Learning From Limbaugh

Oh, no. Have we come to this?

  • MoveOn said General Betray Us.
  • Rush Limbaugh said phony soldiers.
  • Congress said bad MoveOn!
  • Blogs and Democrats say bad Rush!
  • Pee Wee Herman said “I know you are, but what am I?”
  • Francis said “I know you are, but what am I?”

I have an idea. Instead of blasting away at Rush, let’s take him at his word. He’s entitled to his opinion, and we can all learn something from it.

So Limbaugh’s opinion, as I understand it, is that soldiers who talk to the media advocating withdrawal from Iraq are “phony soldiers.” In contrast, the caller on the line, self-identified as “a serving American military, in the Army,” who supports staying in Iraq, is a real soldier.

Assuming this is a fair rendition of what Limbaugh meant, and given the fact that two of the seven soldiers who wrote the New York Times op-ed piece criticizing U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in August, Yance T. Gray and Omar Mora, were killed in Iraq less than four weeks later, it would follow that a soldier serving in Iraq who does speak against the mission renders him or herself “phony” simply by the act of speaking. Fighting and dying don’t count. In short, a real soldier is gung ho and if he or she doesn’t like the way it’s going, he or she shuts up. Or he/she isn’t a real soldier.

Now this is nothing new. In fact, it’s very familiar, even if schoolkids no longer read Tennyson:

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Ah, that good old Victorian stiff upper lip. That’s the Limbaugh vision, is it not? Real soldiers do not make reply, or reason why, they just do and die. Now it seems to me there is one central staple of the Victorian era that makes this vision make sense.

Class.

Looking up-class, officers certainly made replies. Their job was to reason why. But the cannon-fodder class — their job was to obey their betters. And if they played their part as their class determined them to play, then live or die, nice things would be written about them.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

No matter that their betters may not have rewarded them with much more than a few lines. As Rudyard Kipling acidly put it in 1891’s “The Last of the Light Brigade:”

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!

And thus the denouement of the Limbaughian-Victorian vision. Thanks for your service, folks. Go and fight with the armor you got, not the armor you want. And we’ll fix up Walter Reed when and if somebody really shames us into it.

But say, didn’t we fight a war 230 years ago over that class thing? I thought so anyhow.

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