Respect Soldiers, Keep Them Safe

“Landing Zone,” by Vietnam vet John Wehrle (1966)

Veterans Day

Yesterday was the day that we honor our soldiers, both our veterans (which includes my pacifist father, who served in Europe during World War II) and those who are still active. One of the more disheartening aspects of this past presidential campaign is how little the soldiers serving in Afghanistan were mentioned. But at least we are now assured that they are coming home.

In addition to thanking them, there is something more that we can do for them.  We can do everything in our power to make sure they don’t have to fight.

As we look back over the past 100+ years, we can see many wars that America had no business entering—the Spanish-American War, World War I, various Central American and Caribbean conflicts, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, the Iraqi War. (I exempt World War II and the war in Afghanistan, where we were attacked.) Even though “Thank you for your service” has become almost a reflex response when we encounter those in uniform, the words ring hollow if we are then casual about sending them into battle. Politicians who spout lofty rhetoric while drumming up wars for mere political gain might as well be spitting on our soldiers. The decision to fight should be one of the most agonizing of all decisions.

Which leads me to today’s poem by Rudyard Kipling. Kipling sympathized deeply with the common soldier, and many of his poems capture their dialect. Here he’s talking about how soldiers are disrespected except at those moments when people realize they need them.

Don’t think they don’t know what’s going on, Kipling says in the last stanza:

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;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

You can read the poem in its entirety after the break

Here’s the poem in its entirety

Tommy

By Rudyard Kipling

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind,”
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
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;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!

 

The painting above appeared in a special exhibit of art by soldiers.  You can find more about the exhibit at intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com/2010/09/28/art_of_the_american_soldier

This entry was posted in Kipling (Rudyard) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Linda Stewart

    The PBS Newshour has recent articles and videos about the difficulties of wounded veterans applying for benefits. Field records that support a service member’s claim are often deleted from military hard drives when units return to the US. Kipling’s Tommy would sympathize.


  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete