Sunday, January 15, 2012

Horatio Nelson -- Champion of Liberty

Nelson -- Champion of Liberty
No visitor to London can afford to miss a view of Lord Horatio Nelson looking down from his perch atop Trafalgar square.  Nelson is virtually a secular saint to he British people.  He was the man who sacrificed an eye, an arm and finally his life to save his people from tyranny and dictatorship.

Here is a very brief summary of his life...

Horatio Nelson 1758 - 1805

1) He was the son of the reverend Edmond Nelson, born in Burnham Thorp in Norfolk.

2) He joined the Royal Navy at age 12 under the sponsorship of his uncle, Maurice Suckling.

3) He was an ambitious and capable officer who rose through the ranks serving on a number of ships and during the American Revolution.

4) In 1794 he serves in Corsica in the land battle of Bastia, where he was blinded in one of Cape St Vincent, he disobeyed a direct order from his superior (Admiral Jervis) and attacked and captured two Spanish ships.

6) At the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife he was wounded and lost an arm.

7) As admiral and the Battle of the Nile, (1798) he destroyed Napoleon's fleet marooning he and his army in Egypt.  13 British ships faced 13 French ships.  Nine French ships were capture and two were destroyed, including Brueys' flagship L'Orient which blew up.

8) As admiral at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801 he again defied a direct order to retire from his superior. He raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, "I really do not see the signal."  He beat the Danes who were allied to the French at that time.
Horatio Nelson
9) TRAFALGAR October 21st 1805.  This was the culmination of the Trafalgar campaign.  Napoleon lead an army of over 200,000 men camped at Boulogne just across the English channel from Britain.  Napoleon dispatched his Admiral Villeneuve from Toulon to the West Indies with the idea of trying to create a temporary naval supremacy in the English channel allowing the French army to invade Britain.   This led to a high seas cat and mouse game of chase between Nelson and Villeneuve.

Nelson finally catches up with the French admiral Villeneuve of of the coast of Spain near Cadiz.  The Allied fleet (French and Spanish) outnumbers the British by 33 to 27 in terms of ships of the line present.  Unafraid, Nelson arranges his ships into two straight lines forming a "V" which he drives straight at the Allied enemy fleet.  He gives the signal "England Expects every man to do his duty."  11 Allied ships are captured.  Nelson walking the decks of The Victory in full dress uniform is shot through the shoulder and spine by a French sharpshooter from the rigging of the Redoutable.  He is carried to the Orlop deck below.  In his dying words, he asks that the government "take care of poor Lady Hamilton," which it conspicuously fails to do (Nelson's great love, Lady Hamilton, dies in poverty in France in 1815).

10) Buried at St. Paul's cathedral after a tumultuous ceremony in which his beloved sailors tore the flag which draped his coffin to shreds to preserve a memento of their fallen hero.

Why is he of particular interest to conservatives?  First, he was a what today would be called a member of the religious right.  He was a Reverend's son who, with the enemy fleet in sight before Trafalgar wrote this prayer...

“MAY THE GREAT GOD, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in anyone, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British Fleet.
For myself Individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.
HMS Victory, Portsmouth (Photo: Jeff Dody)

Second,  he was a leader in Britain's senior military service, the Royal Navy.  A nation whose military is dominated by the navy inclines towards liberty,while a nation whose military is dominated by the army inclines toward dictatorship. A strong navy always goes hand in hand with strong mercantile interests, global trade and capitalism.  This always requires a mixing of ideas and people which tends to reduce provincialism and increase tolerance.  Sailors and merchantmen are necessarily exposed to different races, religions and ways of life.  A powerful land army, on the other hand, is often the breeding ground of dictatorship (Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Saddam Husssein etc.).  The Royal Navy practice of offering "prize Money" for captured enemy vessels provided Nelson's crews with powerful capitalist incentives that led to their world-beating success.  Britain, with an assist from Adam Smith, ruled the waves!
Third, it is very hard to overestimate the sheer terror that the British people felt until the naval triumph at Trafalgar.  Had Napoleon been successful in crossing the channel there is little doubt that his Grande Arm would have prevailed over the relatively puny British land forces.  The monarchy would have been toppled, parliament dissolved and Britain would have been forever altered.  Just imagine Britain as a French puppet state governed by another Bonaparte sibling--more sauces, perhaps, but far less individual liberty.  The British fear of invasion before Trafalgar were very much akin to the Americans feelings of insecurity following the 9/11 attack.  Nelson's decisive triumph at Trafalgar ended all that and gave Britain dominance on the high seas that was not challenged until 1914 by the Kaiser's Kriegsmarine.  Nelson was the ultimate Homeland security.
Fourth, his whole life embodied the military virtues of duty, self sacrifice, love of country and raw courage.

Nelson at Trafalgar Square (Photo: James Hooper)
Finally, because Britain ruled the waves due to Nelson's crushing victory at Trafalgar, she was able to police the seas.  It is no coincidence that the elimination of the Abolition of the slave trade bill (championed by Wilberforce and Prime Minister Fox) was passed by Parliament in the 25th of March 1807, not long after Trafalgar.  The abolitionists' good intentions would have been meaningless without the ability of the Royal navy to enforce such legislation.  Napoleon, despite the rhetoric of the French Revolution, was quite willing to imprison the slave rebel Toussaint Louverture and reimpose slavery in Haiti in 1802.  Nelson Mandela was very aptly named after Horatio Nelson.  Nelson's triumph at Trafalgar helped secure liberty for his own people who, in turn, helped to spread freedom throughout the world.

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1 comment:

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.