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Dane-Geld:

A comment leads me to repost Dane-Geld, a Kipling poem that I put up a few years ago. Today the Danes are the good guys rather than, as in the poem, the bad guys, and of course the fear isn't of nations but of extremist religious groups. But the principle is the same: When you give in to threats of violence, this just emboldens the threateners to demand more. What happens when someone wants to do a movie of Mohammed's life? Or says harsh things about Islam that some extremist Muslims find offensive or even blasphemous? Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.

In any case, here's the poem; it actually isn't one of Kipling's best from the standpoint of craft — his historical poems generally aren't, I think — but it's still pretty good:

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour 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!

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.

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!"

Fishbane (mail):
Behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated.

Another great reason not to pay taxes!
3.30.2006 8:26pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Which brings up the Gods of the Copybook Headings:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."
3.30.2006 8:33pm
Al Jackson (mail):

I approve of Kipling, but Charles Pinckney said it more succinctly:

"Millions for defense, sir, but not one cent for tribute."

Or if you prefer historical accuracy, what he probably actually said:

"No, no, not a sixpence."
3.30.2006 9:07pm
Mr Kipling (mail):
It is always a temptation in a terrorist-hit nation
To go on Prime Time TV and to say: --
"We are put upon, that's right — so let's find someone to fight,
And that will help your fear to go away."
And that is called asking for Vain-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you've only to inflict the Vain-geld
And you'll be freed of all worry and pain!

It is always a temptation if Al Qaeda's on vacation,
To find some benighted country and to say: --
"Though we know you weren't involved, domestic problems will be solved
If we liberate you from your Despot straight away."

And that is called playing the Vain-geld;
But we've proved it again and again,
That deciding to go after Vain-geld
Is shortsighted, wrong and inane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of a great nation,
To stoke their fear while taking rights away;
So when you see their case on lies and cant is based,
You will find it better policy to say: --

"We do not give-in to Vain-geld,
No matter how heavy the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And a nation's great soul all but lost."
3.30.2006 10:08pm
Walk It:
Hey, I like Kipling too! So much there:

...When Pack meets with Pack in the Jungle, and neither will go from the trail,
Lie down till the leaders have spoken—it may be fair words shall prevail.
When ye fight with a Wolf of the Pack, ye must fight him alone and afar,
Lest others take part in the quarrel, and the Pack be diminished by war.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, and where he has made him his home,
Not even the Head Wolf may enter, not even the Council may come.
The Lair of the Wolf is his refuge, but where he has digged it too plain,
The Council shall send him a message, and so he shall change it again.
...

"and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack." Good stuff. Poetry lets you float off on some many thought waves. That lair bit makes me think of the dissent in Georgia v. Randolph.
3.30.2006 10:15pm
David C. (www):
Woo Hoo, I am famous!
3.30.2006 10:48pm
David C. (www):
And we have become a "rich and lazy nation" in so many ways
3.30.2006 10:49pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Yup, the Law of the Jungle is another of my favorites.
3.30.2006 10:54pm
Walk It:
:)
3.30.2006 11:27pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
Aye, and he woulda been Poet Lariat if he hadn' called the queen the Widder of Winsor.

Tommy Atkins
3.30.2006 11:34pm
Bart Motes (mail):
And who is the Widow of Windsor now who sends those troopers to flap round the world till they're dead?
3.31.2006 12:04am
rbj:
My favorite Kipling quote (well, tangentially) is:
Young man "Do you like Kipling?"
Demur young lady "I don't know, you naughty boy. I've never Kipled."
3.31.2006 8:48am
srg (mail):
Actually paying the Dane-geld was a successful policy for the English, wasn't it?
3.31.2006 10:13am
Maniakes (mail) (www):
Depends how you define success, srg. England first paid Danegeld in 991, and the Danes came back for more in 994, 1002, 1007, and 1012. In 1012, they sacked Canturbury before being paid off. The Danes then invaded England in 1013 and again in 1015, leaving a Danish dynasty (Canute I, Harold I, and Haracanute) on the English throne until Edward the Confessor was elected in 1042. Ethelred II, who paid these Danegelds and was eventually overthrown by the Danes, is remembered by the sobriquet "The Unready".
3.31.2006 11:02am
Mike Schilling (mail):
More simply:


There is nothin' like a Dane,
Nothin' in the world,
There is nothin' you can name
That is anythin' like a Dane!
3.31.2006 11:14am
srg (mail):
Maniakes,

I believe that in an earlier period, the late 9th century, paying Danegeld was a successful policy for Alfred the Great. If you know more of the history of that period than I do, I would be happy to be corrected. As far as I know, you are correct about the period you describe, the late 10th and 11th centuries.
3.31.2006 11:50am
Abe Delnore:
Paying the Danegeld may not have been the best policy for England, but over the long term collecting it seems to have been a good thing for the English kings.

The administrative establishment that developed to collect the Danegeld is regarded by medievalists as quite advanced and a key component of the effectiveness of the high medieval English monarchy. Bear in mind that practically no kingdom had a system of taxation at that time, particularly not one that could yield stable and predictable revenue, but this is exactly what the Danegeld system set out to do. English kings continued collecting the Danegeld even when there were no Danes to pay off and used it to fund, among other things, their military forces.

(I do realize some readers will consider extension of a government's taxing apparatus to be a bad thing.)
3.31.2006 12:11pm
KeithK (mail):
srg, you may be correct that paying the Danegeld was successful for Alfred. But that just proves the point of the poem. The Danes just kept coming back.
3.31.2006 12:45pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
- That's an interesting analogy, but it becomes vaguely racist when you're using it on someone actually of scandinavian or germanic origin. Part of the whole "Huns are animals" type thing. Would Italiangeld be OK? How about Jewgeld? African-Americangeld? Hispanicgeld?

- It also fails as an analogy when the geld sought is a valid claim. If you were to steal from someone and try to weasel out of the debt by claiming it was "danegeld" you would just be trying to cowardly weasel out of a debt. You wouldn't be some elder statesmen or resistor of tyranny - just a two-bit conman trying to weasel out of what is owed.
3.31.2006 1:14pm
MikeR (mail):
As someone of Scandinavian and Germanic ancestry, I don't think it racist at all. (Nor, by the way, do I think my ancestry relevant to the discussion, except in reference to AP's comment above.)

Geld meant money or payment in Old English (and still means money in German today) and so Danegeld simply meant money paid to the Danes. That it was money extorted by the Danes is what gives the term its pejorative connotation, but that was the fault of the Danes and no one else.

Danegeld seems to me to be as neutral as a descriptive term can be. It is not a characterization like calling the Huns animals. Though Huns are, technically and like everyone else, animals, it is not because of the Huns that animals is perjorative when used in reference to people.
3.31.2006 1:52pm
TomH (mail):
If the receipt of Danegeld was the "fault of the Danes" then why are excuses made for the actions of the muslims who attack innocents? I.e. they are poorly treated and poor becasue of US foreign policy, thus, they have a right to attack us. That was an "explanation" cum excuse, which was heard quite a bit from the left, particularly after 9/11 occurred.

Perhaps the Danes were merely an economic and political minority with corrupt government at home. Pity the poor Dane, and shame on you monks of Lindisfarne for flaunting yourself.
3.31.2006 2:05pm
markm (mail):
Creating a taxation structure capable of paying for enough military force to defend your borders definitely is a good thing. Using those taxes to collect money to pay off threatening foreigners is bad in the long run; they keep coming back for more. The English never permanently get rid of the Danes (a name they used for all Norsemen). Rather, there was a takeover by the Normans, who were Norsemen settled in France. First there was a part-Norman king (Edward the Confessor), and finally the Norman Conquest in 1066.
3.31.2006 3:10pm
Abe Delnore:
A minor point about Aethelred: his nickname "Unraed" is literally translated "unread"--or, better, "redeless"--with the meaning "poorly advised" or "ill counseled." "Unready," although catchy, is not at all correct and will get you poor marks in an Old English or Anglo-Saxon history course.

Anyway, "Aethelred Unraed" a pun because "Aethelred" means "noble counsel." Thus, he was "the nobly-counseled king who got bad advice."

What bad advice did Aethelred receive? Well, for starters, paying the Danegeld, which was urged upon him by the archbishop of Canterbury and the nobles of the areas that were to be ravaged. Facing ruin, they would much rather have had the burden of being the Danes' neighbors spread across the entire kingdom and so persuaded the king to gather a ransom payment. But as argued above, eventually the system of gathering revenue kingdom-wide worked to the kings' advantage.
3.31.2006 5:06pm
Robert Macaulay (mail):
The modern world has turned Kipling's words on their head, but the meaning remaisn the same.

When once you get rid of the Dane
You must always pay the Danegeld
3.31.2006 7:23pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
As someone of Scandinavian and Germanic ancestry, I don't think it racist at all. (Nor, by the way, do I think my ancestry relevant to the discussion, except in reference to AP's comment above.)

Suit yourself, but it does imply extortion. That's why calling a debt that isn't extortion "danegeld" is a cheap, cowardly, and in some cases insulting attempt to avoid a debt.

Geld meant money or payment in Old English (and still means money in German today) and so Danegeld simply meant money paid to the Danes. That it was money extorted by the Danes is what gives the term its pejorative connotation, but that was the fault of the Danes and no one else.

No, it was the fault of those Danes, not all that have ever lived since. It's similar, though not as severe, to anti-semitic people who call Jewish people "Christ-killers" - smearing a whole racial or ethnic group with a pejorative term from a historical act or acts that only part of a group at a particular time were involved in.

It's also similar to calling or comparing people of germanic descent who don't act like or believe in the ideology of the Nazis "nazis". It's smearing a whole ethnic group for the historical acts of some members of that ethnic group.

Danegeld seems to me to be as neutral as a descriptive term can be. It is not a characterization like calling the Huns animals. Though Huns are, technically and like everyone else, animals, it is not because of the Huns that animals is perjorative when used in reference to people.

See above. At least in some, I would say all, modern usages it implies extortion or coercion. That's why its a cheap, cowardly, emotionally manipulative tactic to call a normal debt "Danegeld".

I'm not saying its a big deal and I'm not one to get offended at things like that, and I don't think most people of germanic or scandinavian descent would, but it is or can be vaguely racist to use the term, especially when it is applied incorrectly to legitimate claims.
3.31.2006 9:25pm
Maniakes (mail) (www):
srg, I can't find anything about Alfred the Great paying Danegeld, but I'm not an expert on the period (I've just read a book or two on pre-Norman England and poked around on wikipedia). Wikipedia seems to indicate that AtG fought the Danes to a standstill, although it's quite possible he also paid them off at various times and the wikipedia article is just incomplete (wouldn't be the first time that happened). If he did, it seems to have worked out much better for him than it did for Ethelred 90 years later.

Or you may be confusing "Danegeld" with "Danelaw" (a Danish client state set up in northwestern England during Alfred the Great's reign). Accepting Danelaw was arguably a very successful policy for Alfred the Great, chosing not to risking the parts of England he controlled by fighting battles he probably couldn't win.
3.31.2006 9:54pm
srg (mail):
Maniakes,

As I understand it, Alfred's policy included both Danegeld and Danelaw and succeeded on both counts.

Keith K,

The fact that Danegeld failed a hundred years later does not disprive that it was a successful policy under Alfred. Probably it is pointless to generalize and say that paying Danegeld is always good or always bad.
4.1.2006 11:49am
MikeR:
No, it was the fault of those Danes, not all that have ever lived since.

Correct, and I didn't mean to imply otherwise.

It's similar, though not as severe, to anti-semitic people who call Jewish people "Christ-killers" - smearing a whole racial or ethnic group with a pejorative term from a historical act or acts that only part of a group at a particular time were involved in.

Here I disagree. The fact that Danegeld is called Danegeld is, to me, of purely historical and etymological interest. It does not tar the nationality.

Finally, I would agree that the term should only be used with reference to extortion.
4.1.2006 7:42pm