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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
On Sunday last I attended a special performance for V.C.s of "Journey's End". What crowds and what policemen outside the theatre! Of course not such crowds and not so many policemen as would embelish the arrival of a Hollywood film-star at a cinema-theatre. No, No! We must not expect too much from ourselves.
Well ther are only two decorations free from some kind of stain of undeservingness. One is the O.M. and the other is the V.C. And I have doubts about even the O.M. The V.C. is the reward of "conspicuous bravery in presence of the enemy". It is nearly seventy-five years old. And less than ten years have elapsed since somebody in authority had the idea of extending it to women. Nurses had on occasion been conspicuously brave in presence of the enemy for more than sixty years while the greatest of all decorations was denied to their heroism!
In the theatre V.C.s were all over the place - hundreds of them. Most of them wore three to six medals; but a few had only the crimson ribbon and the bronze Maltese Cross of the V.C. Without the ribbon and the cross nobody could possibly have picked them out as heroes, though they were in the main a hefty and rather challenging lot. And they were unconventional, careless in demeanour, self-unconscious and the very reverse of dandies. The large majority seemed to be young and youngish men of strictly limited incomes. We give our V.C. heroes £10 per annum, and if they conspicuously risk their lives a second time, we give them an extra £5 for every new peril. In special circumstances we even increase their allowance to the grandiose amount of £50 per annum. There is nothing like reckless generosity. It proves a bounteous soul.
The younger men excited admiring respect in me. But the old men, the ageing men, the portly men who had in the worldly sense 'succeeded', all the mature men with their dignity of presence - these excited in me more than admiring respect. They excited in me the tender feeling which pathos excites. They had once been young and adventurous and audacious. They had done marvels of audacity; but all that happened a long time ago, and now they were sobered and a bit prim, and conscious of experience, and deliberate in gesture. I say it was touching.
A strange night, impressive, disturbing to one's sense of relative values! Why do we put physical courage before all other qualities? I don't know. But we do. And since we do there must be some reason for the preference deep in the primal instincts of human nature. I could argue that moral courage is rarer, and may be more intense, and may certainly be richer in good results for society, than physical courage. But if a decoration was instituted to bestow upon the doers of moral courage in the presence of rooted social prejudices, should we seriously think twice about it? We should not. Ten to one we should laugh at it.
Additionally for November 13th., see 'Art appreciation' -
The total conglomerate effect - loud voices falling coarsely on the silence; untouched sandwiches; silk-hatted man; dowdy-ish, self-possessed woman; innured quiet art critic practising his trade in the spirit of a tradesman; and the rank, calm, supercilious, harsh nudity - the effect was bizarre and memorable.