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July 7, 2011
Quoting Rough menBy Greyhawk
In looking at one of Google's new features this week I realized it was time to update Mrs G's detective work (from 2004) on the Orwell "quote" I've had (unattributed) at the top of this page for years: good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf. Back then she was able to identify it as authentic Orwell, derived from two other quotes.
The first is in his Rudyard Kipling essay from February 1942:
It would be difficult to hit off the one-eyed pacifism of the English in fewer words than in the phrase, 'making mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep'. ... [Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.
...the second is in his May, 1945 "Notes on Nationalism," in which he wrote "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf," something he said was "a fact which it is impossible" for a pacifist to accept,"even in his secret thoughts." (Please note my use of quotation marks in the previous sentence - they indicate the part that's a direct quote from Orwell, as does the blockquote above it.)
If he ever actually said the specific phrase good people sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf (or any of the other variations I've seen) he left no record of it. On the other hand, it's clearly an accurate re-statement of something Orwell believed. In other words, those who attribute the direct quote to him as such are guilty of committing an academic party foul, but in doing so certainly haven't libeled Orwell. (In fact, the quote as I use it is close enough to Orwell that I've sometimes wondered if I was guilty of plagiarism in not attributing it to him.)
Whatever you might think of the Orwell quote, consider this an example of how you can use the internet today, or a case study of how misquotes enter our popular imagination. It's been seven years since the Mrs did her quick internet searches, and the power of teh Google has grown. (In more ways than one.) For example: You can generate a timeline for your results. Enter the phrase "rough men stand ready" in the search window, click the timeline option in the left column on the results page, and you can narrow your search to the earliest appearance of the phrase. Some more recent entries can "trick" Google if they include an earlier date, but in this example there are few of those. It was fairly short work to identify this April, 1993 column from the Washington Times as the earliest appearance of the quote. It's by Richard Grenier (since deceased) and can be read in its entirety here.
His context is unimportant to this discussion, so we'll jump to the exact quote...
When the country is in danger, the military's mission is to wreak destruction upon the enemy. It's a harsh and bloody business, but that's what the military's for. As writer George Orwell pointed out, people sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence in their behalf.
However, comma, note what he didn't include: quotation marks. This can't be attributed to ignorance, deception, trickiness or malicious intent on his part - he isn't quoting or even misquoting Orwell, he is accurately stating something Orwell pointed out. (And it's not even the point of his column.)
The quote's next appearance is in a November, 1998 column by George Will:
Remember George Orwell's unminced words: "We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."
That's the first appearance of a variation (and why I limited my search to the common-to-all-versions "rough men stand ready"), but the careful reader will notice a more subtle difference between that example and Richard Grenier's - quotation marks. Will's version appeared nationwide in his syndicated column, usually under a headline to the effect of "Gap between civilians and the military is widening" - but I like this version, because you can see it side by side with other opinion and editorial pieces of the day. One of those is a stark reminder that Operation Desert Fox, Bill Clinton's biggest-yet Iraq bombing campaign was just a few weeks away.
While context isn't important to this discussion, it's worth noting that Will was writing in association with a visit to a Marine base, so we can't rule out the quote as something he'd seen there on a poster or a plaque on some wall. Whatever the case, not long after that quotes from military leaders repeating the "Orwell quote" began to appear. Here's an example quoting a modern Major General, entered into the Congressional Record for December 7, 2000. (Remember Pearl Harbor?) Here's another two-star citation from July, 2001. Some of the guys who heard this one in person were a few weeks away from being boots-on-ground in Afghanistan.
In the years that followed the quote began to appear in books, including Rick Atkinson's account of the invasion of Iraq - he'd participated as an embed with the 101st. He describes (in his first chapter: "Rough men stand ready") seeing it during a February, 2003 visit to Ft Campbell immediately prior to deploying:
A wall poster on the second floor of the conference center quoted George Orwell: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
Of course, by the time that book was published, the quote had already been at the top of this page for a couple of years, and it was something of an internet phenomenon.
This concludes today's lesson in using the internet. It seems appropriate to close with a quote.
To abjure violence it is necessary to have no experience of it.
If you can find it in its original setting, you'll have an interesting read.
Posted by Greyhawk / July 7, 2011 7:00 AM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
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