»  New English Review

April 2007

  In Memory of Private Moyse


"15 British Agressors [sic] must be EXECUTED." That was the placard being held up by some beetle-browed Iranian outside the British Embassy in Tehran. Well, I don't entirely disagree. I certainly think that those British captives who have let themselves be put forward on Iranian TV, that woman wearing a headscarf, and the young man apologizing to the Iranian gangster-rulers, should be court-martialed for dereliction of duty when they get back to Blighty, with shooting definitely an option.

How on earth can Britons behave like that? A previous generation would not have done so. I knew the women of my mother's generation pretty well (Mum was born in 1912), and I am certain that any one of them, given that headscarf and told to put it on, would have said: "You can hang me with it if you like, but I'll be damned if I'll wear the filthy thing." The men likewise. What on earth has happened to the British? Where is John Moyse?

Well, he is of course on Wikipedia. Who isn't? To spare you the trouble of reading all through, Moyse was a British soldier of the East Kent Regiment, nick-named "The Buffs" on account of their 17th-century uniforms, which prominently featured that color. Moyse was captured by the Chinese during the Second Opium War of the late 1850s. Taken before a Mandarin, he was ordered to kowtow, but refused. He was thereupon clubbed to death and decapitated, and his body thrown on a dung-heap. Sir Francis Doyle wrote a poem to celebrate Moyse's defiance of the enemy. You can read the poem here.

I myself encountered the poem in Michael Turner's fine anthology Parlour Poetry . Turner's note to the poem says:

To this fine tribute to English scorn for lesser breeds, the poet appended this extract from The Times of 1860: "Some Sikhs and a private of the Buffs (the East Kent Regiment), having remained behind with the grog-carts, fell into the hands of the Chinese. On the next morning they were brought before the authorities and commanded to perform the kotow. The Sikhs obeyed; but Moyse, the English soldier, declaring that he would not prostrate himself before any Chinaman alive, was immediately knocked on the head, and his body thrown on a dunghill."

And all this was, of course, brought to my mind by the story of these British servicemen captured by the Iranians. To return to my earlier question: What on earth has happened to the British?

What has happened is multiculturalism. The British no longer feel that contempt for other nations that sustained them for so many centuries. Or, if they feel it, they guiltily suppress that feeling, as being flagitiously "racist." Boswell described Johnson as "a stern True-Born Englishman, and fully prejudiced against all other nations." (Boswell's capitals.) That would have the Thought Police knocking on Johnson's door nowadays.

Jeff Miller, one of my e-correspondents, points me to Orwell's remarks on patriotism, written in August 1941 :

What has kept England on its feet during the past year? In part, no doubt, some vague idea about a better future, but chiefly the atavistic emotion of patriotism, the ingrained feeling of the English-speaking peoples that they are superior to foreigners. For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the SS men patrolling the London streets at this moment. Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the "sacred soil of the Fatherland," etc etc), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly altered form. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action.

If you read that passage through with attention, you will know how our future is going to unfold. That private of the Buffs declared "that he would not prostrate himself before any Chinaman alive." His early 21st-century equivalent would prostrate himself without being asked. We have actually, I think, reached the point at which prostration is more or less reflexive. Nor would any modern person be so insensitive as to say "Chinaman," a word nowadays considered to be unspeakably insulting — Ted Turner used it the other day, and had to issue a public apology to Persons of Chineseness everywhere.

And that, ladies and gents, is why our civilization is a goner. Any questions?

To further clarify the point, consider that Secular Islamic Summit held a few weeks ago in St. Petersburg, Florida. The event closed with the St. Petersburg Declaration:

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights …

(The whole thing is here.)

It's hard not to admire these brave people, most of whom are under fatwas of one sort or another, liable to be hacked to death by some frothing Muslim lunatic any time they step outside.

The tragedy — and I am using that word in its full and proper meaning — the tragedy is, that these westernized Muslims are banging their heads against that Orwell quote. They have signed on to the modern world and its multi-culti fantasies. There was plenty of courage and good sense on display at St. Petersburg, but not much of those energizing principles Orwell spoke about: "racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war." It's the jihadis who have those.

The great genius of the English-speaking peoples was in holding the two sets of ideas in their minds at the same time: both "racial pride, leader-worship (well, to be fair to the Anglosphere, we never really went for that one), religious belief, love of war," and "the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience … the equality of all human persons." This was quite a trick, as the two sets of principles actually contradict each other. It was Orwell himself who gave us the word "doublethink."

The English, however — from Dr. Johnson down to Private Moyse and my Mum — were an un-intellectual lot, not much bothered by logical contradictions. Were, were, were.