For the sake of our collective survival, the English-speaking world needs to annually trumpet common achievements, values, and goals. Fortunately, the calendar contains an excellent date. Even better, the holiday’s credo has already been composed — by the greatest content provider ever in any language.
Tomorrow, October 25, was once known as the Feast Day of St. Crispin. On this day in 1415, Henry V and his underdog British, outmanned at least by a factor of four, defeated Charles VI of France at the Battle of Agincourt. These days, even though Vatican II has delisted the twin martyred brothers St. Crispin and St. Crispian, neither the day nor the battle stands a chance of being forgotten. William Shakespeare’s Henry V, presented about 200 years after the event, contains a moving call to arms from Prince Hal on the morning of the battle. Honored today mostly in sound bites (“we few, we happy few, we band of brothersâ€¦”), and despite its hopelessly passe concept of medieval nobility, that speech at Agincourt remains our most cherished dramatic interpretation of leadership, vision, and sacrifice.
Six centuries later, the progeny of that tiny band have spawned, imposed, and maintained what we call “civilization” across the four corners of the world. Though other cultures (German, French, Chinese) have made contributions in science and technology, it is the English-speaking people who have markedly integrated material improvement with moral growth. To a savage world, they delivered common law, representative government, private property, abolitionism, not to mention air travel, the Internet, and the Beatles.
Yet, anglophones are reluctant to overtly or officially celebrate this success, primarily for two good reasons: God and Guns. First of all, religion in the 21st century is considered an un-cool way of coercing anybody to do anything. Furthermore, “Christianity” or even “Judeo-Christian values” is considered too exclusionary a terminology to either describe or motivate our side. Similarly, people today are uncomfortable with any rhetoric that smacks of empire. And nothing says “Pax Britannia” (or “Pax Americana”) more than a snippy little cocktail party to which only one language is invited.
Unfortunately, self-effacement (another English-speaking virtue) is currently an unaffordable luxury. Because, in our time, “civilization” — manifested predominantly but not exclusively by the English-speaking countries — is facing an existential extra-national threat. What was once merely a think tank pronouncement has become a truism accepted by those on our side who disagree about everything else: this war cannot be won by guns and occupation alone. That is why we must parry this mortal, nihilistic threat with a moral, spiritual, life-affirming but decidedly extra-national counterforce.
Beginning tomorrow, we need to dust off and primp St. Crispin’s Day — and turn it into the annual world celebration. We Americans can take the lead — no other country does a better job of secularizing previous feast days (see St. Valentine’s and St. Swithen’s [Groundhog], and keep St. Nicholas on the intensive care list). Decoupled from both “religion” and Empire, Crispin’s Day invites participants, all on an equal footing, to celebrate and appreciate the contributions of the English-speaking peoples.
Like any other special day, for Crispin’s Day to succeed it will have to observe traditional activities associated with that day. Being a creative, open-minded, and innovating people, the Anglophones of the world will no doubt come up with many excellent ways to mark the day. Still, on top of all this free-lance commemoration, there needs to be a core event.
Please permit me to float a simple core world activity — and here’s where “the speech” again comes in handy: Crispin’s Day would begin October 25, at sunrise on the field in Agincourt. A designee would read the speech — which would be webcast live around the world. Then, about an hour later, in the adjacent time zone, the speech would again be read at sunrise — and so on for the remaining 22 hours. In addition to the live streaming presentations, the day’s previous appearances would remain be available for viewing. Naturally, the 24 presenters would in every possible way reflect the rainbow coalition that is the Anglosphere.
If the webcast were to take place in 2008, that would be an excellent start. Then, as more people learned about the day and the educational establishment caught on to one more way to deviate from core curricula, maybe we’d start to see some traction. By 2015, maybe the 600th anniversary of Agincourt could get a bit of fireworks (French are invited, of course).
So, you may ask, how can a webcast stop terrorist bombs? First, let’s acknowledge a technical irony — this is a terrorist war fueled by webcasts. A war of minds requires ideas — and our reluctance to play either the “religion” card or the “empire” card ties one and half hands behind our back. Beyond that, to understand the true potential of Crispins Day requires an understanding of why Prince Hal’s speech still casts a spell on those who hear it.
Centuries pass, the historical setting becomes irrelevant to our current concerns, and yet we cannot let go. The men at Agincourt will always “be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.”
Shakespeare’s words resonate in our soul, unique yet similar to a favorite psalm or hymn. But mere words do not live 600 years merely because they rhyme well or they hit the iambic pentameter. We need Crispin’s Day to rediscover what previous generations knew. Put in modern terms, we need Crispin’s Day because, entrapped or encoded inside Shakespeare’s words, is the DNA of victory.
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If anyone is interested in being any part of Crispin’s Day 2008, they can leave their name and time zone at Crispinsday.com.
If you’d like to read the speech tomorrow (or today), you can find it here.
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