This afternoon I attended a funeral service. It was for Corporal Stephen Bolger of the Parachute Regiment, who died while on active service in Afghanistan. Cpl. Bolger was raised here in Cromer – I went along because I know his parents and wished to support them.
Cpl. Bolger was a career soldier. All his life he dreamed of joining the Parachute Regiment, and as his mother told me, he lived a life far fuller at 30 than many who might live to see 60, and he was doing a job he loved – being a warrior on the front line.
The funeral service took place at Cromer Parish Church, which was full. This is no mean feat, as Cromer Parish Church is quite extraordinarily huge. Many people in the town turned out, including the Mayor. I sat between the Vicar’s wife (her husband was conducting the service) and one of our local librarians (who’d gone to school with Stephen). The church was full of soldiers, young and old, and the coffin looked quite a sight, draped in the Union Jack, supported by Cpl Bolger’s uniformed colleagues. I attended not as a believer or even a Christian, but as a member of the community, and sang I Vow To Thee My Country and Lord Of All Hopefulness and Onward Christian Soldiers with the best of them. Such is a finger in the eye of those more militant atheists who say that all religion is bunk – I challenge them to find anything that might offer even a crumb of communal solace in any trendily untraditional simulacra of such occasions. I recently attended a funeral of an atheist at which a reading by Dawkins’ Unweaving The Rainbow was read. Even the reader laughed at the effrontery of Dawkins, who had, he said, suggested the passage himself. (And the subject was buried in the ground by a minister, nonetheless).
But I digress. At times like this one reflects on the meaning, or otherwise, of war, and whether Cpl Bolger’s life was a life wasted, and one’s mind turns to Wilfrid Owen’s anthem from one particularly bloody and pointless conflict:
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
I say to you, here, in this post, that whereas dear old Wilfrid Owen had a point in the case of the Great War, one might look at the situation in Afghanistan and invite him to get stuffed. First, Cpl Bolger wasn’t a dumb conscript but a professional soldier, who knew perfectly well what he was getting into. Second, the war in Afghanistan does have a point, and it is very much pro patria mori.
What Cpl Bolger and his colleagues are fighting, on our behalf, is a force that would take over all mens’ lives, all our lives – a force whose determination is strong and goal is explicit, to destroy the tradition of tolerance and freedom we have long enjoyed, and under which we have prospered, and replace it with strictures that few would tolerate – the subjugation of Christians, Jews, homosexuals, intellectuals or indeed anyone they don’t like, and the reduction of women to the status of herd beasts.
We should, therefore, counter the snide hectoring of motley assemblages such as the Stop The War Coalition, and the armchair criticism of the Guardian-reading metropolitan chatterati whose wholesale appeasement of what they call ‘multi-culturalism’ is an invitation to dhimmitude. Cpl Bolger was indeed fighting for our country, and all the values which all of us take for granted (including, I might add, Guardian-readers). In the cause of such values he died a soldier’s death. He died a hero’s death, and as such I salute him – and damn all or any of you who would use the freedoms we cherish to say otherwise.
The Order of Service contained the following thoughts from Theodore Roosevelt – which were, apparently, on Cpl Bolger’s Facebook Page. They are worth quoting in extenso.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the trimph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
As an editor, I could reduce this to just five words – put up, or shut up.