Newburgh, Kipling, and the VA

LightBrigade2by Timothy Lane11/9/15
Reading a historical anthology titled I Wish I’d Been There, I came across an article about the Newburgh Conspiracy of 1783. In this, angry Continental officers and men considered some sort of revolt to get Congress to pay them what it had promised. George Washington stopped this with a brilliant speech, highlighted by his putting on spectacles to read a letter and noting that he had grown gray in the service of his country and was now going blind.

Washington argued that the problem was impotence (Congress under the Articles of Confederation could collect money only by voluntary state contributions) rather than dishonesty. Whatever one thinks of Congress then or now, he was right about its lack of resources — and eventually the promises were (more or less) fulfilled.

Of course, readers will be familiar with similar problems today, particularly the quality of health care in the Veterans Administration. We don’t yet know if the promises our veterans have received will ultimately be redeemed, though it’s clear that the Democrats will always consider the interests of the VA employees (who pay union dues which are then used to fund the Democrats) as more important than the interests of the vets.

In other words, in 1783 Congress may or may not have intended to fulfill its promises, but lacked the resources. Today, Congress (sort of) has the resources (in borrowed money), but all too many no longer care to fulfill their promises.

The lesson of Newburgh is that our problems aren’t new. Similar concerns also turned up in the poetry of Rudyard Kipling — especially Tommy and The Last of the Light Brigade. In the former, he repeatedly shows how the ordinary soldiers are regarded as nuisances at best during times of peace, but given plenty of (temporary) respect in wartime.

For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;”

This sort of attitude was part of the problem that led to Newburgh (which happened as the war was ending), and we see it today in the hostility of the Left to the military (which most of them hide, at least somewhat, in times of war). As to where this can lead, Kipling covered that too.

Our children’s children are lisping to “honor the charge they made –”
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

What we owe our veterans, particularly those who actually fought in a war, is always a good question. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers featured a society in which only veterans could vote or served in certain government positions. Many of us thought that society would have great VA benefits. We simply don’t have enough wealth to give them everything. But we certainly should keep our promises, and currently that isn’t happening. And we certainly shouldn’t expect veterans to need charity or welfare to get by. I don’t know what the proper level of benefits, but it does seem too low, especially the quality of care received.


Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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14 Responses to Newburgh, Kipling, and the VA

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    George Washington stopped this with a brilliant speech, highlighted by his putting on spectacles to read a letter and noting that he had grown gray in the service of his country and was now going blind.

    “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.”

    This was, perhaps, Washington’s finest moment. Although he could have seized power he did not. And his speech and the example he set became ingrained in the American pysche’, we do not resort to military coup d’etats. The greatest man who ever lived.

    As to the VA, they are simply displaying the primary directive of every bureaucracy, i.e. protection and expansion of the bureaucracy. This is why every bureaucracy must be held on the shortest of leashes.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    a very good piece. Perhaps this is all we can promise the veteran, when all comes down to dust. http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2014/09/an_old_soldiers_last_farewell.html

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I should keep that piece at the ready as the model for clear, meaningful, substantive, fresh, and thematic writing.

      But as the last link is severed and the home and possessions are divvied, sold or carted away to a dumpster, the centrifugal tendency towards drift infects even the strongest of families; and great effort must be taken to reinvigorate the sibling connection when the source of their orbit is dissolved. That burdensome mantle of patriarch has fallen upon my dubious shoulders, and I am ill-suited to perform the duties at hand.

      That’s an interesting way of putting it, Glenn. With my father’s passing in 2003, I’ve felt some of the burdens pass onto me. If not exactly patriarchal duties (I have an older brother), they were duties nonetheless. When mother goes, I think the orbit between we three brothers will be as relatively tight as it is now. But who knows?

      Here’s one of the best paragraphs you’ve ever written:

      I had always been of the opinion that the tradition of burying loved ones in hermetically sealed caskets reeked of futility and was in no small way a morbid relic. After all, the fantastic sums that people spend on the business of dying appear to be motivated more by guilt than by reason, and funeral home grifters are well placed to pluck the heartstrings of the vulnerable. Moreover, The Almighty is more than capable of locating, identifying, and resurrecting His own without the aid of grave markers or embalmer’s preservatives. And yet, perhaps the ritual is not solely for the departed, but for those who remain and must follow later. To be honest, there is much to be said for coming to a special place on an appropriate occasion and being in close proximity with a loved one’s discarded earthly form, even though we are confident that our beloved is no more there than on the surface of Mars. Human beings are perhaps strange but beautiful in the odd way we pay tribute. A handful of flowers and the polishing of a weathered marker convey that acceptable offering of respect, burnished by the sunshine of private recollections where no shadows are admitted.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        To be honest, there is much to be said for coming to a special place on an appropriate occasion and being in close proximity with a loved one’s discarded earthly form, even though we are confident that our beloved is no more there than on the surface of Mars. Human beings are perhaps strange but beautiful in the odd way we pay tribute. A handful of flowers and the polishing of a weathered marker convey that acceptable offering of respect, burnished by the sunshine of private recollections where no shadows are admitted.

        It would seem that this practice is virtually universal to mankind.
        I think it may be part of reminding us of our roots, a physical proof of the fact that others came before us and will come after us. Historical memory and context at its most basic.

      • David Ray says:

        I used to quip that my mom was welcome to simply stuff me in a garbage bag and set me out in the alley. (Her impish response was “Don’t tempt me”.)

        In reality, cremation is used most among my relatives esp. in Oklahoma.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      My mother wanted to be cremated without anything fancy, and my sister kept her ashes in a cardboard box until we finally had the funeral (months later due to the difficulty of getting everyone together). The ashes were buried next to my father’s grave in Sweeden, Kentucky (I already have a gravestone next to theirs, and in fact sat in front of it at her funeral). I have much the same thought — what does all the money for fancy arrangements do for the deceased, after all? — and so does Elizabeth.

  3. David Ray says:

    No surprise that Lane pulls off another concise & informative article.

    (Mr Lane, you only get to leave if Nelson allows it or if an NRO idiot staggers onto this site and censors you by accident . . . which isn’t unusual.)

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