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William Watson: Curse my country for its military victory

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

William Watson: Dream of perfect peace

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William Watson
The Soudanese

They wrong’d not us, nor sought ‘gainst us to wage
The bitter battle. On their God they cried
For succour, deeming justice to abide
In heaven, if banish’d from earth’s vicinage.
And when they rose with a gall’d lion’s rage.
We, on the captor’s, keeper’s, tamer’s side,
We, with the alien tyranny allied,
We bade them back to their Egyptian cage.
Scarce knew they who we were! A wind of blight
From the mysterious far north-west we came.
Our greatness now their veriest babes have learn’d,
Where, in wild desert homes, by day, by night.
Thousands that weep their warriors unreturn’d,
O England, O my country, curse thy name!

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Keith McLennan
    November 5, 2018 at 3:08 am

    A curious piece. Yet Watson also condemned Britain for failing to act against the Turks, “the Viceregency of Hell”, on behalf of the Armenians:

    Stirred by no clarion blowing loud and wide,
    Thy sons forget what Truth and Honour meant.
    – “Craven England”

    This was in the 1890s, long before the Armenian Genocide of 1915. By then, perhaps sensing another “diabolical tyranny” in the Kaiser’s Germany, Watson supported British participation in the Great War. He was knighted in 1917 in recognition of his support for the war effort. When he died, in 1935, no less a figure than Kipling said of him that he “did great work and never wrote a bad line”.

    • richardrozoff
      November 5, 2018 at 3:23 am

      There was actually an earlier violent campaign against the Armenians (and the Macedonians) in the 1890s, against which to his great credit Anatole France spoke out publicly. “I am not defending them because they are Christians, but because they are men.”
      Given Britain’s support of the Ottomans during the Crimean War (and before and after as well), it was a simple matter of the UK withholding military and diplomatic support rather than directly intervening, I suppose.

      • Keith McLennan
        November 5, 2018 at 5:41 am

        No, Watson was indeed calling for armed intervention to help the Armenians:

        “Yonder the Dragon ramps with fiery gorge,
        Yonder the victim faints and gasps and bleeds;
        But in his merry England our St. George
        Sleeps a base sleep beside his idle spear.”
        – The Knell of Chivalry

        Not only did he want Britain to intervene, but he also wanted America (“the Titan of the West”) to join in:

        “if thou has more strength than thou can spend
        In tasks of Peace, and find’st her yoke too tame,
        Help us to smite the cruel, to befriend
        The succourless, and put the false to shame.”
        – England to America

        The “succourless” here were the Armenians; the “false”, the Turks. Both poems were written in 1896, only three years before Kipling in “The White Man’s Burden” made a similar appeal to America to “veil the threat of terror / And check the show of pride”.

    • richardrozoff
      November 5, 2018 at 3:41 am

      Watson, then, was not unusual in the respect of opposing earlier, smaller wars, then throwing in his lot with the Great War. Many a British writer who had opposed the Afghan, Sudanese and Boer wars did so; on this side of the Atlantic many who opposed the war with Spain and the Philippines counterinsurgency campaign (e.g., William Dean Howells, Henry James, etc.) did the same.
      I suppose the overwhelming sweep of the beginning of World War I was too much to withstand. Only Romain Rolland, Georg Brandes, Arthur Schnitzler, Maxim Gorky and a small handful of others, and even that sometimes fairly timidly, stood against the war.
      Though many – Anatole France and Upton Sinclair among them – condemned the war after the fact.

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