Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Women and Children First

Do cultural values matter?

A study in contrasts.

Smugglers toss Africa migrants overboard
SAN`A, Yemen - Smugglers taking illegal migrants from Somalia to Yemen forced hundreds of Africans overboard in stormy seas in an effort to make a fast getaway from security forces, officials said Monday. Thirty-one bodies have been found and nearly 90 people remained missing.

Passengers who resisted the smugglers were stabbed or beaten with wooden and steel clubs, then thrown into the water where some were attacked by sharks, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said, citing survivors.
Commenting on the same story, Belmont Club recalls:
This is very reminisicent of an the "boat people" incident which took place off northern Australian waters in the recent past. Human smugglers from Indonesia who were spotted by Australian patrol boats threw their passengers, including children, to force the coastguards to pick up the floundering victims. Of course, the Left insisted it was "Howard's fault" because if he didn't try to bar the smuggling trade there would have been no reason to toss people to Davy Jones' locker.
Throw the useless women and children overboard first, to evade the authorities and continue your criminal enterprise!

But what is the true origin of the term "women and children first", that now seems some kind of Hollywood cliche?

It comes from the HMS Birkenhead disaster of 1852, and what would later be immortalized as the Birkenhead Drill:
HMS Birkenhead, also referred to as HM Troopship Birkenhead, was one of the first iron-hulled ships built for the Royal Navy.
In January 1852, under the command of Captain Robert Salmond, the Birkenhead left Portsmouth conveying troops to the Cape Frontier War (then referred to as the Kaffir War) in South Africa. She picked up more soldiers at Queenstown (now Cobh, Ireland), and was also conveying some officers' wives and families.

In the late afternoon of 25 February 1852, the Birkenhead left Simon's Bay near Cape Town with approximately 643 men, women, and children aboard, under instructions to reach its destination at Algoa Bay as quickly as possible. In order to make the best speed possible, Captain Salmond decided to hug the South African coast, setting a course which was usually no more than three miles from the shore; using her paddle wheels she maintained a steady speed of 8.5 knots.

At 2 a.m. the following morning, the Birkenhead struck an uncharted rock near Danger Point (today near Gansbaai, Western Cape). The impact was so violent that the forward compartment of the lower troopdeck flooded instantly and over 100 soldiers were drowned in their hammocks. The surviving officers and men assembled on deck, where Lt Col Seton of the 74th Foot took charge of all military personnel and stressed the necessity of maintaining order and discipline to his officers. Distress rockets were fired, but there was no assistance available. Sixty men were detailed to man the pumps, while the rest were drawn up to await orders. Poor maintenance and paint on the winches resulted in only a few of the ships' lifeboats being launched; eventually two cutters and a gig were launched, onto which all the women and children were placed and rowed away for safety.
Numbers in various accounts vary, but it seems there were between 20 and 54 women and children, being all of them aboard, loaded onto the lifeboats.

The horses had been forced overboard, in an attempt to lighten the load, and give them a chance to reach shore (which at least one did).

This, however, merely brought a frenzy of sharks to the growing horror.

This account provides a bit more color on what happened next:
CAPTAIN Salmond ordered a young officer, Rowland Richards, to take charge of the cutter. Soon the small craft had pulled away, its passengers gazing back with horror at the tragedy unfolding.

It was about 15 minutes since the Birkenhead had first been holed. The swell was remorseless, grinding the rocks into the ship's hull like a knife into her heart. Suddenly there was a thunderous crack and the bow of the stricken vessel broke away.

Her deck tilted, her stern rose high in the sir and her tall funnel came crashing down, instantly killing most of the men working to free another of the boats. The ship was sinking by the head, but Seton stood on the slanting deck, oblivious to the turbulence around him.

He ordered those men who weren't injured or manning the pumps to muster on the poop deck. Some 200 immediately fell into ranks, regiment by regiment. This was the moment when Captain Salmond gave the order to abandon ship.

Climbing a few feet up into the rigging, he shouted: `Save yourselves. All those who can swim, jump overboard and make for the boats. That is your only hope of salvation.'

It seemed to be a reasonable command. But Seton did not agree. He knew that any rush to reach the boats could be deadly for those aboard them.

Raising his hands above his head, his voice cracking with emotion, he pleaded with his men to remain where they were.

`You will swamp the cutter containing the women and children,' he explained. `I implore you not to do this thing and I ask you all to stand fast.'

His officers took up the cry, urging the men to remain where they were for the sake of the women and children. And that was exactly what they did.
And so there they stood in ranks, obedient to the honor and values of Victorian discipline, so the women and children could be assured of getting safely clear of what would have become a mob of desperate swimmers, as the shark-infested seas closed in.
Some said goodbye to one another or shook hands. One man shouted out: `God bless you all.' Knowing they were doomed, they stood fast until the water had closed above their heads.

One of the few officers to survive, Captain Wright of the 9lst, wrote afterwards: `Every man did as he was directed and there was not a cry or a murmur among them until the vessel made her final plunge.

`All received their orders and had them carried out as if the men were embarking instead of going to the bottom of the sea; there was only one difference, that I never saw any embarkation conducted with so little noise or confusion.'

What made the heroism of these men all the more remarkable was that so many of them were mere youths, barely aware of the requirements of military discipline. Yet they stood to attention as unflinchingly as any officer or NCO, and died with the same grace.
After the ship finally broke apart a few minutes later, a few soldiers eventually made it to shore over the next twelve hours, or were plucked from the flotsam by the schooner Lioness which arrived the next morning.

And though over 400 perished, about 200 survived, including, by all accounts, all of the women and children.

The Birkenhead Drill had been a success.

How different from those who choose to first sacrifice the women and children to the sharks, rather than risk themselves!

It is a different set of values, and one of them is better.

A Catholic social networking site has an essay on the Birkenhead, and its meaning for gender roles.
The Birkenhead disaster presses the matter with rigor and with pathos, because the question about who should become bait for Great White Sharks is defining. St. Paul labored to enlighten the church at Ephesus regarding the roles of men and women in marriage. Without the slightest reserve, he presents men as prophetic of Christ and as a revelation of Christ. He presents women as prophetic of the church and as a revelation of the church. The mystery of gender is the mystery of Christ and the church. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32)
God was not bound to create the genders in the manner He did. He did not create male and female simply to complicate our lives or to visit us with consuming passions. His design was prophetic, and we may someday accept that the intent was more revelatory of Christ and the Church than it was a practical means of populating the planet. The great tragedy of humankind has been the persistent assignment of value to the genders – value, rather than the divine ministry of the genders.

It may be that the fall of man produced no greater evil than this assignment of value to the genders. This blindness not only presses continual ruin upon our race, but it disfigures the glory of the mystery of Christ and the church.
It is from this clear testimony that we understand that the leadership responsibilities of men have nothing to do with their value and everything to do with God’s creating man to be a revelation of Christ. The responsive and nurturing responsibilities of women have nothing to do with value, and everything to do with their role as a revelation of the Church.
The men huddled and trembling on the deck of the Birnkenhead were heroes because they gave up their lives as a prophecy and a revelation of Christ. The women who saw and heard the terrible carnage of that long night were not helpless or weak. They suffered enormously. It was infinitely right that they were rescued, and as Mary did, they carried the sorrow in their heart.
Speaking broadly, men and women are different, and that doesn't make one better than another. Men create systems and structures, both concrete and abstract; and men are expendable. Women create and nurture life, and they are to be preciously protected -- which does not mean to be patronized.

Universally, soldiers say they fight and die for their buddies. I'm sure that's true on the surface, but taken at face value that makes the whole process useless if they didn't have to be put in a position to die for their buddies in the first place. That is, if that's really all honor and discipline in warfare is about, the peace people would be right in asking "what if they gave a war and nobody came?" Because on the surface, no sacrifice would then ever be necessary; the purpose for war would be seen as self-referential: we fight only because our buddies are fighting. And apparently otherwise, we wouldn't!

It's deeper than that of course.

The real reason they fight and die for their fellow soldiers is so that their companions, the other members of their "tribe", will ultimately WIN the war, so that their women and children, which represent their immortal future, will be preserved.

This is why the issue of women in combat is so troubling.

Clearly, sometimes it's necessary in extreme situations, and just as clearly, it's not about questions concerning motivation or patriotism or necessarily even ability. On an individual basis, in particular circumstances, women can obviously fight, and can do so very well.

To be clear, I'm talking about society's fundamental approach to appreciating gender differences, and not an excuse to elevate one above the other or to repress any particular individual.

It's not a question of can, but one of should.

Because it strikes a critical blow at the whole fundamental purpose of the disciplined self-sacrifice type of honor in warfare, as exemplified by the Victorian Birkenhead Drill!

Why die for your unit's honor (which is really to die for your women and children), when the women are right there dying with you anyway?

That deconstruction of Western values is probably the whole motivation for the masterminds behind putting women in combat positions, with it masquerading as the noble purpose of equal rights. It makes the whole concept of warfare nothing but sheer nihilism.

And if we end up emasculating the male warrior ethos in the name of equality -- forcing men to see women as just as expendable as they are -- that does nobody any good when we then lose to the less sensitive and more aggressive barbarians at the gates, who'll then slap a burqa on everyone, feminists included.

I am reminded of a bitter argument I had with a female friend in college: she insisted men could be just as good mothers as women could, and the distinction was purely cultural (and a sign of repressive male hegemony). I found that ridiculous. I maintained a man could be just a good parent, but that women made better mothers and men made better fathers because the roles weren't interchangeable.

Now surely, if required, a man can be a mother of sorts to a child. But it's not a question of can, but of should.

I didn't realize it at the time, but the above reasoning would become the basis for my opposition to the notion of seeing gay marriage as identical in meaning and importance to real marriage between a man and a woman.

So just as the heroism of the 300 Spartans was real, so was that of the British Regiments on the Birkenhead.

However, one of the Lessons of the movie 300 is
A society that does not value its warriors will be destroyed by one that does
Despite its oversimplifications, "300" is good history. The three battles of which Thermopylae is the most famous marked one of the greatest turning points in world history. Had the Persians succeeded, democracy would have been strangled in its crib, and the Hellenization of the ancient world never would have occurred. We may never have known Plato, Aristotle or Euclid.

"300" is soaked with the masculine virtues of courage, honor, patriotism and self-sacrifice, and the camaraderie that exists among fighting men who have been through a shared ordeal. These are little valued in Hollywood or contemporary society, and there is a hunger for them. This, I think, is the key to the movie's appeal.

We need to rediscover these virtues. At once the most preposterous and the most dangerous of contemporary beliefs is "nothing was ever settled by violence."

A cursory reading of history makes it clear that virtually every important development in the history of mankind has been, for good or ill, a product of violence.
It is the soldier, not the priest, who protects freedom of religion; the soldier, not the journalist, who protects freedom of speech. History teaches that a society that does not value its warriors will be destroyed by a society that does.
Marxist history tries to teach us to be ashamed of our past.

Instead, we must proudly re-embrace the best of our Anglosphere heritage and revive neo-Victorian values.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to admit this is the part that I become dissapointed with your blog, when you start speaking about anglo-saxon values it starts to stink of racist crap.

Every society has always put value on the lives of women and children and it is not just the anglo-saxons.

I always thought your blog was to fight against evil forces which are ideological but not racial...

Fare thee well!

12:21 PM, April 01, 2007  
Blogger RDS said...

alienmist, I hope that comment is an April Fool's Joke!

I can understand your pique if my post were indeed about race, but it was not meant to be taken that way. Perhaps you misread the word Anglosphere as meaning Anglo-Saxon, which isn't what that term means to me.

The very first sentence of this post is, "Do cultural values matter?"

That's culture (and thus ideology), not race.

I mentioned the 300 Spartans near the end of the post as well, and they are certainly not Anglo-Saxons!

I ended speaking of "neo-Victorian values" -- not of "neo-Victorian anglo-saxons"!

I never even used the word anglo-saxon in the post!

The word "Anglosphere" doesn't refer to a race, but to a set of values that today are largely (but not exclusively) represented where a certain language, English, is or was spoken, due to a set of historical forces.

From wikipedia,
Geographically, the densest nodes of the Anglosphere are found in the United States and the United Kingdom, while Anglophone regions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa are powerful and populous outliers. The educated English-speaking populations of the Caribbean, Oceania, Africa and India pertain to the Anglosphere to various degrees.

And its traditions, and values come through a long history from the Holy Land, through ancient Greece and Rome, and the Italian renaissance, etc. The Anglosphere represents a subset of larger "Western" history and which has been particularly successful among its peers.

No matter what example I would use to champion such values would necessarily contain members of some "race" or another for someone to get upset about, but I don't see where you get the idea I claim it is exclusive to WASPs (and I don't fit that category myself personally!) -- my point instead with this post was specifically to attempt to give members of the Anglosphere culture (which is important to me because I belong to its larger sense) something in their own specific heritage to be proud of, because their pride in their specific history is under attack, leaving it easy prey to invasion by evil ideologies.

Have you not followed the news about Britain in particular having hostages taken by Iran? Current events inspired the example I used because Britain could benefit from remembering its own history.

It is in fact such attacks of "racism!" that are often used precisely to tear down what the culture I belong to has built!

Lt. Col. Seton was actually a Scot, and technically not Anglo-Saxon if you want to split racial hairs.

I also have extolled the virtues of the Gurkhas in this blog, who fall under the "Anglosphere" but surely aren't anglo-saxons!

9:00 PM, April 01, 2007  
Blogger RDS said...

And come on, your claim that Every society has always put value on the lives of women and children is just plain false -- at least not the same kind of value I was showing the Victorians did.

There was the news item I started the posting with, as well as larger historical forces such as child-sacrifice to Baal, Hindu suttee of women, Palestinian exploitation of the death of their own children, and the view of women more as possessions than people with "honor killings" endemic throughout the islamic world. I could easily go on.

9:25 PM, April 01, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You romanticize the pre-victorian world where to say the least life for women and children was not so easy. Life was short and brutal and the victorian values you refer to were just for the upper ruling classes everybody else lived like a rat.

What about the french speaking world, italian speaking world chinese and many other societies that you do not know of.

Do not forget the Nazi also destroyed a huge number of people from all groups while espousing old Germanic values.

About sutees,you forget that the original culture of the anglos used to include of human sacrifices to their gods...

The thing is we have to fight ideological evil like Islam and Nazism wherever they raise their dangerous heads.

sorry if I misread your earlier post.

3:54 AM, April 02, 2007  
Blogger RDS said...


Thanks for raising these questions so they can be clarified! Again I think you misread "neo-Victorian" as "pre-Victorian." I didn't say "pre", meaning "before", because as you said further in the past things get worse. The prefix "neo" means "new", and implies that you would take the best of an old idea and remake it into a modern form, like "neo-conservative."

Everyone of course has to advance step by step. The continental European culture of course shares a Western heritage but its specific history, such as much of it having the Napoleonic Code instead of Common Law makes certain differences in the view of the individual relating to the government, but such differences are less important than the major ones between them and the evil ideologies you mention.

I used the suttee example because it was happening at the same time in history that the Victorians were putting an end to it -- though I agree they had to earlier overcome cruel practices themselves!

Naziism included a return to a fantasy version of a pre-Christian Teutonic pagan mysticism -- it was a throwing away of much of the progress in Western thought up to that time.

You are right to remind about that, because it shows nobody is immune from backsliding into barbarism and constant vigiliance is needed!

Thanks for reading.

11:51 PM, April 02, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I admit it is a fact of life that some societies discover a way to advance while others do not... this fact is what political correctness crap tries to bury.

I admit I am not a member of the WASP nor a member of the "western Society".

I am nevertheless really pissed by the spineless "western" govts who for some reason are blind to the danger that Islam and other cults pose.

I think your blog is very good, though I think you sound defeatist at times ( I may be wrong!!)

I am thinking of the course of action to take, since I am not going to let someone or some tribal gods should dictate to me how I should live!

Let us do something about this menace.... For real

2:23 PM, April 03, 2007  
Blogger Manxome said...

I've been thinking about this post in terms of soldier's motivations and I must say that initially the thought of protecting the family at home was pretty powerful.

This morning, however, it dawned on me that a nation with a huge sense of honor and fighting ability - the one that did more to win WWII than any other nation except *perhaps* the UK, is Russia. And the Russians have had a tradition of their women fighting alongside their soldiers on the front lines, as snipers, and as bombers (though not figher pilots).

While they might be fighting for their children at home, they are not, of course, fighting for the women. Rather, the motivation of the Russian army at that time was "Mother Russia", a deep seated tradition going back well before modern history.

I don't know what this says about your argument, but its certainly worth consideration!

10:30 AM, April 05, 2007  
Blogger RDS said...

That is certainly a good point, manxome. I agree the women did so in Russia in WW2, but I wonder how much was out of desperate necessity, as well as an expression of communist doctrine. I don't really know the answer to that.

Be that as it may, it is at least a somewhat different culture from ours with a different history -- Russia is not quite "Western", and didn't quite experience the Renaissance and Enlightenment as our ancestors did. I would maintain my point could remain valid within the "Anglosphere" as well as some other places.

Half-jokingly I might suggest that perhaps the concept of fighting for Mother Russia had to do with protecting one's aging mother, rather than one's wife or children!

Thanks for reading; it's a good question.

10:13 PM, April 05, 2007  

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