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The last remnant

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Nations, like people, seldom learn from their own experience, still less from the experience of others. It is a huge tribute to the tact of the distinguished British historian William Dalrymple that it is not until page 435 of his dramatic, richly peopled, and spell-binding history of Shah Shuja and the first British battle for Afghanistan, when he at last draws the inevitable parallel between the British attempt to subdue and control Afghanistan in the mid-19th-century and America’s own disastrous war there over the past decade…

Perhaps the most famous military painting in the history of British art is Lady Elizabeth Butler’s The Last Remnant, an immense Victorian tear-jerker of a picture that depicts the approach of the alleged last survivor of the British army sent to Kabul, Dr. Brydon, to the gates of Jalalabad, slumped on an exhausted pony and bearing the news of the British Army’s total destruction (nearly 20,000 killed). In a nation that has often sought pride as much in heroic defeats as in victories, the haunting scene of the Last Stand of the 44th Foot at Gandamak—the soldiers forming a square and defending themselves with their bayonets until every one of them was slaughtered by howling, ferocious Afghans—remains as well remembered in Britain as Custer’s Last Stand is in the United States.

Read more of «The Last Remnant. The story of how the Afghans defeated the British», by Michael Korda (Newsweek-The Daily Beast, Apr 15, 2013 4:45 AM EDT)

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