Recently my father was telling me about a distant relation of his called Dick-- Dick was his grandmother's sister's husband. Despite being a distant relation, Dick lived in the house with my father's family when he (my father) was growing up-- his own family had all died, including his six children.
Dick fought in the Boer War and, on several occasions, my father has told me the impressions he passed on to him. Specifically, that the Boer War commanders (at some of whose surrenders he assisted) were "gentlemen", and much superior to the British officers-- in Dick's view.
Of course, there was a great deal of sympathy for the Boers in Ireland, so that might have been expected to colour Dick's attitude. However, my father insists that Dick had no political views of any kind, and was only fighting in the British army because he couldn't get any other job. (Despite Dick's being so knowledgeable about animals that my father can remember veterinarians often driving up to their house to consult him.)
What strikes me with a sense of wonder is to hear about the Boer War, something that seems to belong to a different world, from only two removes-- from someone who spoke to someone who fought in it. I think that's truly amazing.
This is how the discussion came about. I was talking to my father about G.K. Chesterton's interest in the Boer War, which broke out just as Chesterton came on the scene as a journalist. He was, as he said himself, in a minority of a minority-- he was against the war, but (unlike most of its opponents, who were pacifists and internationalists) it was because he believed in the right of the Boers to fight for their nation.
As he wrote in his autobiography: "What I hated about it was what a good many people liked about it. It was such a very cheerful war. I hated its confidence, its congratulatory anticipations, its optimism of the Stock Exchange. I hated its vile assurance of victory. It was regarded by many as an almost automatic process like the operation of a natural law; and I have always hated that sort of heathen notion of a natural law."
I had raised the subject of the Boer War as an analogy to Brexit-- telling my father how much Brexit delighted and astounded me, since the whole project of greater and greater internationalization, amalgamation, etc. etc. seemed so inevitable and unstoppable through my entire life. Indeed, the Irish people voted twice against greater European integration, in my adult life, and were asked to vote again both times, until we gave the desired answer.
Since my father campaigned against Ireland joining the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the E.U., way back in the seventies, of course he agrees with me.
I've had a somewhat similar experience with the New Atheists. When I began to come to faith (and perhaps it was even partly as a response to them), the New Atheists seemed to be triumphant, the wave of the future. Now they seem a bizarre and rather embarrassing interlude. I was so intimidated by them at that time.
How strange a thing is history!
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