MovieChat Forums > Khartoum (1966) Discussion > Glorification for someone who does not d...

Glorification for someone who does not deserve it.



General Gordon was a charismatic military leader, a clever man, a genius military person, in some way pretty old school British and in some way not so British.

The film shows him as a hero, who lead a brave fight of resistance that he could not win. But should it do that? No! There is no questioning of his actions, there is no doubt and Gordon is presented as the ultimate winner, although he died.

The one really important scene is when Gordon sen´tences the merchant to death. This action is neither questioned, nor is it reflected in the light of the time the film is set. It is presented as a necessary action that is justifyable. Obviously, by the standardsof the time when the film was made, the penalty did not apply to the crime. But this is not discussed in the film whatsoever.

Do not get me wrong: Gordon is not shown mistakefree or only in a positive way. But his actions are gloryfied to an extent that is unproportional. Had he surrendered and let sanity prevail hundreds of people had survived and not died a senseless death. The Mahdi was not stopped by Gordon, but his own overdose of feeling like god.

Some (in the review section) link this film and the events it is based on to 9/11. To do this is not only highly questionable but dangerous.

Concerning the cinematics it is a classic without beeing special. Typical of mid 60s.


"All in all the house is very creepy - so you gotta stay with me! Come on!"

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But it wasn't a question of his 'surrendering' surely - it was a question of his staying on, and although I would not have had the nerve to do it (and you can take that to the bank), I can quite understand why he felt he couldn't go. The Mahdi didn't kill everyone because Gordon was in Khartoum, he more or less begged Gordon to leave*, but because those left after the exodus Gordon had arranged were viewed as infidels, fit only for execution. I don't know what happened to those who did file out through the main gate - does anyone know?.

*I understand that in fact, unlike in the movie, Gordon and the Mahdi never met face to face, and special explanation had to be made to the Mahdi's grandson about the necessity for the sake of dramatic action, etc; Apparently the grandson was not at all displeased with the movie. You can learn a lot from those little pre- and post-movie talks from Robt Osborne on TCM, IMHO.

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Thank's for your opinion. Some interesting aspects.

Still: I think this is a form of "standing firm" (or "staying on" as you put it) that is highly questionable and has had it's horrible share in history numerous times. Alamo is still a big heroic myth in the US, although, if you read history carefully, it was completely unnecessary to defend that fort. i mean the opposing general was even a politic in Washington some years after the Alamo incident. A more drastic version was Stalingrad. Nobody would glorify that...

"Stand Firm against all the odds" films and the myths behind events mentioned above are perfect instruments in the hands of people pushing for wars like Vietnam or Irak.

The Mahdi is not presented in a negative way. He gets the role of the "Pilatus like wise man" who is determined to fulfill his mission and because of his respect for Gordon he wanted to save him. It is important to realize that without Gordon the final battle had not occured and thousands of people had survived. As well as gordon himself.

"All in all the house is very creepy - so you gotta stay with me! Come on!"

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If I understand you right, I believe you missed a great part of the Mahdi's speech about why he would slaughter all the people in Khartoum. His plans were to continue his "pilgrimage" as he called it, to pray in the mosques of major cities all the way to Constantinople, which he would only do after seeing the region converted. And he would do it by force if they did not surrender. He states specifically that he wished no loss of life, but his mission to bring the Islamic religion to the rest of the world was paramount to him. And he would make an example to the rest of the world by slaughtering the people of Khartoum, in the hopes that the peoples of other nations would sooner convert than face his wrath.

Additionally, it is worth noting that Gordon, at least in the film, made his stand to force Britain to come to his aid. It is made very explicit that the Minister did not wish to become involved in military affairs in Sudan. But he could not, due to political and popular pressure, as depicted by the protesters, leave a general of his army to die in a siege without support. So when Gordon remained, he forced the army to come to him (though as the movie shows, they did so with great reluctance). Though he stated that he was not afraid to die, and would willingly do so in the defense of the land, Gordon did not intend to do so if any other recourse remained to him.

While I do not know the fate of those that went and sought the Mahdi's "protection," I can say that besides fighting, there was no other choice left to the people. The Mahdi would obviously not stand down or relent, so it was either surrender or resist. Gordon's presence made no difference, except to give the hope of British rescue.

If you're to fault Gordon and those that remained with him for not surrendering, I imagine they'd disagree with you completely. Whether a matter of pride or religion, there are people who will not bow to another's reign simply to survive. I doubt very much any of them considered it a "senseless death," unless they meant the senselessness of the attack.


P.S. As to the incident with merchant, in a time of war, especially a siege wherein civilians are just as much a part of the resistance and effort as any soldier, to steal provisions meant for the use of the army and the people for personal profit is entirely within the realm of corporal punishment. I'm not stating my opinion one way or the other in terms of a view on the death penalty, but to say the punishment did not match the crime is to ignore the circumstances to a fault.

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I don't see how Gordon could possibly have left when, as you say, Helios, the Mahdi had made it quite clear to Gordon that he had had this conversation with God, who had told him to slaughter everyone in Khartoum 'pour encourager les autres' so to speak, but he didn't want to kill Gordon, so he could go. How could he possibly have left under those circumstances - Right, well, sorry about this, you lot, but the Mahdi says I can go, so I'm b*******g off now, cheerio!! Not pygmalion likely!!

I think he (Gordon) must have known in his heart that the British government were going to pull a fast one on him - they have not for no reason been known over the centuries as 'perfidious albion'. They wrote the book when it comes to letting down your best people. It's mentioned over and over even in Shakespeare, and they're still doing it today. Gladstone was an anti-imperialist, pro-trade little Englander, as was made clear in the movie, I think and he quite obviously wasn't up for any possible military deafeats in the Sudan. Anyway, the British Empire was a spent force by Gordon's time, IMHO, just hanging on out of force of habit, really. Just my opinion, of course.

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I appreciate what you wrote, but you fail to mention that for Gordon and the PM of Britian this is really just fun and games. Each of them set-up the other; each one of them was playing the angles and for what?

In other words, Gordon had no business going to the Sudan in the first place. No matter how insane the Mahdi is, Gordon is equally so. They have no concern for others (maybe narcissist is a better word) and that is the history of the world at least so far.

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Simon Winchester described Charles Gordon as "a half mad, alcoholic, but inescapably heroic Christian imperialist whom Gladstone and his ministers
tried-and failed-to control."

( The Meaning of Everything, the Story of the Oxford English dictionary)

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Simon Winchester described Charles Gordon as "a half mad, alcoholic, but inescapably heroic Christian imperialist whom Gladstone and his ministers
tried-and failed-to control."


Save for the 'alcoholic' bit, that desciption isn't at great variance with Heston's Gordon in Khartoum.

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Anyone on here read Robin Maugham's book on Gordon?
Basically he asked was he a martyr, or did he stubbornly refuse to leave the city and the Sudan, almost inviting his own death ? So, martyr or misfit?

I worked alongside his grand-nephew in Edinburgh back in 1971/2, and wish I had stayed in touch to have known his views on his great-uncle.

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The 'alcoholic' bit originated from people who had personal grudges against Gordon, and is less than factual.


"I told you it was off." The Jackal

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I have read 2 books on Gordon and he did enjoy a brandy,(maybe whisky too) but the last bio I read last year indicated he emphatically did not over-indulge and was not an alcoholic. Agree with previous poster, dsbjpo.

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The 'alcoholic' bit originated from people who had personal grudges against Gordon, and is less than factual.


Reading charges of 'alcoholism' always raises a red flag with me. If the author isn't trying to taint a reputation he's at least trying to put a smudge on it. The only time, imo, you can use the term loosely when writing about a historical figure is if it figures into an official record.

For all I know Gordon was a roaring, wake-up-in-the-gutter alcoholic. If there is nothing in the record like 'dismissed because of gross incompetence resulting from excessive alcohol consumption' or somesuch then I believe the burden of proof is on the accuser.

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Very well stated. My comment should have been directed at the poster who quoted Simon Winchester, who in turn probably regurgitated that slur exploited by Lytton Strachey.


"I told you it was off." The Jackal

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What was Strachey's problem with Gordon?

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Strachey expressed his opposition to the Victorian era by writing character assassinations of Gordon, Cardinal Manning, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Arnold in the book Eminent Victorians.


"I told you it was off." The Jackal

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Florence Nightingale!!? Wasn't into sanitary reform?

I wiki'ed Strachey. I think I get where he's coming from (kind of). Sad thing is he'll scatter gun crap and it'll get picked up and gain a degree of legitimacy.

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LS, another writer with a chip on his shoulder or to quote Lady Thatcher of one Labour politician :
Not so much a chip of the old block as a block of the old chip!

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Strachey's depiction of Gordon isn't entirely negative - he still views him as courageous and, in his own way, an extraordinary man. But Strachey, the early 20th Century socialist, wasn't going to accept an evangelical Christian imperialist soldier as an unblemished hero.

Charles Cheverix Trench's The Road to Khartoum debunks the claim of Gordon's alcoholism pretty thoroughly. The claim originates from a (misquoted) entry from one of Gordon's colleagues in Sudan, who nursed a grudge against him. Not the most reliable source, but accepted uncritically by Strachey and repeated by many pernicious biographers since.

He's also the one to popularize claims that Gordon was a pederast. Seems a common theme of debunking biographers to use homosexuality as a weapon. (See also Richard Aldington and T.E. Lawrence.) Rather strange though coming from Strachey, who by standards of his time was openly gay.

"Do you know what lies at the bottom of the mainstream? Mediocrity!"

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Totally agree with you here, SteveH2002.
I once worked in the City and our Finance Director always remarked, if you want to bring someone down, it is usually sex or booze for starters!He was not far off the mark, was he?

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I once worked in the City and our Finance Director always remarked, if you want to bring someone down, it is usually sex or booze for starters!He was not far off the mark, was he?


It strikes me as tabloid history, Ron. As much as we've progressed in our attitudes about substance abusers and addictive personalities, alcoholism still carries a heavy taint of moral weakness.

Another truism in US public life is it doesn't matter how much substance there is to a rumor - you win when you force opponent to deny it. Just strikes me as the height of chicken-s*** to level that type of accusation at someone who's no longer around to defend himself.

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In full agreement Steve - hitting someone with dirt when they are no longer here speaks volumes of the mudslingers -base cowardice, plain & simple.
The late General still towers above them, warts & all.


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""Stand Firm against all the odds" films and the myths behind events mentioned above are perfect instruments in the hands of people pushing for wars like Vietnam or Irak"

Lacoby, do you believe that it is always better to surrender than to stand firm? What if you are facing an enemy who means to massacre you whether you surrender or not?

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Who is Pilatus?

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Contrary to your ignorant opinion, the Alamo is not a big heroic myth. Its a historical fact about common people united to fight for what they believed in. If Santa Anna had been more a benevolent dictator he might have been remembered as a ruler with a irritable streak yet ready to listen to reason instead of a smug self butcher and dictator and he wouldn't have died in Mexico city as without a penny to his name some 40 odd years later . If they hadn't delayed Santa Anna at the Alamo, he would forced marched his men just as he did from Mexico covering the distance in half the usual time from Mexico to the Texas province, bragging he was going to take Washington as well. Heck the British burned Washington including the WH in 1812 and they came across the sea, imagine someone like Santa who could conscript thousands more on the same continent had an equal ifnot better chance to make good his boast but for his acute, Narcissism wherein he has to have the last word and win the last battle.

13 days he sat while Sam Houstone was working forming a proper army. But he could not have done that if Santa Anna vanity hadn't had him stop at the Alamo for 13 days just to cross cannons with 200 Texanos. Santa Anna referred to it as "a small affair" and it was that arrogance that short sighted him when it came to Houston. He could have left left the Alamo where it was and let the defenders sit on their butts and cook in the sun while he got down to use his troops to put some pain on Houston's motley bunch. But that's how people like him screw up.

So no, you azzwipe, its not still a big mythic anything. Its a part of American history as much as the Revolutionary and Civil war, that's continually studied as much as WW2 and Vietnam and all the big wars that are mulled over and rethought as too how things might have gone differently if such and such detail were changed.

So before you open your mouth again and prove yourself once and for all the fool think twice or at least once more.

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The defenders could have left as well. They were, in fact, ordered to.
Instead they stayed, and mostly died running, or executed

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*I understand that in fact, unlike in the movie, Gordon and the Mahdi never met face to face, and special explanation had to be made to the Mahdi's grandson about the necessity for the sake of dramatic action, etc; Apparently the grandson was not at all displeased with the movie. You can learn a lot from those little pre- and post-movie talks from Robt Osborne on TCM, IMHO.


Heston spent quite a bit of his autobiography talking about this film. I remember his recounting the Mahdi's grandson's reaction to the dramatic license: After conceding that Gordon and the Mahdi never met, he said something like, "Ah, but they should have!"

"I am Mr. Shackelford's attorney, Rusty Shackelford, and my client pleads insanity."

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I must disagree with Lacoby's objection. In a war situation as Gordon was in, especially with the city under siege, the hoarding and selling of food was a capital crime. This is like the issue of execution for desertion in battle. They were hard but necessary measures for hard times. Most of the West has not seen war up close for over 50 years so it is easy for us to indulge our sentimentalities.

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Sentimentalities...

Well, I think your opinion reflects the fact that we have seen countless garbage war glorifying movies over the last century. If the hard and cruel situation of war is presented in cinema, it is usually quite explicit in the way it shows brutality. But usually it does not discuss war at all. When someone leaves a war movie he/she should be shatterd and sick of this ultimate inhumane situation. But not feel sympahty for someone who is good at leading wars, like Gordon. If the director had any responsibility or interest to care about anything else than Gordon's heroics he would confront us with the ultimate consequences of sending someone to death. What this actually means...

"Necessary measures in war"... Pretty cynical. Nothing in war is necessary, as war should never be necessary. Like executing somebody who deserts from battlefield. How strange a situation is it actually to kill someone who's main proble is to be afraid of getting killed? Of course this happened. But shouldn't a film at least take a critical angle at it?


Gordon's involvement in this was yet another fatal involvement of British imperialism. One can argue that the Empire has learned it's lession (as it fell apart) and art and film definitely has seen it coming (take HEART OF DARKNESS for an example). Gordon was a professional soldier, somewhat of a mercenary, who fought wars worlds removed from Britain and never actually defended his country but, chased his own heroics and spot in history. You say "In a war situation as Gordon was in". Well he did not exactly end up there by bad luck. Gordon never did anything else, really...



"All in all the house is very creepy - so you gotta stay with me! Come on!"

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You should leave a war movie feeling sick.... Actualy the most accurate war movie would be three weeks long - twenty days,twenty three hours and 55 min. of sheer boredom - followed by ten min. of the most frighting,numbing violence and horror you could'nt even concive of.
But would anyone want to see it?
Probably not! Any way you would'nt get any producer to fork out the dough to get it made in the first place.
Having said that-most people don't go to the movies to end up leaving "sick and shattered".... your average joe goes to be "entertained",not educated. Making an "anti-war" film is like a holly-roller making a movie about sin- and about as interesting.
Since before the dawn of time, humans have sadly settled their differances by violence,( monkeys, our ancestors, will frequently "hunt" and kill other monkeys from different groups) and a frighteningly large percentage of us seem to greatly enjoy it. Partly, War exists because man loves it- it's catharsis, it's rush of adrenalin, it's color,pagentry and exitment. War feeds on fear, anger and jelousy. But it's more complicated than that... War brings people together, as they never would in peace time. People will make sacrifices and perform the most amazing actions to help each other in wartime-that they would not do otherwise. Sorry, but it's true. War is like disease- as long as there are people, we will have illness.
As for war not being "nessesary"...
I'm sorry but it was "nessary" to stop Adolf from conquering the world and killing off all the non blond haired/blue eyed people he so disliked. As long as there is injustice, backed up by brute force, there will be war. As long as some people belive that their god is the only god or that their political beliefs are the only valid ones or that they are of a "superior" race, there will be war.
If a man broke into your home,tried to steal your posesions and kill you-
you're telling us you would'nt fight back, that it would be wrong?
Every one has a right to defend themselves.

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Your analysis of the situation is basic at best, and the scenario at Khartoum is not simply one you can dismiss as another example of British imperialism gone wrong (though of course you can find many examples elsewhere). Rather than criticising Gordon, who can by no stretch of the imagination be called the aggressor, you might be better off considering the role in the previous decades of the Egyptian Khedive and the extension of his empire into the Sudan. Gordon's task was originally to evacuate the remaining Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan, but for a multitude of reasons including Gordon's own judgement, this was not possible, and a couple of times he had attempted to appoint a local successor in Khartoum in order to achieve some kind of autonomy.

I think you're extrapolating a specific event in the film as if it has historical weight, which is just wrong. Gordon was not "fighting wars", as you put it, and you might benefit from reading a couple of historical accounts and source material on the siege of Khartoum and (more importantly) the background explaining why he was there. The film is not the place to get any of this information.

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Well said, Lacoby. Way more eloquent than my attempt to describe the childish behavior of people like Gordon.

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Three Empires on The Nile..... a most excellent book and weaves ol Gordon in quite well.

http://www.amazon.com/Three-Empires-Nile-Victorian-1869-1899/dp/0743280717

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`Should I stay or should I go?'

Another famous seige - The Alamo - asks that very question. Do you stay and face honourable slaughter, or run away and live to fight another day? John Wayne's rather imaginative interpretation addresses exactly that, with Bowie and Travers arguing the merits for either case.

In `Khartoum', the Mahdi makes it clear that he means to kill all the non-Muslims and Egyptians, as a warning to others in Arabia. His view is that their slaughter will be a small sacrifice to avoid future bloodshed when he takes his campaign elsewhere, ultimately to Constantinople. They will constitute what would today be called acceptable collateral damage. The Mahdi means to sacrifice these people no matter what else. And it is inevitable that if Gordon stays he must die too, whether he resists or not. So what should he do?

Those with an eye for the news will remember the so-called `safe havens' established by NATO for the civilian populations in Bosnia. They may also remember how some NATO soldiers - in particular, the Dutch contingent - reneged upon their charge and abandoned those safe havens to the besieging Serbian army. The result was genocide, for which General Mladic has still to face trial. Whether the tiny NATO contingent could have actually stopped the Serbian army by force of arms is highly unlikely, but their presence might have been moral resistance enough.

General Gordon was at least man enough to lead from the front and die with his men, which is more than can be said for the likes Hague in WW1. If more generals (and politicians) had to lead their armies, we might have fewer wars.

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Basically the OP is a pacifist and won't be satisfied no matter the answer because the only answer is to demonize warfare.

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I fully agree with the majority of the posters here.

Tawhicks, good point about stealing public food stores in a city that is beseiged. Contrary to the OP, this is clearly a capital crime. My only adjustment would have been to make the execution more public, to bolster morale and send a stronger message.

Also, the OP clearly did not understand the most basic premise of the entire movie: surrender was not an option. Either bow to oppression, or die. The villian stated that there would be no evacuation, for he intended on killing all.

I think the OP made his level of awareness clearer yet with the following assertion:

"Nothing in war is necessary, as war should never be necessary."

Hello, did you just watch this movie? "Should," what a wonderful escape. Of course, war "should" never be necessary, but guess what, sometimes it is. What a luxurious and sophmoric sentiment. It is lovely up until the point that one decides to wage war on you. At that point I would love to hear the opinion on what is "necessary" and what "should" happen.

In all fairness, I used to have thoughts similar to the OP, but by the time I reached my early teens I realized that not all people play by rules of civility and fair play. There really are people out there that will kill you (wage war on you) for the $15 in your wallet. Try explaining to them that it's not necessary, or that they shouldn't do this, after they slice open your thorax.

I also agree with Lentr, none of this logic is going to penetrate the OP's defense. (who is, by the way, a beneficiary of warfare).

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"Nothing in war is necessary, as war should never be necessary."

Hmm.. so by that logic, Britain and the U.S. should've sat on their hands while Adolf Hitler's Germany conquered half of Europe and decimated the continent's Jewish population?

While I do agree that wars are usually just a terrible and tragic waste, there are instances where the use of force and "standing firm *is* required. Not everyone in the world is a pacifist, you know.

"Tawhicks, good point about stealing public food stores in a city that is beseiged. Contrary to the OP, this is clearly a capital crime. My only adjustment would have been to make the execution more public, to bolster morale and send a stronger message."

Exactly.

What's the big deal? Stealing food for personal profit in a besieged city is surely as bad as, say, looting electronics-stores or private homes in a city that's been hit by a natural desaster. This guy endangered the lives of thousands of people to make some quick cash. IMO, that's worse than murder. What would've been the alternative? Give the guy a friendly slap on the wrist and tell him to never do it again?

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A world with no room for the Gordons, is a world that will return to the sands.

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A contemporary who was in the relief column said regarding Gordon, "...the man was not worth the camels.." (expended in the march to save him)

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A contemporary who was in the relief column said regarding Gordon, "...the man was not worth the camels.." (expended in the march to save him)


It should be noted that this "contemporary" was Redvers Buller, a man who couldn't gather enough camels for the relief column, yet managed to procure 46 camels just to carry his personal supply of Fortnum & Mason delicacies and magnums of Veuve Clicquot on campaign. Today, Buller has become somewhat of a byword for military stupidity and out-dated attitudes to warfare.



"I told you it was off." The Jackal

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He also earned the Victoria Cross only a few years previously in Zululand. Still at this peak in 1885. With such detail in your post you should know that impedimenta was part of campaigning if one is an officer of means.

I think Buller is being rehabilitated regarding the Boer War campaign.Have read two books and one is critical and the other more conciliatory.

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Still at this peak in 1885. With such detail in your post you should know that impedimenta was part of campaigning if one is an officer of means.


Peak? At a time when the Desert Column was crying out for baggage camels, Buller was refusing their requests on the grounds that he had not a single animal to send. And no, it is not true "impedimenta" was par for the course. During the campaign, Wolseley, the General Officer Commanding in Chief, had only two shirts -- one to wear while the other was "airing".



"I told you it was off." The Jackal

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Sudanese campaign run rather lean compared to Zululand in 1879

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If memory serves, that "contemporary" was the same imbecile responsible for the disasters at Spion Kop and Colenso during the Boer War.

"Do you know what lies at the bottom of the mainstream? Mediocrity!"

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If you have read extensively into those battles you would know Buller had extremely poor subordinates to deal with and they caused those disasters.

The basic plan of relieving Ladysmith used was his only the British were able to properly coordinate combined arms and had capable batt/reg commanders.

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I don't buy it. Any number of incompetent generals plead bad subordinates but it's a convenient dodge. You don't get points for plans brilliant on paper, or else George McClellan is America's greatest general. If Buller had exercised firmer control over either battle, the bumbling of Warren and Co. would not have played such a decisive role.

"Do you know what lies at the bottom of the mainstream? Mediocrity!"

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Agree with you on this one.
What happened to the phrase, the buck stops here?!

I can't recall subordinates being held responsible for the disaster that was Isandhlwana but....Chelmsford got off lightly for his earlier errors and military short-sightedness in the 1879 War.

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Nice to see you, Ron.

To be fair, Buller didn't rate himself highly as a general. To paraphrase Churchill he was a modest man with much to be modest about. Brave, widely-liked but little military sense.

Re: Isandlwana you could argue that Pulleine deserves censure for his poor tactical decisions in the field. A better-manned perimeter would obviously have resulted in better chance of success. On the other hand, if Chelmsford hadn't sent the bulk of his force on a wild goose chase it would have been moot.

You're definitely right about Chelmsford getting off lightly. Ulundi probably saved his bacon, but there he had better firepower that the Zulus couldn't hope to match.

"Do you know what lies at the bottom of the mainstream? Mediocrity!"

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Yes, hello yet again Hancock!
Agree, again, your comments above. Chelmsford's "wild goose chase" summed that sorrowful episode up pretty well.
Also referring back to TEL, and of course Gordon, isn't it a matter of some fascination why so many British figures have been drawn to the desert, many of them perhaps with secrets and with personal, shall I say, confusions?
Having read some of our (British) history in parts of Africa, it seems many of the former colonial administrators were drawn to the desert arid regions of northern Nigeria, ruled by the Emirs, enjoying vastly, the camel and horse racing, and the culture.
I am almost sure some don or other will have written a thesis on this very subject! :))

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Durnford was blamed as was Pulleine.

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You wrote responsible and I took you literally. Senior leader always responsible on a nominal level but when a battle is deconstructed then we can see what actually occurs.

I thought you were far more discerning than your comments indicate regarding military history.

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Dude (Sascha-17), why are you arguing with me? Re-read my post. You are reaffirming everything I said. Thanks, man, and have one for me.

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"Some (in the review section) link this film and the events it is based on to 9/11."
Well, only if the Queen set it up...

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