President Barry Soetero-Barak Hussein Obama is putting out feelers, or trial balloons about reducing troop strength in Afghanistan and that is after he used the carrot of build-up in Afghanistan to reduce forces in Iraq. He is closing the prison in Guantanamo. He has said he believes in a world without nuclear weapons. He supports a two state solution in Israel to the Palestinian crisis. He was endorsed by Hamas before the election. He is alligned with the ACORN agency recently exposed as very averse to keeping the law. He has said he believes we must stop using coal. He has been explicit in making Islam an equaly important fount of culture in the United States with Christianity. He is devoted to stirring up a great deal of animosity in towns where nobody has yelled and screamed in a political gathering since the War Between the States.
I find him to be a real threat to national security. However, I haven’t been feeling all that secure before he got here. I know some good military people that I would like to think are my friends although I have never worn my country’s uniform. I would be happy to see the constitution ammended to seat some senior officers upon retirement in more important government positions. However, I do believe that we are losing the struggle for a culture which is both militarily effective and decent. I was reading in this morning’s home’s rural sheriff has organized a junior posse where youngster’s can learn a little about law enforcement and a lot about horses. I like that my elected official is doing that. It may be a seed bed for a renewal of chivalry in this area. Here is some food for thought.
This post originalyappeared on my Facebook Account on August 28, 2008.
Chivalry is dead. “No it’s not dead, I saw a dude open the door for his woman last week”. Chivalry and Knighthood are among my favorite subjects about which I have never written for pay or publication except in some passing comment in a larger piece. I once heard Margaret Thatcher on C-Span’s coverage of the Prime Minister’s question time and one of her own people gave her a softball question. “Does not the honorable lady resent the tone of these proceedings and regret that chivalry is truly dead?” The elder statesman had a fierce quiet about him.
“Chivalry is not truly dead so long as the right honorable gentlemman is here to defend it and exemplify it.” Thatcher’s reply was entirely riveting in its delivery.
Chivalry is one of the greater mysteries of the world in my view. It has seen many distinct forms but it has some common ideal essence underlying those forms. There have been good knights and evil knights, famous knights and obscure knights. Great knights have been known for their great wealth but among the wealthiest were a group long distinguished by their poverty. Knights have been avowed celibate aesthetics, courtly lovers and Bon Vivants. What then is a knight? What then is chivalry?
Many very serious books by good scholars have been written on the subject of chivalry and knights. Yet oftentimes these books share the same serious mistake they confuse one or a few traditions of chivalry with the whole of the chivalric tradition. On the other hand, a number of books heavy with photos, etching, drawings anecdotes and quotes out of context that were intended as popular quasi-scholarship have done a better job of capturing the essence and the breadth of chivalry. While not refering to any specific books this has been my experience.
In this note I want to discuss some of the chivalric traditions and institutions of my own heritage in the context of all that is chivalry. Like alll these notes this is being written without many or any sources at hand, in a kind of hurry and briefly. Yet, here it goes and here I go again.
I will start with chivalry, an English word deriving from the French word “Chevalier” which for all practical purposes is synonymous with the English word knight but also is a word like “horseman”. It refers to the animal in the word itself –“cheval” being the word for horse.
Horses, his order, women, weapons and the divine make up the points of the knightly star. Horses are important. Too little horse and there really can be no knight. Knights are not just whatever someone thinks that they are. One of the things which I want to confront directly is the idea that horsefighting and cavalry are obsolete.
Hard as it will be for US military types to accept, I seriously believe that if the US had 10,000 top knotch horse troops in Iraq and Afghanistan it would be an enormous assistance to American efforts in those theaters. It would also mean thirty thousand war horses, five thousand guide and dispatch horses, two thousand pack mules and ideally about four thousand specialized dogs in work groups and teams. Local young people could be hired to care for many of these animals creating at least two thousand employees who could not betray valuable secrets but could develop close ties to their employing American horsemen. Horse armor and meds would be a huge area of military research as would helicopter and transport plane transit for the horseborne units. The amount of jamming equipment, communications gear and and IED detecting instruments that can be carried by a well armored man on a Clydesdale or Percheron backed up by a pack mule far exceeds what two men can carry into rough terrain. The speed and point of view of men on Arabians and Thoroughbreds in the front of the same squadron is much better in many situations than a fine special forces scout can ever achieve. After these advantages there are others not so obvious to having horse units in the field. Just because we don’t design for horse war does not mean that it is obsolete. Horse troops with infantry under air support could do many things which are currently impossible.
Most countries in the world today which issue knighthoods of any kind leave the horse completely out of the official eqasion. However, until the British recently abolished fox hunting, British knights have usually remained a demonstrably horsey set. Republican France maintains both some knighthoods and some official ceremonial cavlary units. Horseback hunting is also still practiced by the French nobility last I checked. When the influence of the horse is completely gone so is the chivalry. Some camel mounted, elephant mounted and dog drawn warriors had as fine an embryonic set of knightly values in ages past as anyone could. Greek footsoldiers laid the foundations of much of Chivalry as did shipborne Viking marines. Without exception however, when chivalry reached its peak in a society the horse played a vital role in the institution.
I am not just picking on the modern British monarchy here although that is one of my favorite hobbies. Among the ceremonial knighthoods of an admittedly decadent and mysterious Acadian Royalty (last come close to full light in the time of Joseph Broussard, Chief Beausoleil des Acadiens who used that misspelling of Basileus Arkadios over his open court in the 18th century) the Ridelles have been groups of horsemen who oversaw the ceremonial Couriere de Mardi Gras in each community. Most of these groups have died out and many others use almost entirely automotive and foot transit for the ritual. I therefore feel no cultural superiority in this regard.
I will warm up any mind engaged in reading this note to the idea that a good part of it will be about Chivalry in the United States. I think that many people have a view that knighthood and the American tradition have little to do with one another or nothing at all. So we can look at some of the history and connections together. There has of course never been a king of the United States of America and that is a weakness in its chivalric claims as a nation. However, there is no requirement of perfect adhesion to all aspects of a chivalric ideal to be really a knight. While, I am inactive, I am a Knight of Columbus. That order does a lot of good under a knightly banner and with knightly ideals and style despite the imperfection of it chivalric structure.
One of the most controversial examples of raising the chivalric banner is that of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and their invisible empire. This group was made a success and a celebrated institution by one of its early members recruited by an obscure co-founder named Morton. That celebrated early member was one of the last great cavalry officers which history has given us to ponder. Nathan Bedford Forrest rose to high rank in the Cofederate army. This early Klansman who often was honored as “the wizard of the saddle” was a poorly educated and untitled self-made millionaire who had never held a commission or any public office prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. The original Klan which he rose to lead and which was a serious institution in so many ways was disbanded by him. This chivalric order has been very influential in American life.
I have a theory as to some of its original elements which is not a universally accepted theory. One of the many lies and myths used to justify the destruction of Constitutional government during the civil war and the unconscionable behavior of most union troops is the idea that the South felt threatened because it was paranoid but that the status quo would have gone on had the Southern states not brought all the misery on themselves. That is absurd.
There were northern and foreign provocateurs destroying civilization in the South in a big way from 1850 onwards. They found local and regional support and waves of violence and unrest plagued the region. Militia and vigilantes were raised to counter thses threat in some places. One of the largest vigilante organizations in American histoy existed among the Comites de Vigilance de La Louisiane. The most distinguished of these committees was the Comite de Vigilance des Attakapas which was located and centered near where I live. This is the land of the largely extinct or absorbed Attakapas Indian Nation. One of the principal captains was my ancestor Severeign Leblanc. He answered to the Moutons only who produced in a few generations a Governor of Louisiana and the most prominent Acadian officer in the Confederate forces — General Mouton who died at Shiloh but fought bravely around here whenever he got wounded in a Northern Campaign. Some say that the title of Basileus Arkadios or Basielus Arcadies (King of the Arcadians) passed from The Broussards Famille de Beausoleil to Moutons and then after the Civil War or during it trransferred to the Leblancs. The Moutons included many elements of the ancient ridelles in their instiutions. This mix of vigilante and ridelle elements is seen in much of the iconography of the Klan. The Klan even has a Greek name. It is Ku Klux but that signifies Cuclos which means circle. Thus the Circle Clan which has three Cs is now replaced with three Ks. Even Forrest’s Klan was in my opinion far inferior to the Comites. However, the non horse Klans since are not even close.
Forrest is alleged to have dissolved his Klan because discipline had been replaced with spasmodic violence. His own character was badly damaged I think but it was the ruin of a great thing. The Comites on the other hand, held a trial in absentia, then issued a warning to the accused to leave, then they flogged the person accused and left them alone and only if they did not then leave the region did they excute them by lynching. While there were exceptions this rule was really observed. They hired a professional historian to live among them and record their activities, published their names on occasion and supporting the growing political movement that became the Confederate States of America. No founders of the Klan had this formative experience but many were able meet or serve with former members during the war. When they had to the Comites enforced there orders against armed banditti with hundreds of gunmen. They used cannons, horses and drilled formationjs of fast shooting vigilantes to flush out hideouts of bandits. They never collapsed into the paranoid spasms of terrorism the Klan got into. But they never faced a situation with 200,000 armed and hate-filled slaves deiven by a rich and mechanized enemy. The Klan is a hard institution for me to judge.
Some say that the Comites still survive but there is not much evidence for it. Acadians have been in a state of decline until recently and the Comites were expensive.
In my family and extended family as well as in parts of my life that were very individual the chivalric ideal was tied into the ideal of the cowboy and the American horseman in other contexts. To our rough and ready western and Castilian riding skills we added the observation of cousins and strangers with postilian and horse show skills. The horses were a part of us all and as we learned to teach them they were teaching us a great deal. They were forming our minds along with constant pursuits with weapons. hunting, target shooting and relatives in military school combined with Catholicism which is one of the most chivalric forms of religion. That and the fact that later in life my grandfather became a Knight of St. Lazarus. He joined a knightly order that had once had its own army and navy and for which the Pope played the role unltimate Earthly prince and monarch. We sedlom discussed chivalry as directly applying to us but we did discuss it as a historic pattern and an institution or set of institutions.
I personally have added to that basic foundation with a lot of both academic and practical study of combat. I havealso taken a strong interest in a lot of other aspects of chivalry such as relating to women and to God. In my travels around the world I think I have learned a good bit that has in has further enriched my view of chivalry.
One of my Facebook friends is Louis De Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, head of the French House of Bourbon (Louis de Bourbon is not my Facebook friend as I post this on WordPress). He has gathered a company of knights around him to assert the claims of his family and restore the French Monarchy. Many Americans feel that the Fench republic is a kind of sister state to their own country. Actually a Bourbon king and the Marquis de Lafayette were among the largest financial and military backers of the revolution. Probably Louis and Marie Antoinette died mostly because of the money spent on our war. The Marquis was a lifelong constitutional royalist who helped put a Bourbon prince on the trhone again after the reign of teror and the revolution. Perhaps this Friends block member deserves a sympathetic reviewing of his plans by his American cyber neighbors.
There is far more I would like to discuss about Chivalry. Mostly how an order, weapons, a horse and a religion more help knights to develop skill in dealing with women. There have been a handful of women knights but far more of them worked with and encouraged the knights with whom they interacted. I am leaving a lot unsaid today in this note. But I say enough and sense some urgency to get my little voice into the ether.
Assuming I live long enough there I will probably be notes filling in the blanks in this note. I say long live chivalry!
The End of Facebook Post.
I know this does not directly address any of the policy issues I started this post with. However, it does deal with the issue of culture and one basis of national security. One of my cousins has recently been buried at Arlington after being killed in Afghanistan, He and I had a long talk about the nature of wars and warriors about a year before he died. I hope I will be worthy of the price he paid and do what I can to honor a brave volunteer who met his enemies at close range on the gorund much of the time. I have a peace heritage as well and have probaly gone a bit too far at times in that direction. But I hope the President of the United Staes is not undermining the basis of our independence and hope for peace.