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Pay No Danegeld: Teaching Western Civilization

Rudyard Kipling's poem is due for a renaissance.

Clayton E. Cramer


April 11, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Yes, it was President Ronald Reagan reading the poem at a meeting of the National Security Planning Group in 1985, when we were confronting a terrorist hijacking problem in the Middle East. (As Mark Twain observed, “History never repeats itself, but at least it rhymes.”) It is unfortunate that Reagan’s legacy of “No Danegeld” will always be tarnished by the Iran-Contra affair. (Strictly speaking, this was not paying Danegeld — but it certainly is not the muscular response that Kipling’s poem brings to mind, is it?) Nonetheless, in the larger scheme of twentieth century history, Reagan’s willingness to stand firm against the Soviet Union, and bluff them with SDI into bankruptcy, is a powerful reminder of what Kipling meant when he ended that poem:

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,

No matter how trifling the cost;

For the end of that game is oppression and shame,

And the nation that pays it is lost!”

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Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.
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