Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Lincoln's Letter

An excellent - and quite moving - article by Simon Jenkins, one of the Guardian's light sprinkling of reasonably decent columnists, considers Brown's latest, impertinent and hamfisted attempt at some sort of implausibly sincere bereavement counselling to be inappropriate in a number of ways - above and beyond his apparent inability (inclination?) to spell words correctly in an important letter. It is certainly worth reading.

One part struck me as particularly significant, though. Jenkins' view must be accepted that the writing of letters - just like the tribute of a medal - to the relatives of military personnel killed in the service of their country should be the preserve of heads of state, like the Queen, and no one else. While the entire, balanced article is important - it's pretty damning on Labour's and Brown's defence policy debacle, too - this is the key part for the specific point:

A British soldier lost in battle dies in the service of his queen, not the Labour government. He dies for his country, not for Afghanistan or Iraq or Nato, or keeping in with America. He customarily receives thanks from the monarch, given institutionally as a token of the courtesies of the state.

The famous letter sent in 1864 by Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, who lost five sons fighting for the Union, was careful not just in its language but in the source of its sentiment. Lincoln (or possibly his scriptwriter, John Hay) offered Mrs Bixby "the thanks of the Republic they died to save" and the "solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice on the altar of freedom".

Such sentiments are best expressed by a head of state, not a practising politician, even if in America they are one and the same. The Queen cannot be blamed for failures in MoD equipment and supply. She would not telephone a clearly upset woman to explain away a failure in policy or strategy. She embodies the state's gratitude to those who volunteered to serve it professionally and died in its cause. Condolences are her job, not a prime minister's...

I hope Brown reads Jenkins' article because someone needs to teach that man humility, if nothing else, no matter how 'sincere' he thinks he is. Just for the record, and in case Brown decides to continue with his arrogant policy of writing ill thought-out, rather shallow scrawls to relatives of the inevitable future victims of Afghanistan, here is Lincoln's letter in full.

Executive Mansion,
Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

Dear Madam,--

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle.

I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save.

I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln

Mrs Janes deserved something like that.


  1. Now THAT is a letter of condolence, D.
    The only chance of Brown ever learning any humility is if he actually sticks around long enough for the election and the men in white coats drag him out of Downing St. strapped down to a trolley while stuffed into a straitjacket!

  2. Agree!

    BS, if you want to annoy yourself (no reason why you should) you should read some of the comments on Cif on some of the other, rather moronic commentaries on this thing. The loony left are absolutely out in force. They blame the mother of the dead soldier for causing "pain" to Brown.

    Never thought I'd see the day.

  3. I'm not going to have a go at him about his eyesight and poor handwriting , but surely, with Brown and his coterie being aware of his problem, the letter should have been proof-read by an aide to avoid this sort of problem. You wouldn't see Cameron make this error, any handwritten note would be read and read again (just as Blair would have done).

    And Jenkins was right, our soldiers serve her majesty, they do not fight for the government or prime minister and never have done. Not even for Churchill!

    The condolensce letters should be from their commanding officer and from the Queen. If Brown and his cabinet want to show our troops the proper respect and dignity they should do three things :-

    1. Stop using the reading out of the dead at Prime Minister's Questions, it is a political tool to take the sting out of any criticisms.

    2. Pony up and equip the troops correctly, that more flying hours line isn't washing.

    3. A junior minister at the very least should be present at Wooton Basset whenever one of our fallen soldiers is there.

    And the attacks on the soldiers mother are just plain vile, the woman is cleasrly grieving and has admitted to being sedated. She deserves our sympathy far more than an incompetent politician who has underfunded troops on active service since he came into government in 1997.

  4. Well said, UB: every point bang on target.

  5. Sometimes...I even manage to amaze myself.

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