Thursday, January 24, 2008

Samuel Johnson would understand

He would understand why there is in parts of popular culture a need to make those who have served in the military all seem like damaged goods. From The Deer Hunter to the latest homeless smear ... to this add being run in UK movie houses:

Oh, the quote by Samuel Johnson? Most know the first line, but I like the whole exchange.
We talked of war.

Johnson: "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea."
Boswell: "Lord Mansfield does not."
Johnson: "Sir, if Lord Mansfield were in a company of General Officers and Admirals who have been in service, he would shrink; he'd wish to creep under the table."
Boswell: ""No; he'd think he could try them all."
Johnson: "Yes, if he could catch them: but they'd try him much sooner. No, Sir; were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, 'Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;' and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, 'Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;' a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange. As to the sailor, when you look down from the quarter deck to the space below, you see the utmost extremity of human misery; such crouding, such filth, such stench!"
Boswell: "Yet sailors are happy."
Johnson: "They are happy as brutes are happy, with a piece of fresh meat, --with the grossest sensuality. But, Sir, the profession of soldiers and sailors has the dignity of danger. Mankind reverence those who have got over fear, which is so general a weakness."
Scott: "But is not courage mechanical, and to be acquired?"
Johnson: "Why yes, Sir, in a collective sense. Soldiers consider themselves only as parts of a great machine."
Scott: "We find people fond of being sailors."
Johnson: "I cannot account for that, any more than I can account for other strange perversions of imagination."
Hat tip Bluto at Jawa.

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