Featured Classic of Strategy and Diplomacy
Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
Rudyard Kipling, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, is known today as the poet laureate of British imperialism and of the "White Man's Burden" – titles that are no longer much in fashion, although Kipling’s literary reputation has recovered in recent decades. His body of work includes the great novel, Kim, the story of an orphaned Anglo-Indian boy who is drawn into the Great Game – the geopolitical contest in the 19th century between Britain and Russia for the domination of Asia. For the British at least, this contest ultimately meant the control of India. Kim is a classic of the espionage genre – former CIA Director Allen Dulles had a well-read copy on his bedside table at the time of his death – but it is also a chronicle in miniature of the Great Game and the ethnography of the Indian subcontinent.
Kipling knew of what he wrote, or at least was sufficiently well informed to fill in the blanks for literary purposes. He was born in Bombay, the son of a teacher and artist, in the year (1865) that the great Central Asian city of Tashkent submitted to Russia. At age six, he was sent to England for his education (a common pattern among Anglo-Indians). He returned to India in 1882 to work for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, where he covered developments on the North-West Frontier and in Afghanistan, and later for the Allahabad Pioneer. He left India in 1889.
An important point: Kim is a work of fiction. The covert side of the Great Game certainly did exist, but the centralized organization and method of British intelligence depicted in the book is exaggerated – or at least so the historical record indicates. There was, for instance, a gap or rivalry between the small British military staff devoted to intelligence, and the Foreign and Political Department of the Raj. The number of men carrying out clandestine surveys was very small, probably half a dozen or less at any given time. Kipling, of course, was in a position to know what the historical record did not show. At the very least, he anticipated many later developments in the organization and conduct of spy craft.
Featured American Classic
Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London by Richard Rush (1833)
With the exception of his friend, John Quincy Adams, Richard Rush had the most distinguished public career of any son of the Founders (his father, Benjamin, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence). He served as Comptroller of the Treasury, Attorney General, acting Secretary of State (he negotiated the Rush-Bagot Agreement, which demilitarized the Great Lakes), Minister to Great Britain, Secretary of the Treasury, Vice Presidential candidate, commissioner to receive the bequest of James Smithson, and Minister to France. Rush’s political loyalties wandered from the Jeffersonians to the National Republicans, Anti-Masonry, and finally (on the issue of the Second Bank of the United States) to the Jacksonian Democrats. But his abilities as a statesman and diplomat were unquestioned.
While serving as Minister to England from 1817-1825, Rush kept a journal that became the basis for his diplomatic memoirs, Memoranda of a Residence at the Court of London (covering the years 1818-9; originally published in 1833); and the less comprehensive second volume, A Residence at the Court of London, Comprising Incidents, Official and Personal, from 1819 to 1825, published in 1845. A third edition, edited by his son, Benjamin, which included an account of his time as Minister to France during the Revolutions of 1848, was issued in 1872 (for a summary of that account, see this). In part to avoid diplomatic complications that might result from his unvarnished views, Rush edited the journals to smooth out the rough edges and added explanatory material to bring the narrative context up to date.
Rush and his son made it clear that one of the principal purposes in publishing these memoirs was to improve Anglo-American relations. Rush, in his Jeffersonian phase, had been staunchly anti-English. As Madison’s Attorney General, Rush delivered a public address on July 4, 1812, which was widely regarded as the Madison administration's best public case for its decision to go to war against Britain, even more so than the President’s own War Message to Congress. But as Minister in London, Rush, like many American visitors to the former mother country, found much about England and English society to admire. “No language can express the emotion which almost every American feels when he first touches the shores of Europe. This feeling must have a special increase, if it be the case of a citizen of the United States going to England. Her fame is constantly before him. He is accustomed to hear of her statesmen, her orators, her scholars, her philosophers, her divines, her patriots. In the nursery he learns her ballads. Her poets train his imagination. Her language is his, with its whole intellectual riches, past, and forever newly flowing; a tie, to use Burke's figure, light as air, and unseen; but stronger than links of iron. In spite of political differences, her glory allures him. In spite of hostile collision, he clings to her lineage.”
Featured Notable Book
Rick Atkinson, The Liberation Trilogy (2002-2013)
Rick Atkinson, journalist and military historian, authored the Liberation Trilogy, an acclaimed narrative history of the U.S. military’s role in the liberation of Europe in World War II. The first volume, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, published in 2002, received the Pulitzer Prize. The subsequent volumes were titled The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944; and The Guns at Last Light: The War in Europe, 1944-1945. Atkinson covers the war comprehensively, from grand strategy and the generals in command, to the details of daily life and small-unit combat. Atkinson’s perspective on war writ large, colored strongly by the experience of ordinary soldiers, is decidedly unsentimental and un-heroic, although he gives full due to the actions of heroic men (and women). He does not offer any startling new revelations or offer grand new theses about the war. The high-level argument throughout the Liberation Trilogy is that this was an absolutely necessary war, a war over the future of civilization (or, better put, between civilization and barbarism of the worst sort). The liberation from tyranny was real. At the same time, this war – any war – is a terrible thing.