Tommy's War

July 1914

Two Poems of Regret

by Rudyard Kipling

A Dead Statesman

       I could not dig; I dared not rob:
       Therefore I lied to please the mob.
       Now all my lies are proved untrue
       And I must face the men I slew.
       What tale shall serve me here among
       Mine angry and defrauded young?

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             Common Form

       If any question why we died,
       Tell them because our fathers lied..

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It may seem surprising that Kipling is featured here. His name is most closely associated with jingoism, particularly at the turn of the turn of the century in Imperial India. Indeed, at the outbreak of The Great War he wrote a number of 'patriotic' verses and the War Propaganda Bureau arranged for him to tour Britain's army camps.

He used his position (he was a personal friend of the head of the British army) to get his short-sighted son, John, a commission in the Irish Guards. John was killed in his first military action, at the Battle of Loos. His body was not located until 1992, and even then the identification has been challenged. The death of his 18-year-old son changed Kipling's perspective entirely, as witness these short poems, written in 1925 and 1915 respectively. The argument has been made that 'our fathers lied' refers to the failure to strengthen armies before the war, but the straightforward explanation seems to be more likely to me.