The other day I read an article about Rudyard Kipling, the celebrated author who spent his last few years in deep regret and remorse. The poem My Boy Jack, was written by him in these years. The poem is filled with regret and pain. It points to some glaring realities of war and makes us realize we are answerable to our future generation.
The poem and the situation is something that we need to see and understand in today’s times. The whole social media and world at large is busy taking sides, and asserting themselves economically, intellectually or with fire power and military poweress. World War 1 was just 100 years ago and we have a lot of lessons to learn from the Great War, but the biggest lesson is – ‘A war has only losers on both sides.’
Rudyard Kipling and Son John Kipling
Rudyard Kipling completely believed in the war and its reasons. He was a staunch patriot and when his son wished to join the army, Kipling senior completely supported it. So much so that when John failed to clear the medical examination, Rudyard used his influence to get his enlisted in the army.
John Kipling at 18
When the war began, John was only 17 and he died just after his 18th birthday. The young boy was first listed as missing in action after the Battle of Loos. Rudyard Kipling spent more than 3 years trying to find his missing son. It was much later and after a DNA test that his son’s grave was identified. His son was one of the 59,247 lives lost in the Battle of Loos.
After the death
After John was declared missing, Rudyard was filled with guilt and was completely disillusioned by the purpose of it all. He worked tirelessly to find his son and get some news about him. His anguish as a defeated father, a civilian and a survivor is seen in many of his war related works. While the poem ‘My Boy Jack’ talks about his pain; his writings like “If any question why we died, / Tell them, because our fathers lied,” portrays his guilt and angst.
There must have been so many like John on both sides of the battlefield. Not everyone had the influence or power that Rudyard Kipling had. Many families might not have found any closure and many might have destroyed themselves while being burdened by guilt and regret.
Even today there are wars, occupations and militancy mushrooming around the world. After reading Rudyard Kipling’s words all I can think of – Was it/ Is it really worth it?
Leaving you with the heart wrenching poem… My boy Jack