We love our Kipling, the blogosphere does, yes we do. While I’ve seen endless iterations on his chart-toppers “If” and “The Gods Of The Copybook Headings”, I only recall having seen this one around once before, and it does ring as a appropriate today, in that black-humor way that tends to attend anyone in, around, or near the military…
I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!
Today is Veteran’s Day. While Memorial Day is the day set aside to honor the dead, Veterans’ Day is for the living, for the people who provide for the continued existence of civilization by agreeing to put their lives themselves on the line for it. Frequently, they are used as tools, for good and for ill. Sometimes they are asked to do impossible things, like go somewhere impossibly rent by decades-old civil war and “keep the peace”- the standard joke being that they will just as soon as they find any. Sometimes they are asked to do blatantly silly things- actually, scratch the sometimes, the nature of the gargantuan bureaucracy involved means that this is a fairly constant experience. Sometimes they are heroes despite of their orders, their leaders, and even occasionally themselves.
It is a bit strange to so many of us that someone would actually agree to put up with all this epic and quite truly dangerous nonsense and devote years or even their entire lives to it. So, they have a hard time “treatin’ us rational”, as the poem laments- depending on the temperament of the individuals involved, Tommy gets to be the demonized baby-killer (he agreed to do this because he wants to kill foreigners, there’s no other reason anyone would want to), or the “plaster saint”- the selfless hero who does this because his nature is so inherently noble and protective that we’re fortunate enough to have him born to us to serve. Given that the only place to go from a pedestal is straight down, the only way to avoid crashing down to “baby-killer” when soldiers go on to act like the same fallible humans as the rest of us is usually to die in the line of duty. Nobody is better-behaved than the dead.
Nonetheless, today’s the day for bands and thank you Mister Atkins, and I’m glad for it. Thus far I’ve seen nothing but respect and gratitude and honor for our serving men, even from people I know for a fact believe this current war is a grotesque exercise in ham-handed American imperialism. It’s gone out of fashion to blatantly spit on our soldiers as it was during our last deeply unpopular war, and that’s a damned good sign.
Give Tommy his band, and his thank you, and a few good solid war movies where the soldier is the hero and not the villain wouldn’t hurt- and then treat him rational- he’s like every other schlub in this country, except for the part where, no matter what else he does, he and the rest of those who make that strange choice really are protecting civilization, if not always civility.