Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Price of Admiralty...

We have fed our sea for a thousand years
And she calls us, still unfed,
Though there's never a wave of all her waves
But marks our English dead:
We have strawed our best to the weed's unrest,
To the shark and the sheering gull.
If blood be the price of admiralty,
Lord God, I hope they take Visa!

-"The Song of the Dead"
R. Kipling

I am typing this while looking at a small cube of teak from the orlop deck of HMS Victory, the deck on which Nelson bled out his life and attained immortality in the aftermath of the fleet action at Trafalgar. Yesterday, 202 years after that epic battle, the Royal Navy announced that it would be slashing its blue-water fighting force by half due to financial reasons. With a shrinking defense budget increasingly allocated to supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, rumors were also afloat (about the only things that were off the coast of England) that one of the RN's overseas stations might be abandoned too, to help further tighten the belt.

From the 17th Century to World War II, Great Britain deliberately maintained a fleet large enough to defeat the next two largest navies in the world. Conscious of her position as an island nation, freedom of the seas was not just a philosophy, it was the lifeblood that kept the heart of England's economy pumping. Despite being supplanted in this role by the United States in the postwar world, the Royal Navy remained a potent force on the world's oceans.

Maybe the world has changed enough that Britain no longer needs her "oaken walls". Maybe, but I doubt it. Her commerce still needs to be protected, and the English Channel isn't as wide as it once was. For a Royal Navy that hasn't been an underdog since the days of the Spanish Armada but is now "no better than a coastal defence force", let's hope the world remains a peacable place.

(Thanks to Marko for tipping me off to the sad news.)


Joseph said...

If Great Britan keeps going this way, she will soon have more museum ships than active duty ships. It's aircraft carriers for years, and now reduced to little more than a costal defense force and a token army. I think it's time for Great Britan to dust off a copy of Kipling's "Tommy" and think about it. When you start thinking like a third world country, you start acting like one.

phlegmfatale said...

How the mighty are fallen.

Anonymous said...

The last line "Lord God, I hope they take Visa!" does anyone know what the root of this is? What did
taking Visa mean when kipling wrote it?

para said...

> The last line "Lord God, I hope they take > Visa!" does anyone know what the root > of this is? What did
> taking Visa mean when kipling wrote it?

It means that Tam has a sense of humor :)

pax said...

Uh, anon? That would be called "poetic license."

(Follow the link, son, follow the link...)

MarkHB said...

Britain has been doing it's best to turn itself into some idealised Euro-weenie nonentity of a nation for the best part of a decade now. It's saddenning, as I've been here to see the decline of a once-great nation. Politeness is pretty much a thing of the past now, personal responsibility is very nearly a curse, and Nannyism is just about the rule of law.

I've no idea how it's all going to turn out, but I'm betting it's not going to be pretty.

Gewehr98 said...

Gawd, I hope they don't mothball Diego Garcia!

Perhaps they'll just lease it to Uncle Sam. I have fond memories of that place during Desert Shield/Storm, and OIF. At least if they lease it to us, we can stock it with better beer!

phlegmfatale said...

anonymous - the "Visa" line was from the Gilbert&Sullivan version.

T.Stahl said...

If most of our units weren't part of some bi- or trinational corps,
If the 10th Panzer Division hadn't more mules than tanks,
If we had more than 350 tanks total,
If our army wasn't enagaged to its full capacity abroad,

this would be the time for Sealion II. ;-)

They should wrap James Thomson's body in copper wire and place him in a Magnetic field...

staghounds said...

'tisn't teak, it's oak, pine, or elm. Victory was built in 1760 from British and European timber.

Kipling, as a poet, is the greatest writer and perceiver of these eternal truths ever. This

should be engraved on the heart of every politician.

And I defy any sensible person to read this with a dry eye, even unaware that one of these was for his own son.