Monday, 4 July 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. 16. The thwarted hero

plaster model for Wellington Monument
by Alfred Stevens
photo: David Jackson

"I had a hectic and curious time at Hythe, Bridlington, Calshot, Dover and what not (including Donibristle in Scotland!) during my motor-boat period. It came to an end suddenly, owing to an article in a Sunday newspaper, which frightened the Air Ministry. When S. is C.A.S. do ask him not to be easily frightened of the Press." 
T. E. Shaw, in a letter to Clare Smith, 7th November, 1932.
Shaw's second hero-quest was to design efficient and safe boats for the R.A.F. He had downplayed its personal importance, making it seem like just another job that was distracting him from other things. Perhaps he thought that the press would find such a thing too boring to mention; perhaps he thought "What could possibly go wrong?' I have found that when you ask yourself the latter question, Fate can soon be most obliging with the answer! The press had typecast him as the hero "Lawrence of Arabia" so they had to make a heroic story about him designing fast boats.

There is a very thin line between subservience and cowardice and many cowards find comfort in finding a place for themselves within politics or bureaucracy where they never have to be personally responsible for anything and when things go wrong spin doctors can be used or the source of any potential embarrassment can be removed with little fuss. The cowards of the Air Ministry picked the latter, safer, method and Shaw found himself "demoted" to routine maintenance and testing. It was this action that was the direct cause of his resignation from the R.A.F.: his quest had been thwarted and there was nothing left for him. The "little men" had won. For those unfamiliar with this term from the Yi Jing, it is "a collective term for cunning, mean and sinister people" Chung Wu, Ph.D, The essentials of the Yi Jing, St Paul, 2003, p. 170 n. 29, where it is given in reference to line 6 of hexagram 7: The Army:
"The great king has given his order. This is the time to reconstruct the nation and resettle families. Little men should not be appointed to office.
The Xiang "The great king has given his order," because merits should be recognized. "Little men should not be appointed to office" because they will certainly cause upheavals in the nation.
The opposite of  the (plural) "little men" is the (singular) "jun zi a person of great moral attainments independent of prominence, wealth or birth" ibid, p. 546.

Shaw, in the quote at the top, tells Clare Smith to make sure that her husband, when promoted, does not act like one of the "little men", but instead, assumes the role of jun zi. which is exactly what Shaw had done, himself, in his thwarted second quest. He had thought, with very good reason, that his last hero quest would have been invisible to the press because in modern times, "the return of the hero" as the person who improves his society had become virtually invisible. He did not realize, however, that in such a situation the public cannot let go of the previous stage of the hero and the press catered to public desire. In essence, the public exhibits what would be a "mid-life crisis" for an individual; it can no longer mature, naturally. Being an introverted intuitive, none of this would have been conscious at all, it, like the psychology of the Yi Jing is was straight from the unconscious. Jung used to often  study and consult the Yi Jing and only stopped when he realized that he knew the right answer before he had finished asking the question.

Shaw understood the actualities, and not the illusions, of heroism and cowardice and supported Ernest Thurtle's (successful) bid to ban the death penalty for cowardice or desertion in the British Army. He also knew that his new identity as an enlisted man forbade any active role he could have taken in such matters when he was a Lt. Colonel as the following excerpts from his letters to Ernest Thurtle reveal:

26th June, 1929:

"I am hoping especially that you will let Trotsky into England: that you will make peace at once with Russia and the States: and that you will abolish the death penalty for cowardice in war. I have run too far and too fast (but never fast enough to please me at the time) under fire, to throw a stone at the fearfullest creature. You see, if I did, I might hit myself in the eye!" 
8th March, 1930: 
"About helping you - as a serving airman I must not make reflections upon military matters. Before I joined I could and did say what I pleased. I cannot prevent your quoting what I then said: so your best tactics are to say 'As Colonel L. said some years ago' or something of the sort: do not ask my permission, because I cannot give it; and yet I would love to be taken advantage of, in this cause! 'Lawrence' is better publicity than 'Shaw'. It's quite a good quotation; rings true and likely: them's my sentiments exactly. ... 
"'Courage and chivalry' attached to me! Do you remember how lately I was burned in effigy on Tower Hill: you must be careful, or they will burn you too. Now if the Die-hards had burned me I should only have laughed." 
13th. March 1930: 
"The way I have it is 'I have run too far and too fast under fire (though never fast enough to suit me at the time) to dare throw a stone at the fearfullest creature. You see, I might hit myself in the eye". And I should introduce it neatly by saying Col. L. on his return from Arabia said (neat introduction of the word 'Arabia' to distinguish which Colonel L, without the pseudo-title of L of A."
But his depression is revealed (if you can understand what I written above) in a 6th March, 1935 letter to Thurtle on the subject of his resignation from the R.A.F. and the press who still continued to hound him:

 "My Dorset 'fastness' is beset, they tell me, by pressmen: so I wander about London in a queer unrest, wondering if my mainspring will ever have a tension in it again. So I'm not cheerful, actually; but sad at losing my R.A.F. existence. It was good, and I felt useful: also it was noticeably peaceful. I expect there is a good deal to be said for the comfortable shadow of a 'bombing plane' - now a term of abuse, but the only democratic weapon! Thank you for the book. I look forward to reading it when I get home... which is after the ink-slingers go to their homes."
In recent times, a myopic view of Shaw is that his depression was typical of those who have returned from active service and not that of the thwarting of the return of the hero. Psychologically, that return is the also the start of the next phase of the path of life: something rarely granted in today's "infantalized" society.  No longer do we (commonly) have the returning hero: we have cannon-fodder whose function is no longer required.  There is an outlet for retiring business-men albeit rarely promoted: that as mentors for those just starting out, but is usually left to the perception of the retiree to pursue such a course. Molding future soldiers is a job solely left to the drill sergeants, and its aim is the eradication of the individual. Shaw's book "The Mint" is about the stamping out of such troops: each one, like a coin, just like all the others.

I have a coyote hybrid (coydog) and I have learned a lot from him: the wolf is a timid animal, not so the coyote. You have a far greater chance of being attacked by a coyote than by a wolf. The coyote is a bit like African wild dogs who, when they see fear expressed by one of their numbers will kill that animal. They know that an animal who expresses fear can never be trusted. When people meet my dog and ask if he is friendly and can be petted, I say "Yes, just grab hold of him and make a fuss of him. Do not hold out your hand for him to sniff it as you would do for a domestic dog. He will interpret that submissive behaviour as fear and will warn you off with a couple of barks. He will not trust you." Some people follow my advice and Tristan will enjoy being petted and will even remember that person as a friend. Many people, however, give up on their plans to pet him, completely. After learning that about some wild dogs, I realized that every person who had given me problems in my life were afraid of something. The coyote is the world's most intelligent dog. I should also add, do not try this with a wild coyote: if you are being attacked by one then act aggressive as you would do for a mountain lion attack (but not a grizzly bear attack!). The wild coyote is not interested in you as a friend at all, but might be more interested in you as lunch. Coyote hybrids also have domestic dog instincts and like the latter can be trained. No one has ever trained a wild coyote.

Tomorrow, different motives in the relationship between Shaw and  Clare Smith.

John's Coydog Community page


  1. Hello! I see its been a few years but I am loving these 'write ups' on TEL. Am a big fan of him. Very interesting! Thank you sir.

  2. Thank You, and apologies for posting/replying so late. I have not been checking my pending messages as fast as I should!