Today is the 161st Anniversary of the day Britain and France declared war on Russia to enter the Crimean War.
It's a timely anniversary considering today's ongoing events in Crimea. Once again, the West is facing down Russian expansionism. Once again, people from across the political spectrum are beating the drums for war.
I want to mention a few things you might not know about the Crimean War.
The Russian invasion and occupation of Wallachia and Moldavia is what brought Britain and France into the war. Shortly after Britain and France entered the war, Russia evacuated from Wallachia and Moldavia in July 1854, which should have ended the war. But it didn't because the press had whipped the public into a frenzy.
What followed was the largely pointless deaths of around half a million men.
There was no major changes in territory between July 1854 and the final agreement at the end of the war. Hundreds of thousands of men died for the purpose of propping up the dying Ottoman Empire for another few decades.
It was also based on a flawed war report. The brigade was sent into a hopeless situation out of command confusion and incompetence. Unlike Tennyson's version, the brigade was mostly able to fight its way back to friendly lines after suffering appalling casualties.
Once the true story of the Light Brigade reached the home front, the public's enthusiasm for war waned and they began demanding answers. The government of Lord Aberdeen fell when the true story of incompetence and misconduct began to reach the ears of the public, long after the death and misery (as is always the case in wars).
It's a good reminder of the real cost of wars go on long after the politicians and profiteers have collected their gains.
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.
They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four!
They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, "Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites."
They went without bands or colours, a regiment ten-file strong,
To look for the Master-singer who had crowned them all in his song;
And, waiting his servant's order, by the garden gate they stayed,
A desolate little cluster, the last of the Light Brigade.
They strove to stand to attention, to straighten the toil-bowed back;
They drilled on an empty stomach, the loose-knit files fell slack;
With stooping of weary shoulders, in garments tattered and frayed,
They shambled into his presence, the last of the Light Brigade.
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."
The poor little army departed, limping and lean and forlorn.
And the heart of the Master-singer grew hot with "the scorn of scorn."
And he wrote for them wonderful verses that swept the land like flame,
Till the fatted souls of the English were scourged with the thing called Shame.
They sent a cheque to the felon that sprang from an Irish bog;
They healed the spavined cab-horse; they housed the homeless dog;
And they sent (you may call me a liar), when felon and beast were paid,
A cheque, for enough to live on, to the last of the Light Brigade.*
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!