Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


Note: This appeared as a weekend op-ed in my newspaper. I've used the Dane-geld trope before, in an email after the Madrid bombings, and it went viral. So sue me, it's a damn good poem and expresses an Eternal Truth.

Dane-geld (A.D. 980-1016)

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbor and to say: --
"We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away."

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld
And then you'll get rid of the Dane!

- Rudyard Kipling

Dane-geld (Dane-gold): A tax raised by Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to pay off Viking raiders in return for not ravaging their lands.

A while ago in these pages I explained why I thought the U.S. government probably couldn't do anything for Roxanne Saberi, then imprisoned on espionage charges in Iran.

In hindsight, it seems I overlooked one possibility – they could buy her out.

And it appears they have. The price was the release of the “Irbil five” Iranian terrorists captured in Iraq, where they specialized in deploying anti-armor explosives that killed hundreds of Americans. There may have been other concessions we don't know about yet.

This Tuesday I received a message from the Society of Professional Journalists that American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling had been released by the North Korean government after being imprisoned for 140 days and sentenced to 12 years hard labor – which in North Korea essentially means a sentence of death by prolonged torture.

The release stated, “Former President Bill Clinton arrived in North Korea today, Tuesday, Aug. 4, to negotiate the release of Lee and Ling, who had been imprisoned since March. North Korea’s... leader Kim Jong II pardoned and ordered the release of the journalists after meeting with Clinton for negotiations.”

With apologies to the SPJ, this is false and misleading on one essential point. President Clinton did not go for “negotiations,” the outcome was established before he set foot on the plane. He was there to pay a ransom: legitimacy for North Korea, tremendous “face” for Kim Jong Il, and most certainly more we don't know about yet.

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: --
"Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away."

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

This is how small but unspeakably brutal countries hold rich and powerful nations to ransom. North Korea's leaders were indifferent to the death by starvation of an estimated 300,000 to 800,000 people a year for three years in the recent, preventable famine.

We care deeply as a nation about the fate of only two of our own, in a deeply personal way. I could feel the anguish of their husbands, and my heart nearly broke to see Lee's little girl run to hug Mommy when she got off the plane. Like everyone else in the country, I breathed a sigh of relief when we got these two back safely.

But let's not fool ourselves, there is a price for this. One we're all going to pay eventually. North Korea has demonstrated again they can get big concessions for a trivial cost. The Obama administration calls it “engagement.” Violence professionals call it “rewarding bad behavior.”

Somewhere down the road, we're going to re-learn what Kipling tried to tell us a long time ago.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"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!"


  • At 2:32 PM, Blogger dchamil said…

    Kipling's verse appears to be of a low-brow sort that writes itself, since the rhymes and the drumbeat rhythm seem to come so easily. But this seeming ease is the product of art. To appreciate him, try to write something similar. It's not so easy!

  • At 5:36 PM, Blogger Steve said…

    I don't know if you've seen my tribute to Kipling here:


    Orwell called Kipling "good bad poetry" but Orwell loved Kipling, even though he didn't want to.


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