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Honor, like beauty, is often in the eyes of the beholder.

In much the same way, our perception of truth, honor and integrity is shaped by our perspective, which in turn in tempered by our capacity to see a person, place or event in context.  When the context is limited, our perceptions -- tho narrowed -- are not flawed so much as uninformed.  If the context is filtered, limited in both scope and clarity, and perhaps tarnished by purposeful obstruction or the introduction of false artifacts, then our perceptions are further challenged and our reality becomes further diminished when, finally, confronted with the actuality that formerly eluded our perceptions.

This is a lesson we, as a race and species, must learn often through our history through  both our art and our life. I saw it again, starkly contrasted, when I sat to write a story about pirates this evening. I'll have to take up that story -- the story of today's Republican party -- another time.

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade" was published in 1854.  It told how a small force struck hard and fast in an impossible fight, and broke through the lines of an entire army placed against them.  It told a tale to honor and regale the English heroes with -- or, rather, to inspire the English with tales of their awe-inspiring, brave and heroic soldiers.

What many people may not realize is that this was not the last that was heard of the light brigade.

Twenty-seven years later, in 1881, another poem was written.

It was somewhat less heroic in the portrayal of the soldiers.

Called "The Last of the Light Brigade" and penned by Rudyard Kipling, this piece was designed to draw the plight of the survivors of that heroic charge to the attention of the nation which they served.

The survivors were "surviving," but barely.  They were hunched over from having to work in the workhouses, and starving.  They lived a wretched existence, these men once vaunted as heroes.  

There were thirty million English who talked of England's might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.

I couldn't help thinking, "My God!  We have become England!" as I realized the comparative history of these soldiers and our own forsaken troops.

In Kipling's piece, the last twenty survivors of the Light Brigade paid a visit to Tennyson's manor.  When received by the master of the house, they addressed him thus:

The old Troop-Sergeant was spokesman, and "Beggin' your pardon," he said,
"You wrote o' the Light Brigade, sir. Here's all that isn't dead.
An' it's all come true what you wrote, sir, regardin' the mouth of hell;
For we're all of us nigh to the workhouse, an' we thought we'd call an' tell.

"No, thank you, we don't want food, sir; but couldn't you take an' write
A sort of 'to be continued' and 'see next page' o' the fight?
We think that someone has blundered, an' couldn't you tell 'em how?
You wrote we were heroes once, sir. Please, write we are starving now."

(Emphasis mine)
This isn't just life imitating art, or the reverse.  This is a whole repetition of the entire pattern, translated into our current day and age as the lessons of history and literature are wont to do.

And now, as then, it is every bit the disgrace that it ever was.  Where are those who beat their breasts in patriotic furor when the soldiers return home to obscene predatory loans, or reduced benefits?  Why can't they see, with their own eyes, the battered and shattered bodies, minds and souls of the men and women they have cheered on in this fruitless, illegal war?  What of their "Christian" values and the moral high ground they stand upon -- are they unable to see that they, themselves, are repeating the shameful displays of both history and literature in their inability to sustain and support the families of those they've sent to die?

O thirty million English that babble of England's might,
Behold there are twenty heroes who lack their food to-night;
Our children's children are lisping to "honour the charge they made - "
And we leave to the streets and the workhouse the charge of the Light Brigade!

The time, then, was the late 1800s.  The time, now, is the early 21st century.  And yet, the barbarism, the blind arrogance, the ignorant self-righteous bluster indicates that little time, at all, has passed; are we yet again doomed to failure, and the inability to learn from the folly of others?  

Are we now no better than our forefathers, or theirs?  Or, worse, have we in our collective folly become that which they would stand and oppose?

Do we fight a losing battle, attempting to bring this hypocrisy to light and educate -- yes, educate, leaving not one adult-child behind -- the deluded masses of myopic morality?  Are we hopelessly outnumbered?  Or...could this be the time, the moment when our small but growing company of brave souls will charge and take the gates by storm, breaking the line of the enemies of reason and humanity?

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
 Volley'd and thunder'd; 
Storm'd at with shot & shell,
Boldly they rode & well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
 Rode the six hundred. 

That, my friends, is up to us.  Perhaps a few of Tennyson's words could serve, this once, to inspire a fight worth winning against an army of superior strength and organization.

Ride, my fellow Kossaks, ride...ride like the wind!

Image taken unabashedly and with gusto, and many thanks,  from the album of buhdydarma.

Originally posted to GreyHawk on Wed Sep 27, 2006 at 07:09 PM PDT.

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