Nasser Mufti, “Kipling’s Art of War” (pp. 496–519)

This essay looks at the British empire’s most ambitious years, when it saw Britain and its settler colonies as belonging to a global nation-state, most commonly referred to as “Greater Britain.” The apex of this imperial-national imagination came with the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War, which jingoists like Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling celebrated as a civil war because it was seen to be a conflict between the “blood brotherhood” of empire: Britons and Boers. Hence the characterization of the Boer War as “the last of the gentleman’s wars” or “a sahibs’ war,” because it was said to be fought between the civilized fellow-citizens of the British empire. But Kipling also had to confront the fact that British and Boer tactics were decidedly “ungentlemanly” at the war front. I turn to his short story “A Sahibs’ War” (1901), which is especially concerned about the “gentleman’s war” in South Africa looking identical to anticolonial wars in Afghanistan and Burma, which in Kipling’s mind were barbaric frontier conflicts. Kipling registers this ambivalence between civil and colonial war in the language of his story, which strategically puns across English, Afrikaans and Urdu/Hindi. These translingual puns make legible and sensible the tensions between the intra-national and extra-national, domestic and foreign, civil and imperial that characterized Greater British discourse at the turn of the century.

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