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Live It Up 80: We Didn’t Start the Fire

I mentioned this song when I posted the same singer’s Leningrad in this category last year.

The lyrics are a reminder that the Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” might have resonance for many people who lived in the second half of the twentieth century. And indeed, now.

They are also redolent of Harold Macmillan’s second most important warning. When asked what would he say was most likely to knock governments off-course he reputedly said, “Events, dear boy. Events,” a phrase I use for my posts on happenings (usually, it has to be said, deaths) in the wider world. It seems though that documentary evidence of Macmillan using these words is elusive.

That other warning of his? “Never invade Afghanistan.”

Joel has apparently said he doesn’t particularly like the song as the melody is, “terrible. Like a dentist’s drill.”

He’s doing himself an injustice. OK the melody’s nothing to write home about, but it matches the lyrics. And the lyrics are beautifully constructed.

Billy Joel: We Didn’t Start the Fire

Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

As well as the Ensign Ewart Memorial there are four other memorials to British (make that Scottish) regimental involvements in various wars. Three of them can be seen on the right and one on the left in this view of the castle from the esplanade.

Edinburgh Castle From Esplanade

The first was erected in 1861 to the memory of the 256 men from all ranks of the 78th Highlanders (78th Regiment of Foot) who died during the Indian Mutiny. Pity about the traffic cone in the foreground!

78th Highlanders Memorial Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

The second was erected in memory of the men of the Scottish Horse who died in the South African War (the Second Boer War.)

Memorial to Scottish Horse, Edinburgh Castle

The thinnest one is to the memory to the men of the 72nd Highlanders who died in the Afghan War 1878-80. That was the Second Anglo-Afghan War. (Despite “Never Invade Afghanistan” being Harold MacMillan’s first rule of politics there have now been no fewer than four Anglo-Afghan Wars.)

72nd Highlanders Memorial, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

The Memorial on the south wall of the castle Esplanade is to the Gordon Highlanders who died in the Second Boer War, the South African War, 1899-1902.

Gordon Highlanders Memorial, Edinburgh Castle Esplanade

This detail shows a fine stag’s head.

Gordon Highlanders Memorial Detail

The entrance to the castle itself is flanked by statues to Scotland’s two great warrior heroes, Bruce and Wallace,and surmounted by the Royal Emblem (the Lion Rampant) and motto, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.

Edinburgh Castle Entrance

The Internet Is Odd

I never know which posts of mine will spark interest (except for the fact that Art Deco ones will continue to garner viewers even months later.)

I had a wee spike in my stats a couple of days ago, though.

Amd which of my pearls of wisdom were these seekers of truth investigating?

This one.

Why? In what way is it possibly topical?

Has some teacher/tutor somewhere set a task related to Afghanistan? Or Harold McMillan?

Actually, when I type in “Never Invade Afghanistan” to Google my post comes seventh. Is that what brought folk to my blog? Or is that ranking only because I typed it in? Do other people see me lower down the rankings?

Never Invade Afghanistan

Apart from providing the phrase for the category under which I have posted this (though the attribution is apparently disputed) 1950/60s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan also outlined the first rule of politics, “Never invade Afghanistan.”

I’m not quite sure exactly how many times British forces have been embroiled in that country over the years but the present conflict is at least the fourth. They have not usually turned out well.

I knew when the Soviet Union sent troops there in 1979 that they would be kicked out. I always suspected that our latest foray there would result in tears. As it does.

Why did – why do – our politicians not know? What are their advisers for?

Or did they just not listen?

The First Afghan War (1839-42) was particularly disastrous for the British as it encompassed their greatest defeat in Asia until the fall of Singapore in 1942. A withdrawal from Kabul through passes clogged with snow resulted in a massacre.

There is a relatively well-known painting “Remnants of an Army” by Elizabeth Butler which was said to depict the sole survivor. In fact around forty of the 16,000 who set out managed to survive.

I remember hearing a radio programme about the retreat which used a line from Thomas Campbell’s poem Hohenlinden, “The snow shall be their winding sheet,” as its title.

The Second Afghan War (1878-80) was the one that turned Major General Frederick Roberts into a national hero, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, when he force-marched his troops to the relief of a British force beseiged there. Nevertheless the British eventually withdrew.

The Third Afghan War (1919) was a smaller affair and resolved little but still had many British casualties.

One of the few survivors of the retreat from Kabul in the First Afghan War described it as “… a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”

Nothing much changes.

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