Jobs Report; Minority Voters; Light Brigade

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Good morning, it’s Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. On this date in 1854, a London newspaper published a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson so evocative of battlefield bravery that it was still being memorized by schoolchildren a century later -- on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Charge of the Light Brigade” is short poem, comprising only six stanzas and 260 words. There is no buildup; the first verse sets up the action and foretells the coming of the real-life military calamity than had taken place two months earlier on the Crimean Peninsula.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a League onward
All in the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns,” he said.
Into the Valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

In a moment, I’ll have more on this poem, the war that inspired it, and a certain Tennyson phrase that is still being used -- and misused -- today.  First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

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Jobs Report Takeaway: It’s Morning in America. Steve Cortes sees parallels between the robust economy under Donald Trump and the markers that propelled Ronald Reagan to reelection in 1984.           

Democrats, You Must Engage and Persuade Minority Voters. Antjuan Seawright warns party leaders not to take African Americans and Latinos for granted.

Bill Barr’s Reservations About IG Report. Thomas Farnan lays out areas that the Justice Department’s inspector general did not investigate but which U.S. Attorney John Durham’s criminal investigation is likely to shed light upon.

Continued Threat to Religious Liberty Is Undeniable. Kelly Shackelford writes that the frequency and intensity of attacks on people of faith are increasing.

I Cover Financial Crime. I Was Held Up Without a Gun. In RealClearInvestigations, John F. Wasik tells how hackers hijacked his identity to print personal checks and drain thousands from his bank account while applying for loans in his name and more. 

Six Reasons Why NATO’s London Declarations Matter. Ben Hodges and Bradley Bowman explain in RealClearDefense.

Free-Market Purists Dismiss Elon Musk at Their Peril. RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny makes his case here.

World War II’s Most Ill-Advised Battle. In RealClearHistory, John Rossi revisits Operation Market Garden.

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Four years before the disastrous battle that led to the writing of “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Lord Tennyson had been named poet laureate by Queen Victoria. As such, his blunt questioning of the judgment of clueless British officers who led their cavalry to slaughter carried weight. It also gave cover to British subjects who wished to examine the wisdom of fighting the Crimean War itself. And that was a war that demanded healthy official skepticism. In any event, within three weeks of the publishing of Tennyson’s poem, an antiwar riot would take place at Trafalgar Square.

War had broken out one year before the doomed charge of the light brigade after Czar Nicholas I dispatched the Russian army into present-day Romania to protect the interest of millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians living in the sprawling Ottoman Empire. As subsequent historical events would prove -- and they are still taking place today -- protecting the rights of religious minorities in that part of the world was a sound instinct. But Britain and France saw Russia’s aims as expansionist and they sent warships and troops to fight on the side of the Turks. The ensuing war in Crimea, which cost half a million lives, settled nothing.

It did popularize a version of a phrase that had been kicking around Britain for more than two centuries, however. That phrase is “do or die.”

It was first used, as best language scholars can ascertain, by a British playwright named John Fletcher. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Fletcher is largely forgotten now, even though in his own time he was nearly as prominent as the Bard, with whom he often collaborated. In a Fletcher play titled “The Island Princess,” a character says, “Let’s meet, and either do or die!”

In modern day America, “do or die” has become a cliché used mainly in sports, which trivializes the concept. But Tennyson was going for something more fatalistic: The mounted soldiers in the Light Brigade had no chance, no matter how hard they fought. Their option wasn’t to “do or die.” It was to flee or charge forward to certain defeat. It was to do and die.

“Was there a man dismayed?” Tennyson wrote, implying that they would have done their duty anyway:

Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred

Carl M. Cannon 
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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