…Mind you, Chris Matthews thinks that he’s complimenting the President by comparing him to William Shakespeare’s Henry V. The context is the President’s not-a-naked-campaign-ploy-at-all visit and speech in Afghanistan yesterday, and it predictably caused Chris Matthews to start up with the sycophancy. Precise quote? “It was right out of Henry V actually, a touch of Barry, in this case, in the night for those soldiers risking their lives over there” (H/T: Hot Air Headlines).
Oh, dear. See, this is why literary references should be reserved to the professionals. ‘Professionals’ being defined as ‘people are who not Chris Matthews,’ of course.
It is a pity that I interviewed Jonah Goldberg about The Tyranny of Cliches before this story came out; uninformed references to the St. Crispin’s Day Speech collectively make up a cliche all of their own. But that’s not actually germane to the conversation at hand. What is germane is ‘the touch of Barry in the night,’ which is clearly a reference to Act IV, Scene I of Henry V. Since Matthews apparently has never seen the play, let me correct the man’s literary ignorance and reproduce the relevant section:
John Bates, “a soldier”
He hath not told his thought to the king?
King Henry V
No, nor it is not meet he should. For though I speak it to you, I think the king is but a man, as I am. The violet smells to him as it doth to me; the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions. His ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man, and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears out of doubt be of the same relish as ours are. Yet in reason, no man should possess him with any appearance of fear, lest he by showing it should dishearten his army.
He may show what outward courage he will, but I believe, as cold a night as ’tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck. And so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here.
By my troth, I will speak my conscience of the king: I think he would not wish himself anywhere but where he is.
Then I would he were here alone. So should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men’s lives saved.
I dare say you love him not so ill to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men’s minds. Methinks I could not die anywhere so contented as in the king’s company, his cause being just and his quarrel honorable.
Michael Williams, “a soldier”
That’s more than we know.
Ay, or more than we should seek after. For we know enough if we know we are the king’s subjects. If his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us.
But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads chopped off in a battle shall join together at the latter day, and cry all, “We died at such a place,” some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeared there are few die well that die in a battle, for how can they charitably dispose of anything when blood is their argument? Now if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it, who to disobey were against all proportion of subjection.
So if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness, by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him. Or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation. But this is not so. The king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant, for they purpose not their death when they purpose their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbitrament of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers. Some, peradventure, have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery. Now if these men have defeated the law and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God. War is his beadle; war is his vengeance. So that here men are punished for before-breach of the king’s laws in now the king’s quarrel. Where they feared the death, they have borne life away; and where they would be safe, they perish. Then if they die unprovided, no more is the king guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject’s duty is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience. And dying so, death is to him advantage, or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained. And in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, he let him outlive that day to see his greatness and to teach others how they should prepare.
‘Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head; the king is not to answer it.
I do not desire he should answer for me, and yet I determine to fight lustily for him.
I myself heard the king say he would not be ransomed.
Ay, he said so to make us fight cheerfully, but when our throats are cut he may be ransomed and we ne’er the wiser.
Actually, let me translate all of that out of English and into “something that Chris Matthews can understand*.”
Hey, did your commanding officer tell the king that he thinks that we’re all walking dead men, mysterious stranger?
King dressed up as mysterious stranger
NO. That’s because he’s a smart guy who knows that the king’s on the ragged edge of hysteria as it is, what with this entire ‘unilateral war of foreign conquest’ thing and ‘we’re hideously outnumbered’ thing and ‘the king was until quite recently off in his own private Idaho drinking and whoring’ thing. Don’t push the king, man: he’s got enough to worry and be brave about.
Brave? HA! He secretly wants to be home, and so do I. F*ck France.
HEY! The king wants to be here.
Fine: he can stay here by himself. The frogs will snap him up: sell him back to us; and then the war’s over and nobody dies. I like this plan. This plan speaks to me.
That’s really cold, man. Me, I’m ready to die for this good cause of His Majesty’s.
Other Soldier Dude
‘Good cause?’ Above my pay grade, mysterious stranger.
F*cking-A. Me, I subscribe to the “Orders are Orders” philosophy, because I have no idea what “National Socialism” even means.
Other Soldier Dude
Yup. It’s the king who has the problem there. If it turns out that, say, invading France just to have another nifty title on formal occasions is actually not the spotlessly moral crusade that various propagandists keep telling us, then the king is going to be put through the wringer on Judgement Day. Particularly since he’s going to get stuck with the moral bill for all the soldiers who ended up going to Hell because they didn’t repent in time…
Now HOLD ON RIGHT THERE. I’m going to ignore the bits about whether this war is just or not – largely because, yeah, the king is trying to resolve his daddy issues, pick up a bunch of property that wasn’t actually his in any meaningful sense of the term, and generally act like every other schmuck out there who thought that ‘getting religion’ equals ‘license to get all self-righteous” – but the fact that… we’re… all a bunch of unwashed depraved sinners isn’t his fault. Probably he wouldn’t have brought us along if we were singing hymns all day, but the king isn’t a sin-eater. If your soul’s cruddy, that’s all you. You’re still here to do what the king tells you to do; and if you survive it, good on you.
Other Soldier Dude.
Yeah. Look, just because I despise the REMF, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to shut up and soldier.
The king says that he’s in this as much as you are.
Other Soldier Dude.
Ha. I’ll believe it when I see it. No, wait, I won’t, because I’ll be dead.
So, let’s recap: Chris Matthews equated Obama’s speech and presence in Afghanistan to those of Henry V’s. Which is to say, Chris Matthews told the world that Barack Obama is an untested, insecure, and untrained monarch who has initiated an imperial war of expansion in order to hide from his own sense of inadequacy when faced by the specters of his predecessors; and when his own troops point out that they’re the ones that are going to end up doing the dying Obama essentially tries to whine and insult them into agreeing that he was right all along about this. Tries and fails, by the way: the troops ain’t buying it, but they’re professionals who will fight for the cause anyway. See what I meant by ‘viciously attacks,’ there? If you accept the basic argument by Matthews, he’s pretty much trying to administer a poison pill to the entire Afghanistan situation whose rigor would satisfy even the most rigorous antiwar progressive. That he’s incompetent at such administration is merely a minor detail; the important point is that it was tried.
Alternatively, Chris Matthews is simply an illiterate buffoon.
Moe Lane (crosspost)
PS: For the record: I reject the antiwar movement’s decade-old arguments against the liberation of Afghanistan.
*I am fully aware, by the way, that I am not as good a playwright as William Shakespeare. No need to point that out. Really.