In June of 1667, the British suffered the worst defeat in the history of the Royal Navy. The Dutch—then rivals to Britannia’s rule upon the waves—wreaked terror on the Thames Valley, burning capital ships and claiming prize. The loss of the Royal Charles, the British flagship, was particularly demoralizing. Her metal stern bearing the Crown’s coat of arms now hangs in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
Two hundred years later, Rudyard Kipling memorialized the defeat in his poem The Dutch at Medway. The elegy opens:
If wars were won by feasting,
Or victory by song,
Or safety found, by sleeping sound
How England would be strong!
It’s a fitting reminder that wars aren’t won by talking tough. Those who would send other men to fight their battles for them do no service for their state.
Kipling goes on to bemoan the extravagant spending at Whitehall, and the threat of debt to defense:
No King will heed our warnings,
No Court will pay our claims –
Our King and Court for their disport
Do sell the very Thames!
Just a thought, as hawks gather to take us back to war for a cause that’s already cost us dearly.