationalism allows men to weigh these consequences in the balance of right and wrong. It also allows men to sacrifice physical realities for the sake of abstract principles. It is a step into the unseen.

Unlike any other creature, man is judged by the choices he makes. Rationalism is the glue that holds together the disordered fibres of our wills and emotions. It is the screw that holds our courage to the sticking place and the greatest ally of conscience. No man can say he is the victim of circumstance: rationalism precludes that excuse.

But there is one area of ethics which rationalism cannot cover. This is the idea of decency. Decency requires a suspension of rational thought because it has no rational basis—at least, none that is readily apparent. But decency is as necessary as civilisation or rationalism—more so: for there is hope for an uncivilised and irrational being if he is still a decent one.

The word has gotten rather a bad rap over the years, as many an excellent word has, but in its original use it was quite a good expression. If you asked anyone what decency means, he might have difficulty telling you, but he would have no difficulty at all telling you what decency is. Decency is not hitting the other fellow when he can’t hit back. Decency is stepping aside for the weaker party. Decency is not using certain words and phrases—not around women, at any rate. The most notable thing about decency is its utter unsoundness logically speaking. There is really no logical reason why you should not hit someone who can’t hit you back. If there is no hope of saving a drowning man and diving in after him will only ensure your own death as well, the reasonable thing is to stay safely out of it; but decency demands otherwise. The only sense in which the principle is obvious is in that it is self-evident.

Decency is, then (if I may make so bold as to give it a definition), the distinguishing between two separate items; or the recognition of what is sacred. Some people look on the world as one vast mass of impersonal matter. The truth is that the universe is made up of two kinds of things: what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, what is temporal and what is eternal.

Decency is inborn. It is the single greatest link between a man and all the rest of humanity, the great common invariable. When we first enter life our views of it are necessarily somewhat objective, but in the area of decency we know what every man who ever lived has always known. And we know it until we die.

When one speaks of civilisation or rationalism or decency, whether together or separate, one country, one people, and one historic period generally come to mind. I am speaking of the kingdom of Great Britain in the last half of the nineteenth century. Whether Great Britain was the greatest empire on earth may be a debatable issue, but I feel that few would debate the statement that Britain at this time was the best representative of the three ideas with which this article has to deal.

Take Victorian Britain, then—Britain at the height of its empire; the Britain of Gladstone and Kitchener; of Trollope, Stevenson, and Kipling; Britain of the Crystal Palace, the Light Brigade, and the green playing fields of Eton; Britain with all its faults, foibles, and weaknesses—and you still find something great, some deep-rooted strength that would not be amiss in the world today.

Imperialism, in the modern mad and emotion-driven plunge towards racial equality, is considered one of the greatest evils of the latter half of the last millennium. It is argued that the white, European ‘race’ was no better than the peoples it conquered—indeed, if all that is said may be believed, it was a great deal worse. And this is, in part, true. But the fact remains that, worthy or not, the white men were almost universally respected by those they subjugated. These were peoples of no mean quality, either—the Maoris, Sikhs, Afghans, Sioux, and many others—all fighting tribes made up of some of the finest warriors ever known. Yet, although they fought the white man, they also respected him—in war as well as in peace.

This was not due to the white man’s superior weapons—the tribesmen were often armed with similar, if fewer—but to something yet deeper which permeated the dealings of most of the European nations, and particularly the British nation, with the native tribes. When the Zulus were finally conquered by the British, the ‘white masters’ had won their respect—but not without a price. They won it not only at Ulundi, the final battle that ended the Zulu War, but to an even greater extent at Rorke’s Drift where for ten hours the out-numbered white soldiers defended Natal from the invading Impis. And they won it even at the greatest British defeat of the war—Isandlwana—where the Zulus annihilated an entire British regiment but where the last man died fighting.

It was how the British lived no less than how they died that won them the respect of those they ruled. Englishmen had a code—platitudes ingrained in their natures, gradually bred into them and struck into them over centuries: ‘Stick to it and hold out;’ ‘Never go back on a friend;’ ‘Do your duty to God and Country;’ and the sense of the impossibility of shooting the unarmed or the unprotected—‘hitting the man who is down.’

I don't mean that the nation as a whole maintained these principles or even that each Briton subscribed to them, but the British nation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries came closer than anyone before or since has come to upholding them.

There are many items associated with Britain at this time, but I have chosen as significant and yet familiar, the common, cane handled, black silk umbrella. Its ubiquity on Fleet Street during the era under discussion signified it as almost an icon, a badge of the society that formed Britain’s empire and maintained it.

In this age a sort of patronising contempt is shown towards the Victorian era and towards Britain in particular as the greatest representative of the qualities of civilisation, rationalism, and decency. It is now thought ‘free’ or ‘enlightened’ to behave towards others, particularly strangers, in an uncivilised manner, to embrace irrationality, and to exalt indecency. It is not so much that the qualities have come under attack, as that they have simply been thought unimportant and so rejected.

And thus I feel justified in propounding my code. While I can walk down the street and swing my black umbrella, I shall hold to it.

For these three qualities, civilisation, rationalism, and decency, though small in themselves and unable to compass every part of life, take a great place in the three basic relationships belonging to all people: man in relation to other men; man in relation to himself; and man in relation to God, respectively. It is civilisation which enables men to interact with others, rationalism which allows them to respect themselves, and decency which opens to them, in a small and finite way, the heart of their Creator.