A Very Worthwhile Cause

Project Valour-IT is an effort to provide voice-activated laptops to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who have suffered injuries making it difficult or impossible for them to use a standard keyboard. The annual fundraising drive in now underway–please consider contributing.

It’s often been said that the test of a society is how well it treats its children. Another important test, though, is how well it treats people who have fought and suffered on its behalf.

Rudyard Kipling wrote one of his lesser-known poems on this subject. You are no doubt familiar with Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade–well, here is 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!

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.

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!

American society certainly treats its veterans better than did British society at the period of which Kipling was writing. But we can improve, and we don’t need to wait for politicians in order to take action.

1 thought on “A Very Worthwhile Cause”

  1. A little bit goes a long way. We took up a collection to see water guns and nerf weapons to some boys we knew in Iraq and they really, really liked them.

    The major reason that combat veterans suffer so in the veterans system is that the system is actually built to take care of elderly retirees who served at some point in their lives. That means that the system is geared to help millions of elderly civilians and not a few thousand wounded and maimed young. It would be economically trivial for us to give gold star treatment to the few thousand wounded in Iraq and even more to the few hundred permanently disabled. Yet the system requires that they share resources with those who served without injury decades ago in the prime of the lives and now need help with the travails of old age.

    My grandfather resisted going to the veteran’s hospital because he felt his three years of service in WWII did not justify decades of care 40 years later. His insurance company finally made him go. I can only imagine his horror at the thought that the money spent on soothing the his pains of age could have been spent on a young person maimed in the cause of freedom.

Comments are closed.