February 18, 2009

A Quote From General Sir William Butler

Filed under: — Chap @ 6:10 pm

This quote burbled around the internet a year or so ago. I finally got around to finding it, and add the previous paragraph to add context. It’s particularly resonant to me today, after listening to a senior officer discuss his work in Indonesia after the tsunami in the morning and after stopping to talk with some young ladies who are masters-at-arms preparing to deploy aboard the Comfort very soon to do work they never thought they’d be doing.

The quote is from Charles George Gordon by Colonel (later General) Sir William F. Butler, published by MacMillan in 1889. The book is a biography of an “English Man Of Action”, a military engineer who saw combat from Russia to China to Sudan. My copy of this book is very worn but a treasure of good lessons in a style of a different time. From page 85, quote of interest in bold:

In England there has long been an idea prevalent in the minds of many persons that the soldier should be a species of man distinct from the rest of the community. He should be purely and simply a soldier, ready to knock down upon word of command being duly given for that purpose, but knowing nothing of the business of building up; leaving that important branch of life to Mr. Civil Commissioner This and Mr. Civil Administrator That. It is needless to say that Charles Gordon held a totally different view of the soldier’s proper sphere of action, and with him the building part of the soldier’s profession was far more important than the breaking part. The surgeon who could only cut off a leg or amputate an arm, but who knew nothing of binding up the wound or stopping an open artery, could not be of much account in any estimate of men. Gordon understood the fact that nations as well as individuals have pulses, that the leader who would lead to any definite end must know how to count these pulsations, and, in addition to his skill as a sword-cutter, must be able to do a good deal of the binding up of wounds, even though he had himself caused them. To say this is, of course, only to say that Gordon was great, in a sense greater than any merit of action in arms could aspire to. The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.

Yeah. Like that.

You want to learn something new, you read an old book….

8 Responses to “A Quote From General Sir William Butler”

  1. Jean Says:

    Adding the book to my list of ‘new’ things to read. Thanks!

  2. TSO Says:

    Ditto- Just bought on

  3. Chap Says:

    Took me forever to find, but turns out you can download a pdf of the book for free from about eight sources. Check one of the links here at If I had the time I’d edit the pdf and upload it to Lulu so you can buy it printed as a facsimile edition.

  4. Greyhawk Says:

    “The first page of Thucydides is, in my opinion, the commencement of real history. All preceding narrations are so intermixed with fable, that philosophers ought to abandon them, to the embellishments of poets and orators.” – David Hume

    I loves me some ironic and circular synchronicity.

    Saw an apprently publish-on-demand version of Butler’s Gordon on ebay, btw. Can’t swear to the quality of the text – if the Google text version (which at a glance looks like the result of recognition software pushed beyond its limit) is the source I’d avoid.

  5. Chap Says:

    If I had the time I’d take the PDF scan available here, which doesn’t have all those Google watermarks on every page, and send it to Lulu or Blurb for a clean paperback copy. But when I looked into it, I found the NYT reviews for the book and thought about how it would be nice to add those in and clean up the end pages for the book scan and it quickly became too hard for the time I have available right now.

  6. Greyhawk Says:

    Speaking of synchronicity – headline today: “Iraq Museum That Was Looted Reopens, Far From Whole”

  7. Chap Says:

    Thanks for that.

  8. Mudville Gazette Says:

    Ynevskaya’s children…

    “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war. It doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting,” said Maschek. “There are bad men out there plotting to kill you.” Sadly, the Ynevskaya children of this world – repeatedly assured of the superiority o…

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