Thursday, 8 October 2009

Oh General, my General

It makes you proud, doesn’t it, to see the armed forces of the democracies locked in struggle with the powers of darkness? There we are, in Afghanistan, showing old Johnny Fundamentalist that he’s not going to plunge the country back into iniquity and corruption. And we’ve got a President of the country with all the votes you could possibly want, and a lot more than were ever cast, to help us prove it.

Of course, on a strictly puritanical view of the circumstances, you might feel that there were some shades of grey, morally speaking, about the admirable government in Kabul. Not so on our side, though. In particular, the men of steel who fight the good fight are above all reproach. Take good old Sir Richard Dannatt, until recently Britain’s most senior soldier. He had the courage to tell the truth to power. ‘You’re not sending enough troops,’ he told the government. And the ministers quaked in their boots (though they didn’t actually send any more troops).

At least Dannatt showed what it is to be a man of true military probity. He reminds me of a wonderful story about the Iron Duke, Wellington. On his return from India in 1805 as a victorious general, not a species the English were particularly used to at the time, there was considerable suspicion that one so popular might be a political threat to those already in or close to power and who therefore knew they were there by right. So they sent him to Kent, in command of a mere brigade. Many expressed shock and asked why he had accepted so humble an appointment. ‘For this simple reason,’ he replied, ‘I am a nimmukwallah, as we say in the East; that is, I have ate of the King's salt and, therefore, I conceive it to be my duty to serve with unhesitating zeal and cheerfulness, when and wherever the King or his government may think proper to employ me.’

Warms the cockles of the heart doesn’t it? What upright loyalty and sincerity. But isn’t Dannatt a man out of the same mould?

Judge for yourselves.

Having retired from his position but remaining on the army payroll until November, and therefore still taking the Queen’s salt in Wellington’s evocative image, he has accepted a position as an adviser on military matters to the Conservative Party. The Conservatives, hard though the Party itself may find it to believe, remains the opposition for the time being. For now, the Queen’s salt is still distributed by the government, formed by the Labour Party.

Ah, well. Perhaps the salt doesn’t taste quite as good as in Wellington’s day.


Anonymous said...

Clearly the man had been campaigning for his party, rather than standing up for "his" soldiers, say I- a humdrum point, I know, but one that should be made at every opportunity!


Anonymous said...

Am I allowed a second comment?
I am not suggesting that you are wrong, but I had never come across the expression NIMAKWALLAH before. I am familiar with two different kinds of nimaks:
Nimak Halal (True to one's salt), and
Nimak Haram (Ungrateful bastard!)

David Beeson said...

I came across the quotation from Wellington (or Arthur Wellesley as he was then) and thought at the time 'strange sounding word'. He was a high Tory, an Anglo and a Protestant from Ireland, and not I suppose all that inclined to treat the languages of 'natives' with all that much respect; on the other hand he was a surprising man (there's an apocryphal story about him in India which probably gives an accurate picture of how he was perceived, even if it wasn't itself true: he was found one day weighing an infantryman in full kit to find out just how much his men were being asked to carry through jungle; his experiences out there gave him his lifelong commitment to the use of properly organised baggage trains so the men could travel light). Might he not have got the word right? If Nimak is salt and, from what I know, a wallah is a person or a fellow, wouldn't a nimakwallah be a 'salt-fellow', a fellow who has received salt from you (salt as in salary, of course)? That would fit his meaning and doesn't sound implausible to me.