Some people conclude that such persons were simply “people of their time,” and ignore the ugliness of those they admire. Others choose not to engage with them at all as a matter of principle — their ugliness is unjustifiable at any time.
Kipling On Journalists; “We have served our day.”
I salute the writer for the refusal of simplification. Kipling was a man of his time and more. He was a superb wordsmith. His pro imperial writings helped create and sustain our own UK evil empire in the hearts and minds of the public for decades after its decline was obvious. I can see and feel how his descriptions of paternalistic white officers “appearing like Gods” to “native” soldiers grates harshly on the nerves. But does this mean that they should not have been written and should not be read?
When I read “Stalky and Co” a set of much under rated essays about his public school days and couple it with the terrible exile from India to a vile foster parent, I think I begin to understand the emotional and psychological distortions and processes that underpin the imperial attitude. And it would be foolish to pretend that these forms of child rearing and educating have no relevance to the heartlessness of our current ruling classes. It is also of relevance that sections of our population are nostalgic for the certainties these attitudes bestow on the “blessed”.
I have been happy to count among friends, some people with Indian and British heritage. They all have an uneasy relationship with Kipling’s opus, but at mention of his name our conversations take on an intensity and illumination that many other subjects can lack. They are eloquent in quoting both poems and essays. At the risk of misrepresenting them they find underneath the imperial strutting a deep fascination, intoxication and love of India and its peoples. I think it goes beyond the shallow paternalism it is often portrayed as.
Finally as a man of his time, his art compelled him to write uncomfortable truths about himself and his erstwhile imperial pretensions. On the death of his visually disabled son John, who was commissioned to slaughter on the Somme on the request of his famous father;
If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
As a member of the generation that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit, even though I did not, I find this rebuke strikes home. Kipling is too important a writer to be so sunk in anonymity.