Saturday, September 17, 2005

When I grow up, I want to be like Flashman!

Sitting here in the lounge sucking down drinks in the hope it will help me sleep on the flight from hell to Riyadh and then on to Hong Kong. Out of Riyadh I expect to encounter a full flight of probably 200 Indonesians who are more than a little happy to be out of the Islamic paradise.

Have continued reading the Flashman papers, volume one. For the unknowing this great work by General Harry Paget Flashman is great. He was a witness and participant in many of the major events of the Victorian era. Yet he is rarely mentioned in the "authoritative" historical works about this period. He may very well have gone forgotten if not for the fortuitous discovery of his memoirs-- the famous "Flashman Papers"-- in 1965. According to their editor, George MacDonald Fraser:

"The papers, which had apparently lain untouched for fifty years, in a tea chest, until they were found in the Ashby saleroom, were carefully wrapped in oilskin covers. From correspondence found in the first packet, it is evident that their original discovery by [Flashman's] relatives in 1915 after the great soldier's death caused considerable consternation; they seem to have been unanimously against publication of their kinsman's autobiography-- one can readily understand why-- and the only wonder is that the manuscript was not destroyed."
As someone else has written:

There are two reasons why I enjoy the Flashman Papers:

First and foremost, the history. Flashman is center stage against a backdrop of the most significant military and political events of the 19th Century. The descriptions of places, people and situations are detailed and for the most part accurate. In addition, Flashman brings the past to life by sharing the insight and emotions invoked by experiencing these events first hand.

Secondly, the humor. No matter how debauched or deadly the situation, Flashman puts a comical spin to it. Flashman's humor is sarcastic, irreverent and witty. We can all use more humor in our lives. "
Plus it would seem Sir Harry shares a lot of my outlook about life and love. Flashman on learning foreign languages: ... "if you wish to learn a foreign tongue properly, study it in bed with a native girl - I'd have got more out of the classics from an hour's wrestling with a Greek wench than I did in four years from Arnold. "

Kind of looks a little like what?

That sums it up pretty well. There is for me another reason I've bought this book and some other books about Imperial Britain, in the 19th century. I think that the history of the British Empire has applicability to understand what the United States has embarked upon with its current adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere.

During this trip I was able to make site visits to outposts of America's empire. Now the true believers in the party line will quickly point out that American is different and does not seek empire. Only to aid nations in a quest for democracy and defeat terrorism, the second which is perhaps and impossible task. My response to the former is, that America has an empire, only unlike the British its an empire with none of the perks. (Well maybe a few. I visited a guys apartment in Bahrain whose kitchen was bigger than my living room.....).

Also in reading Flashman I think I have been able to finally come up with an accurate description of what the folks in Iraq are fighting for. They are fighting for the honour (British spelling intentional) of the United States. That's a different concept than defense of the United States which for Americans is and should be the only acceptable reason to launch the nation into a global war. Sadly, I still have not changed my mind that the Iraq war is not contributing to the defense of the US. (See my earlier posts about the "flypaper theory" of fighting terrorism.) It is a more interesting when one sees it in the context of defense of the empire: regrettably an empire without territory, and as I said earlier, none of the perks.

Gotta run and catch the plane!


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