No More Parades

“Don’t you see how symbolical it was: the band playing ‘Land of Hope and Glory,’ and then the adjutant saying, ‘There will be no more parades’? . . . For there won’t.  There won’t, there damn well won’t . . . No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me anymore.  Nor for the country . . . Nor for the world, I dare say . . . None . . . Gone . . . Na poo, finny!  No . . . more . . . parades!” 

Ford Maddox Ford, No More Parades, part. 2, Parade’s End (1925)

In a parade, the very best are presented at their very best, and those who are privileged to see them exclaim with Miranda:

“Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!”

The parade may be no more than a procession by the high school band, followed by a company of volunteer firemen and a troop of boy scouts, but even this modest display can hearten the people of a small town with the encouraging though, “how many goodly creatures are there here.”  After even this modest parade, the citizens go back to their houses thinking just a little better of their town, their neighbors and themselves.

Or the parade may be so grand and magnificent that it brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye.  There was a time when I found the academic procession at a commencement ceremony moving in this way, and my heart was particularly stirred by the slow passage from Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March.  In my epigraph, Ford Maddox Ford refers to this passage as “Land of Hope and Glory,”  but the air has become so very nearly ubiquitous at commencement ceremonies that I daresay most Americans think of it as the graduation song.

“Land of Hope and Glory” is, in fact, a patriotic anthem of British imperialism written to mark the coronation of King Edward VII in 1901 (although there are today many Americans who, if they knew the words, would happily apply them to their own nation).

“Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,
How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee?
Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet,
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet.”

I was born long after Ford’s adjutant said there would be “no more parades,” so these words strike me much as I suppose the words of a great Christian hymn strike a sensitive man who no longer believes in God.  They strike me as what Coleridge called “gorgeous nonsense”*—as a notion that I think I would have liked to believe, but that I cannot believe because I came too late.

“No more Hope, no more Glory, no more parades for you and me anymore.”

* * * * *

A national history should put the nation on parade, so that both native and foreigner read it and declare:

“How many goodly creatures are there here!”

I do not mean that it should indulge in hagiography, for national heroes are not saints, but that a national history should, on the whole, leave the native with a sense of pride and the foreigner with a sense of admiration.  I do not mean that it should paint out national warts, or whitewash national blemishes, but that it should not give national warts and blemishes such prominence that both patriot and foreigner set the book down and declare:

“How many rogues and villains are there here.”

 I think Kaiser Wilhelm II was more or less correct when he recorded this regret.

“There was great neglect in the department of German history, which is exactly the study through which young hearts may be made to glow, through which the love of one’s native country, its future and greatness, may be aroused.”**

In other words, I think there ought to be parades.  Or perhaps I mean to say that I think that I would have liked to believe there ought to be parades, but that I cannot believe this because I came too late.

* * * * *

Of course, there are parades that cause someone’s heart to glow with thoughts of hope and glory, and that represent someone as so very goodly that it must please God to expand their bounds and make them mightier yet.

It’s just that these are not parades for the likes of you and me.  The parades of today celebrate our defeat.

They may not sing “wider and wider shall thy bounds be set,” but they certainly aspire to absolute global dominance.  Indeed, the bounds of the empire to which they aspire will not rest when they reach the four corners of the earth, for they aspire to a spiritual as well as a territorial empire.

This is what George Orwell meant when he tells us that Winston Smith was compelled, at last, to “love Big Brother.”  In the end, Smith must make a spiritual submission, must believe in his heart that the State is a “goodly creature,” and must abominate his unregenerate self for once having thought otherwise.

As O’Brien tells Smith before leading him into room 101,

“The time has come for you to take the last step. You must love Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him.”***

And in room 101, Smith takes that last step.

Forty years it had taken him . . . O cruel, needless misunderstanding!  O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! . . . But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself.  He loved Big Brother.”

When you win the victory over yourself, there will be no more parades—for you.  When your struggle is truly finished, you will read histories of your defeat with approval, and feel shame and repugnance for your years of self-willed exile from the loving breast of those who have taken possession of your soul.

You will be defeated when the enemy parades its army on the streets of what had been your capital.  You will be abjectly defeated when the enemy parades its thoughts through your mind, and treats your soul as an occupied country.

Alfred von Tirpitz was the supreme German naval commander at the beginning of the Great War, and in his Memoirs he warned the defeated Germans not to take O’Brian’s “last step” and receive allied propaganda into their souls.  Speaking of German war guilt, Tirpitz says,

“If ever this idea were to establish itself in German minds, it could be taken as proof of the saying that history is written by the victor; and in this present case the vanquished would be cheating in order to pay allegiance to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony in its historical conscience.”†

Tirpitz wrote these lines to a defeated nation that had no choice but to “obey” the dictates of “Anglo-Saxon hegemony,” but he urged his countrymen not to take the “last step” and meet the demand for “love” by accepting the victor’s “historical conscience” as their own.

There are no more parades for a people who cheer the parades of its enemies, or who read histories written by its enemies with a lump in its collective throat (and shame in its collective heart).  No more parades, no more hope, and the very opposite of glory.

 

*) Letter to John Thelwall, Dec. 31, 1796.
**) Kaiser Wilhelm II, Memoirs (1922)
***) George Orwell, 1984 (1948).
†) Alfred von Tirpitz, My Memoirs, vol. 1 (1919)

4 thoughts on “No More Parades

  1. “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien
    As to be hated needs but to be seen;
    Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
    We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”

    -Alexander Pope

  2. Pingback: No More Parades | Reaction Times

    • I suppose I’ll attend at least one more commencement as an academic (and hopefully more than one as a father). Perhaps I will sing the words with gusto as we process up the aisle in our gowns and mortarboards. It is, of course, a fitting anthem for the American empire of which the university is an integral part. The cultural ignorance (or is it duplicity) also fits that empire like a glove.

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