LIFE AFTER DECONSTRUCTION: THE FATE OF CHARLES GEORGE GORDON, A VICTORIAN HERO, IN OUR TIMES

 

Back in the days of Victorian England there were few to compare in popularity and respect with Charles George Gordon, British army officer, evangelical Christian, quirky misfit, headstrong moralist, genius in the ways of the "primitive" lands so voyeuristically cherished by the newspaper readers of England, and martyr of Khartoum. The man, a legend in his own times, was revered in life, and mourned at the moment that Fate finally caught up with his stubborn will and persistent longing for rest beyond the imperfect world which both tempted and tormented him.

In my childhood, exposed to the legend from history books, I fell in love with this man and adopted him into my pantheon of heroes. The age of deconstruction was still young and had not yet compelled me to face its facts. Race relations in the light of "all men are created equal", hollow consumerism, unnecessary poverty, violent imperialism, the madness of nuclear war ingrained into our military mind, were all in the process of being exposed, questioned, and challenged; at the same time, the skeletons of history were being dug up, the crimes underneath our feet disinterred. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee came out, and Custer fell from grace. Slavery came back with a black beret demanding an apology. My Lai said, "Iíve been here before, you never heard of Sand Creek?" Yet for many, shaped by schools committed to myths and reared by families loyal to their generationís eyes, when World War II lifted our nation onto a moral pedestal compared to the Nazi, the work of deconstruction did not overwhelm us all at once. Rather, it trickled into our lives little by little; we conceded abominations, but insisted they were only superficial wounds. We jumped from stone to stone over the dark water, we did not want to know how deep or wide the lake of our transgressions was, did not want the fairy tales that hid the moral price of empire to be dismantled. Like the child who is told he was brought by the stork, and thus spared the shocking tale of the penis and vagina, so we wanted to believe our nation flew into the world like an angel, untainted by the vices of other lands. We surrounded our self-esteem with bad history, with thick and convincing books of blindspots, encircled our national sins with villains who had been defeated, or moral apemen who we had evolved beyond, thus removing our flaws from the foreground where they continued to manifest, shrouded in denial. In a storm of confrontation and disillusionment, we considered ourselves patriots. We kept the faith.

But time, slowly, did its work. The grand illusions of our self-deception were methodically deconstructed, and finally resisted only by the visceral reflexes of the unredeemable. White surrendered its sword to gray, and the moss was cleared off of the tombstones. This shift in consciousness, refined from voices of protest, took root on the college campus, and a new generation was shaped by relentless inquiry, and accustomed to smashing yesterdayís idols into bits. Nihilistic in appearance, and served by petty ants delighted to carry off dead flies, as well as by genuine visionaries unphased by centuries of misrepresentation, it was an intellectual effort to empty our self-perception of falsehoods so that the truth could enter. It was the destructive prelude to creation, and though, at many times, it stalled out before bearing new fruit, leaving us with a desert in the place of a false garden, it was as useful as it was painful. One cannot blame the destroyer of lies for not giving birth to a palatable truth; he has done enough and it is up to the desolate to build a new and better world, where there is now space to do so. Whenever obsessive accuracy and debilitating precision paralyze Manís great leaps, new approximations that enable him to act must be salvaged from the talons of iconoclasm. Man will always depend on sweeping concepts to sustain him, never long submit to wear the crown-of-thorns of footnotes that carve his passion into scholarly fiefdoms. Though his mind may reduce the temple into rubble, his heart must always find a way to put it back together. And there must come a time when his desire to be informed will succumb to his desire to be inspired. Deconstruction must lead us to new convictions, to new faiths and new heroes, if the debris of past illusions is not to be reconstituted into the old lies we thought we had left behind, but did not have the strength to live without.

In this new world of cold but necessary deconstruction, amidst shattered temples and abandoned altars, it came about, at last, one day, that my attachment to my boyhood hero, Charles George Gordon, aka Chinese Gordon, aka Gordon Pasha, had to be reconsidered.

This was no small thing, for heroes are not merely trifling accessories to our lives, who can be easily dispensed with and replaced, they are like stars in the sky which we navigate our lives by; they are voices in the night that hold us up when we are falling, souls of lions we pray to when we are at risk, brothers and sisters in our loneliness, friends who deter us from suicide, angels who place us onto the map at the point where they could not go on. We are part of the same river, flowing with waters they gave to us. We keep their candles lit, lay fresh flowers on their graves, and in return, they rescue our hearts from despair and loan us their courage from the Beyond. In the pages of books they await the coming of kindred spirits, to waylay with their passion, and ignite, with ancient fire, in new times and new places. It is a perfect symbiosis, this connection between the dead and the living, the hero and the novice, the past and the present. You cannot extricate yourself from a fallen hero without breaking your soul. You cannot surrender him to the ruthless truth-seeking of deconstruction, without a fight. But neither can you be left holding the bag of a historical charlatan, defending the flat earth of someone you love when the earth is really round. And so, you have no choice but to look deconstruction in the eyes and say, at last: Tell me, who was this man? And after deconstruction has spoken, to look at him anew, and if you need to, to search among the fallen stones for something that did not fall. For some sign of beauty amidst the scars of deconstruction, some straw to grasp at before you drown in a heroless universe.

Charles George Gordon was born on January 28, 1833, at Woolwich, England, son of a career army officer coming from a long line of soldiers, and a shipownerís daughter and devout Christian woman who spent hours reading the Bible to her children. Given his heritage, and the nature of his family, which was guided by strong parents committed to spending the time and energy needed to imprint their values upon their young, it was inevitable that Charles and his brothers would end up in the military, carrying on the soldierly tradition of their ancestors. At the age of fifteen, after a childhood that was simultaneously free-spirited and receptive, in which he was both a joyful prankster and a deeply-affected disciple of his motherís religious training, Charles entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, aiming to become an artillery officer as his father; but problems in the school, stemming from his bad temper, which led him to head butt a superior and knock him down a flight of stairs, as well as to too severely punish a subordinate for some fault (which was, to Gordon, intolerable) finally forced him to graduate late, qualifying him, instead, for a possible career with the royal engineers, whose standards were, it seems, a notch lower. This was probably for the best, since he had already shown an uncommon ability for map-making and the design of fortifications.

Charlesí first military action occurred in the Crimea in 1855, where England and France had joined together with the faltering Ottoman Empire to resist the threat of Russian expansion, which was aimed at gaining control of the Dardanelles and Bosporus from Turkey, and penetrating into the Balkans. The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a morally murky conflict based on competing national self-interests attuned to geopolitical principles. There was a clear logic, if no particular moral high ground, to the confrontation, which was distinguished by long and grueling sieges, hunger, misery, and disease on all sides, and bitter weather. Men who were not killed by the bullet or the artillery shell, froze to death in their trenches, or asphyxiated in the smoke of the charcoal fires they lit to try to stay warm. For the most part, glory was replaced by endurance, and brilliance by tenacity, as two ghost armies slugged it out in a demoralizing battle of attrition. One exception was the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade", in which British and Irish cavalry units, acting on misinterpreted orders, were suicidally hurled against Russian artillery batteries and entrenched riflemen with devastating consequences which, nonetheless, amazed all who witnessed the attack with the nearly limitless capacity of human courage ("it is magnificent, but it is not war," said one French officer, horrified to see such brave men thrown away). Although bravery abounded in the war, aside from this tragically misused display of spirit and other, less glorified wastes of the anonymous, it was mainly submerged in the daily ordeals of the soldiers, and the militarily indecisive dangers which they were constantly exposed to. The clearest hero of all in the war, when all is said and done, was actually a woman and non-combatant, Florence Nightingale, who with a small band of volunteer nurses came to care for the wounded and the sick, who hitherto had been inadequately attended to, crowded into unclean barrack beds and cots which were, in cases, immediately adjacent to open cesspools; and who were in other ways neglected and allowed to languish, to die of simple wounds from which they should have recovered. Florence Nightingale, "like an angel with a lantern of love walking through the halls of Hell" - a healer braving the fabricated nightmare of manís stupidity - helped to turn the situation around with her compassion and her empathy, her solid grasp of hygiene and her professional nursing skills, and most of all, with her ability to shake and move the indifferent: to spearhead a total overhaul of the inept healthcare system which she first found in the Crimea. As many men as the generals threw away, that many or more she may have saved with her kindness, and the talent it compelled itself to acquire.

In this conflict, in which Charlesí older brothers Henry and Enderby also served, the younger Gordon was one of the many brave and nearly invisible, commended but not elevated. He improved the quarters for the troops, dug rifle pits and inspected trenches, conducted reconnaissance operations close to enemy lines, came under fire at various times, and was slightly wounded when an artillery shell exploding nearby hurled debris his way, striking him in the head with a stone which momentarily stunned him. After the war, which was won by the alliance of Britain, France, and Turkey, Gordon was praised (and even looked at askance) for his extraordinary coolness under fire, and for his invaluable knowledge of enemy positions, gained by putting himself at risk.

With the end of the Crimean War, various tasks, important as small strands in the construction and maintenance of imperial power, but insignificant in and of themselves, and with no possible avenue for heroics, absorbed Gordonís attention; or, perhaps one could say, caused it to wander. Gordon was not in his element in the grip of bureaucracy. It was not until 1860, as Britain became embroiled in a new conflict in China, that he was once again called back to action, and this time to a setting where he was destined to make his mark.

From the British point of view, China was "acting up." Of course, to see things in that way was the very epitome of egocentrism. In the Opium War (1839-1842) the British had attacked China in support of the right of British merchants to continue selling opium in China, which the Chinese rulers had attempted to prohibit. How did this morally amazing situation arise? The British East India Company, which had established connections in China and actually controlled large parts of India via its economic influence, its alliances with various native princes, and its private army comprised of a core of British soldiers and technically advanced weapons, supplemented by large bodies of Indian troops known as sepoys, had, by this time, constructed a complex web of international trade intimately binding the fates of China, India, and Britain. It imported Indian cotton and spices to England, and sold English goods to India; through plunder, trade, and taxes, it siphoned off vast amounts of gold and jewels gathered by centuries of Indian and Mogul history, and sent these treasures back to England where they provided the financial fuel for the Industrial Revolution, which decisively pushed Europe into the driverís seat of world affairs. [1] In the case of China, as soon as the company had a foothold, it began to import tea, silk and porcelain, into England at great profit. However, a problem arose. How to pay for the imports? The British government sought to limit movement from its silver reserves back to China (it wanted to maintain its financial power as intact as possible, not to squander it on consumption which would enrich other lands); and China was not particularly enthused by British goods at the time. Thatís when the East India Company came up with the brilliant, unscrupulous idea to sell opium cultivated in India to China; the profits from this trade would allow the company to pay for Chinese goods, without tapping into the British silver supply. At the same time, increased revenues in India from the opium trade would increase the Indiansí purchasing power, better enabling them to buy British manufactured goods.

As a result of the Opium War, which Britain won, the Chinese ceded Hong Kong to Britain, expanded Britainís trade access to their country (opening up ports such as Canton and Shanghai to British merchants), agreed to limits on their ability to tax British imports (obliterated their own tariff defenses), and granted British citizens the right of extraterritoriality, meaning that British citizens accused of committing crimes in China would now be tried in British courts instead of Chinese. And, of course, the opium trade was allowed to resume. The British Empire, too steeped in its own self-righteous mythology and imagined devotion to Christianity to fully comprehend its actions, had, incredibly, forced opium down Chinaís throat and climbed up another stair of history as nothing more than a glorified drug dealer.

In 1856, Chinaís reluctance to comply with the provisions of the Treaty of Nanking, which it had signed with a gun to its head, as well as the angry behavior of Chinese mobs offended by the arrogance of members of the new European community thrust into their midst, drew a new "international response." British and French forces initiated joint military operations aimed at forcing China to comply more fully with the treaty, and to provide a more stable and secure environment for the conduct of business.

In 1857, Britain was distracted (but not deterred) from this endeavor by the unexpected fury and power of the "Sepoy Rebellion", a massive mutiny of the East India Companyís native Indian troops, who were driven to revolt by a long list of unresolved grievances, and by the undeniable bad taste of foreign domination. As time went on, the mutiny took on aspects of a national war for independence, although its true intent and scale remains in dispute to this day. What is not in dispute is that the violence was terrible, with appalling brutality committed by both sides. Back in Britain, the moments when rage consumed the enemy and drove him to excess, were used to reinforce preexisting images of the savage, uncivilized, dark races of Asia who needed to be tamed and caged like tigers within firm structures of Western control; while British excesses were seen as justifiable retaliations which had been provoked, and were either fully tolerated as necessities of war, criticized (while being understood in the light of the enemyís "bestiality"), or else allowed to pass unregistered by the selective filters of moral codes weighted towards oneís own side. While the enemyís atrocities stood out vividly, producing passionate reactions, oneís own receded into the shadowy nether-world of numbness, in which they were neither approved of nor condemned. Instead, they were shrugged off like monotonous scenery on the side of the road, which the exhausted traveler passes by with only the faintest sign of recognition. In defense of empire, whole villages were razed to the ground; there were mass hangings of rebels and alleged rebel sympathizers, slaughters of civilians who were shot down and bayoneted in the streets, and cases of prisoners forced to lick blood up from the ground, before being fired out of cannons and blown to bits. These acts of brutality, utterly reprehensible from the moral point of view, were nonetheless consistent with the behavior of many conquering nations and peoples of the past, who had used terror and fearsome retribution to quell the fires of revolt; but given the British pretense of moral superiority and Christian virtue, they were absolutely stunning. The disparity between self-image and reality was practically beyond comprehension: hypocrisy in its purest form. In 1858, as a result of this bloody rebellion, the British government took over direct control of India from the East India Company, installing a governor-general or viceroy to lead a new government there, and implementing political, bureaucratic and military measures to fully incorporate India as a colony of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, back in China, British and French arms had once again prevailed and led to a new peace agreement with the Chinese government, embodied in the Tientsin treaties of 1858. When this new agreement was "not honored", as the foreigners saw it, yet another advance was launched in 1860, this time aimed directly for Peking. It was at this moment that Gordon arrived in China and, as a brevet major, took part in the European campaign to force the "stubborn and deceitful" Emperor to "stop backtracking on the treaties." As merely one more cog in the war machine, Gordon participated in setting up artillery batteries just outside Peking, but, to his soldier spiritís disappointment, the enemy surrendered the city before his work could prove its worth. In anger at discovering of the torture and death of several European peace emissaries who had been sent to Peking before the commencement of hostilities, Lord Elgin, the British commander, ordered the burning of the Emperorís summer palace, a magnificent and revered historical treasure. Days before, Gordon, with his eye for architecture and design, had admired the spectacular edifice. Now he was among those detailed to burn it to the ground. "Demoralizing work" he called it. No sooner had his eyes perceived beauty, than his hands were commanded to destroy it. Soundly beaten, the Chinese government had no choice but to sign a new treaty, the Peking conventions, which opened up still more ports to foreign merchants and extended European trading zones inland. The principle of extraterritoriality, which seemed to make foreigners "above the law" and to provide them with legal protection for any potential outrage, was reaffirmed, and permission was granted to evangelical missionaries to spread the Christian gospel and "fish for souls" in China without impediment.

This is the environment into which Charles George Gordon was inserted in 1860: a man destined to be adored and admired, in his country and in his time, and beyond his country and his time, as a gallant, noble, and pious, if somewhat peculiar, hero. And yet, withdrawing oneís focus from the man - zooming out, as it were, to look at the broader picture to see what he was a part of - detaching from his personality to see the context in which his work took place - one can say that Gordon, magnificent and well-meaning though he may have been, served the imperialistic project of a nation insensitive to the aspirations and, at times, even the bare necessities of others; a nation determined to be supreme among nations, whatever the moral cost; a nation endowed with an extraordinary sense of entitlement, seeming to perceive domination as its right; a nation filled with racist attitudes and arrogant prejudices; a nation committed to wealth and power on the earth, in direct contradiction of the teachings of Jesus, who it prayed to every Sunday; a nation ingenious in mining the worldís weak spots, in tossing about the apple of discord and reaping the treasures of division: subtle whenever possible, openly violent when not (preferably after drawing the victim to strike first, so as to cloak its aggression as defense).

As many such nations, Great Britain during the age of Queen Victoria kept a myriad of justifications in its arsenal to enable it to lead its fabulously rewarding double life. Like Stevensonís Jekyll and Hyde, there was the refined and cultured gentleman, and the ruthless killer, all inside a single skull. In its own eyes, Britain was a nation blessed by a culture of moderation and compromise, ever since the days of Runnymede, and later, the Bill of Rights; and by a system which reverentially preserved the familiar, while pragmatically welcoming the new. In this way, the unifying aura of the monarchy which, at times, seemed capable of embodying the national soul and serving as a rallying point for a troubled land, remained, while Parliament and the Prime Minister and his cabinet, reflecting the expectations, demands, and realities of the democratic age, carried on the real work of government. In this same way, many time-honored customs, traditions, and social mores persisted, albeit in sometimes tattered and strained ways, while the doors to change were flung wide open, leading to absolute revolutions in technology, finance, trade, and production. Unlike Spain, which in the 16th and 17th centuries destroyed its might with a rigid commitment to the past, Britain innovated, adapted, bent like a reed before what it perceived to be the principles of power, rather than standing in the way of time like a mighty oak made fragile by intransigence. It had ideals, but its ideals were more elastic than 16th-century Spainís; better able to stretch and to fit the changing form of history.

The British regarded their system as politically advanced, and their culture as humane and civilized. They considered themselves realists: astute students of the lessons of history, which taught them that kingdoms, nations, and empires lived in a constant state of competition and rivalry, and that to survive with dignity, one must cultivate and preserve power. Power, in their age, they believed stemmed from economic wealth and prosperity, which was mainly to be won through manufacture and trade, protected by, and at times promoted by, military might, which was elevated to new heights by technology and industry, and made efficient by clever political strategies which reduced the amount of brute force needed to accomplish objectives. In its age of preeminence, Britain realized that the key to its economic power lay in the mastery of a complex and far-flung system of international trade, which could vastly amplify the potential of its own, island-bound economy by incorporating potential markets and sources of raw materials from around the world. In the manner of the Portuguese and Dutch before them, trading outposts were established around the world. Native leaders were enriched by trade and co-opted to further British interests. Whenever problems arose, such as nationalist awakenings or rebellions, "divide and conquer" strategies were utilized, to maximize the impact of British military interventions. Ethnic and religious divisions, jealousies amidst ruling families, the ambitions of usurpers and opportunists, were brilliantly detected and exploited, as required. European competitors, at a serious disadvantage due to Britainís extraordinary maritime abilities, which led to its command of the seas, were fought off when necessary. (In this way, the French were driven out of Canada and India). Spheres of influence, protectorates, and outright colonies were established. For the British, global expansion and the formation of empire were natural and inevitable processes which could not be avoided, in the face of intense competition with other European nations. For all of these nations, the colonization of vulnerable parts of the world was not only a means of self-aggrandizement, but also an armament in their struggle with each other. Colonies were weapons. Just as one cannot remain with the bow-and-arrow when oneís neighbor has acquired a gun, so the imperative for European nations during the great ages of colonization and imperialism which physically fortified them and morally degraded them, was to acquire colonies, in order to match the growth of their rivals. No one was willing, in the name of morality, to remain the same height, while their potential enemies, feeding on a diet of other lands, grew steadily into giants.

Besides this external dynamic impelling British imperialism, there were also crucial internal dynamics at work. In addition to the obvious impulse to consume, which the Industrial Revolution cultivated and elevated in order to sustain itself, there was the need to bridge the gap between rich and poor, at least to the extent of quieting the fires of discontent. The Industrial Revolution - a technical revolution - had accomplished amazing miracles of production on the backs of a new and impoverished working class, descended from dispossessed peasants, and it now threatened to engender a social revolution. Marx and Engels had turned out "The Communist Manifesto" in 1848, and workers throughout Europe had responded with increased agitation and, in cases, revolutionary actions, threatening to overthrow the capitalist class, which they blamed for paying them obscenely low salaries, subjecting them to unsafe, dehumanizing working conditions, and driving them to live in wretched slums. Meanwhile, a vast profit was being made from their work, and used to enrich the entrepreneurial class. While Marx and the radicals attacked the system by means of revolutionary politics, others, such as Charles Dickens, attacked it by means of literature, with novels such as A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist, hoping to transform it by holding its sins up before its eyes and appealing to the collective conscience to insist on remedies. Christian reformers also sought to improve conditions for the poor without the necessity of a violent revolution, by raising awareness of existing injustices, and attempting to re-instill Christian love into society, and to inspire men to live up to the compassionate ideals of their religion. Progress was made as a result of these moral appeals, but it was slow. In this uncertain setting, British imperialism played a crucial role, for it increased the flow of wealth into Britain which allowed the capitalist class, pressed by the labor movement, to retain its enormous fortune, while simultaneously raising the living standards of the poor to the point where, although injustices remained, revolution was no longer a temptation; economic expansion into the international environment and the accumulation of new wealth from abroad nullified the need for a redistribution of existing wealth at home, and thus enabled the capitalist class and workers to avoid a collision on British soil. In the end, much of the British working class remained closely linked to the elites which dominated them; they were bound together, by nationalism, in loyalty to the imperialistic projects which sustained them both.

Once again, of course, these projects, in order to be palatable to a society which imagined itself to be idealistic and enlightened, required some form of justification beyond the pragmatic needs of realpolitik and the demands of class tensions. This justification came in the form of a mental reframing process, whereby domination was reshaped into a form of generosity, and conquest was turned into an act of munificence. In Asia and Africa, Britainís principal zones of imperial interest [2], life was said to be materially backward, morally and culturally bereft, and spiritually adrift.

In the material realm, Britain chose to measure the accomplishments of other civilizations according to its own standards, overlooking the destabilizing social processes that had been necessary to achieve those results. It, therefore, might judge a country poor that did not have cities with the amenities of London, or modern rail networks connecting its population centers, while neglecting to take into consideration alternative cultural visions motivating that countryís people, or alternative cultural assets compensating for that countryís lack of material showpieces: assets such as the social safety nets implicit in the community-centered life of self-supporting peasant villages, which Britain often sought to uproot, and whose manpower it sought to transplant into plantation environments oriented towards the global market. Here, surely, there was greater profit to be made by the entrepreneurs, but for the common man, a heightened state of precariousness, as the pre-modern institutions which had protected him now lay smashed to bits, or else badly damaged, leaving him at the mercy of impersonal processes and strangers, to whom his own, tiny fate mattered very little. For Britain, international trade, and especially "free trade", was a kind of religion, an economic faith whose devotees would be enriched by the massive scale of commerce made possible; and it felt that the whole world must be won over and plugged into this mutually-beneficial system (which it was soon forced to manipulate, however, in order to prevent certain equalizing dynamics of free trade from eroding its supremacy). [3] Thus, it came knocking onto the door of the world, an economic evangelist determined to make converts, ostensibly for the benefit of all, but in reality, especially for itself. Inevitably, in less well-defended parts of the globe, it would find native friends eager to cooperate, and it would use them as an "in" to hook the native countries into the master scheme. These collaborators were deemed "progressive" and "forward looking", and endeared to the British public, while opponents in the native countries were labeled as "backward", and "primitive." Once resistance to foreign domination erupted into the open, the British would not so much "invade" the country in question, as "rescue" their "forward-looking friends" from the "violent enemies of progress", and help them to establish an ordered and effective government, which, "coincidentally", also served British interests. In cases, when the native people seemed "incapable" of forming a "stable, modern government" on their own (on behalf of the British), the British would step into the political vacuum, assuming the role of "benevolent parent" (colonial master) to the "incapable child" (colonial subject), who must be educated, socialized, and given time to grow into cultural adulthood (beaten into submission and molded) before being left to fend for himself. Many British unquestioningly accepted this adult-child metaphor for their relationship with their colonial subjects. As you could not morally leave a child alone to play with matches in a house, so these countries needed, and if you cared for them, deserved, guidance from a more mature people. Compassion compelled intervention. If economic profit and military advantage were side-effects of oneís concern, so be it. Myopic though this view was, it had emotional power in the center of the empire, and turned millions of decent, if rather manipulable people, into avid supporters of the imperialistic project.

Whenever possible, this mental construct - this self-perceptual transmutation of imperialism into a form of international parenting - was reinforced by tales of primitive savagery, barbaric customs, and moral depravity in the target countries. The annals of human history are rife with unfair practices, and instances of exploitation, cruelty, superstition, and caprice; so, not surprisingly, it was almost always possible to point out offensive aspects of the cultures slated for subjugation. In China, there was the custom of concubinage, particularly horrifying to the Victorian Christian ethos, as well as the cruel binding, and culturally-sanctioned deformation of womenís feet. In India, there was the practice of suttee (in which the living widow of a deceased husband would be burned, with him, on his funeral pyre) and also widespread female infanticide. In some parts of tropical Africa ("the heart of darkness") there were human sacrifices and there was cannibalism. In the north of Africa, long after the abolition of slavery in England and its possessions (1833), there remained a thriving slave trade. To oppose these practices on moral grounds was surely worthy. To use them as cover to gain access to other lands under the pretense of being a champion of human rights, and to then perpetuate new, more modern forms of abuse behind the smokescreen of oneís moral concern, was less so. In the place of obvious outrages, new, sometimes more subtle ones were implemented, foremost among them being the enclosure of vast sectors of the world into an imperialistic space which, by destroying the viability of old systems without permitting fully functional replacements to be reached, ended up sucking the life and future out of many countries, casting them into the economic and social pit they remain in to this day.

The "White Manís Burden", as the "duty" of the "civilized peoples of the world" to raise up the "uncivilized races" of the earth came to be known - the duty to bring the torch of hope and progress into the night in which the "primitive and simple peoples" of the world lived - was really little more than sugar added to the cup of domination, sweetening it to the palate of those who craved its rewards, without tasting the bitterness of its cost to others. Although it consisted of many components - political, social, economic, technical, and spiritual - the pillar of this civilizing project, which was the purifying force of the imperialistic project, was Christianity: the "humanizing, uplifting" faith of the West, calculated to soften the rough edges of the human spirit with its ideals of compassion, charity, mercy, kindness, and respect for others. ("Love oneís neighbor as oneself.") There was also the more fundamentalist belief, that only through faith in Jesus as oneís savior, could oneís eternal soul be saved from damnation. ("For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.") The introduction of Christianity to the "dark, uncivilized, and morally flawed" regions of the earth was not, therefore, only an act intended to humanize them, to rescue them from their "primitive savagery" and "rampant vices", but also an act of supreme compassion, to save their souls from extinction or eternal torture, depending on oneís interpretation of the Bible. Of course, this view was utterly ethnocentric. The spiritual resources of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism (mixed with Confucianism) and various "pagan" creeds were dismissed in absolute confidence of the superiority of Christianity, which was the "one and only true religion." Kindness derived from arrogance is rarely helpful, and in this case, provided only one more excuse for conquest, and one more source of aggravation for the conquered. Evangelical missionaries threw themselves wholeheartedly into the work of trying to convert the masses of Asia and Africa to their faith, attempting to tear their way through the rich fabric of preexisting religions, in order to introduce their own. In the process, not only "souls" were at stake, but also the foundations of national identity and the potential for native resistance, as conversion to a foreign religion frequently weakened the ties which natives felt to their own country and culture.

Besides this, the evangelical crusade also threatened to repress the vibrancy, sensuality, and life force of the native cultures: to impose the guilt-ridden cloud of misguided righteousness, puritan gray, on lands of color. Native women, from Africa to Polynesia, were made to feel shameful about their bodies, and, wherever possible, wrapped in clothing. Christian mores regarding sexual relationships and moral propriety were also pushed. History, today, remembers Victorian England as one of the most prudish, uptight, self-repressed cultures of all times, and yet, due to its extraordinary power, it felt entitled to impress its sickness upon the world. [4] Of course, there are many who say that the puritan restriction of human sexuality led to a massive redirection of human energy, via sublimation, into the processes of building civilization, accounting for many extraordinary achievements in the realms of technology, production, and art. [5] At the same time, Victorian prudery generated an erotic and, at times, distinctly kinky subculture among elements of the leisure class, as a response to frustration on the surface; while part of the appeal of imperialism for the masses was precisely the fact that many of the regions brought to their attention on account of it, were "untamed", "exotic", filled with strange and sometimes erotic customs that resuscitated the cramped imagination, and somehow rekindled lifeís extinguished light; somehow brought fresh air into a stale room. Whole multitudes, demoralized and bored out of their minds, internally crushed by the accomplishments and methods of their civilization, peered, as voyeurs, into other lands through the window which imperialism opened for them. Colonialism became not only a means of economic survival, but a resource for psychological survival as well. In the process of "taming the primitive", the joy of seeing him still "savage and unclothed" was derived, and the dangerously low life force of the conqueror elevated, his pulse restored. As much as he needed new sources of raw materials in the distant lands of Asia and Africa to keep his economy going, he need new sources of excitement and life, to undo the damage which his commitment to "Christian virtue" had wrought upon his soul. Hidden in the evangelicalism which he subjected foreign peoples to, was the peeping tom of his thwarted psyche. As one native observer, providing a final assessment on the impact of Christianity on his land, put it: "When you [Europeans] came, you had the Bible and we had the land. Now we have the Bible, and you have the land."

By such complicated methods as these, Victorian England constructed a mental framework for perceiving its scheme of global domination in ways that did not inhibit it. Self-image was preserved without abandoning the imperialistic project. The vices of the subjugated were emphasized, as were the virtues of the conqueror. The aggression was kneaded with delusions, and often real intentions, of bettering the lot of the victim. Conquest did not require anyone to abdicate his goodness, the brutality of the project was buried underneath a multitude of justifications, and there was always some villain to put in the balance to outweigh oneís own transgressions. The arrogance was so thoroughly ingrained that it was not even detected.

Is this, in any way, an excuse for the behavior of Victorian England? No; it is, instead, an explanation of how this behavior came to pass, without resorting to demonology; a diagram, in words, of the human engine that was necessary to power this project, without postulating the existence of monsters in every nook and cranny of the British Isles. It is my contention that imperialism was a product of mainly decent people, selectively decent people, warped by their culture, allowing themselves to be warped by their culture, into supporters or tolerators of terrible injustices. This does not absolve imperialismís human tools of their role, nor dull the blade of introspection which we must soon undergo ourselves; and, in fact, it is more frightening to consider that such acts of domination may be carried out by people as charming as my neighbor, instead of by mythological beasts, who I need never live among, nor fear becoming.

Into this self-deluded world, causing injury and believing itself civilized and grand, I must now insert my boyhood hero, Charles George Gordon, a soldier in the British army, a warrior in the imperialist project. Is it possible, any longer, to cherish a man in such a place? Is it possible to forgive him or admire him, and others caught in a similar position: men like Robert E. Lee who nobly fought on behalf of Americaís slave-holding states, or Erwin Rommel, whose brilliant generalship and nerve lifted the fortunes of the Third Reich? What happens when a hero is dipped into a poison dye? Does he come out the color of his countryís sins, or the color of his individual worth? Is his own inward-driven velocity the measure of who he is, or the direction his culture imparts to it? Is his gallantry erased by the cause he is conditioned to fight for, or does something in his soul prevail in spite of it, persisting to become a legacy for all? Can intentions ever redeem consequences; is vision beyond oneís place and time a necessary condition for being revered? Perhaps this is not a question which can be answered by theory. Perhaps it is necessary to examine the details of a life in order to decide its fate; like some mythological scribe of the underworld, to take up a pen, and write once in the book of sins and once in the book of virtues, to see which page holds more, before deciding the final destination of those we once loved.

As you may remember, we last left Charles Gordon in Peking, standing beside the smoldering ruins of the Summer Palace which he was instructed to destroy. He was very much a product of his culture and his family, and subject to the inertia of his lineage; a fresh, yet already aged and deeply imprinted soul, passed through the hands of dark angels to a new world and its onerous tasks. At the same time, Charles Gordon was a unique and independent spirit with the power of self-creation. His soul had weight, enough to sink below the surface of his times and its assumptions into the depths of the heartís wisdom. In him, duty and honor were innate callings, but to what should they attach? To nation or to God? To what should the prodigally sincere spirit, longing to serve, lend its great nobility? To the collective direction or the individualís lonely vision? In blessed moments, there was an overlap, a place where the two great demands on loyalty did not conflict, but at other moments, there seemed to be a tension, a competition between them, as in the Biblical warning, "you cannot serve two masters" - and Gordon was plunged into doubt, sometimes knowing the cause, at other times simply tormented and depressed without fully understanding why.

After the Chinese capitulation to the foreign army which had demanded its submission to Europeís imperialistic designs, Gordon was placed in charge of providing and maintaining quarters for the occupying garrison at Tientsin. This garrison was to insure Chinese compliance to the latest treaty. In 1861, Gordonís focus on technical details and the poor quality of the British troops stationed at Tientsin was temporarily relieved by a short but severe bout with smallpox, which, alarming though it was, resulted in a shift of inner tectonic plates, and a deepening commitment to his religion. As he wrote to his elder sister, Augusta, in the wake of his battle with the illness: "The disease has brought me back to my Saviour, and I trust in future to be a better Christian than I have been hitherto." [6]

For any understanding of Gordon to be reached, his relationship with his faith must be considered. As previously stated, Gordon was reared in a deeply Christian home, by a mother absolutely devoted to the lessons of the Bible. Later, his prime correspondent in life would be his sister Augusta, twelve years his elder, with whom he exchanged multitudinous pages of thought, reflection, and ideas on God, faith, the divine mysteries and life. In these days, in the West, Christianity was still the prime ideological vessel for containing and transporting moral sentiments, and many a naturally sensitive and compassionate individual soon found his innate reaching-out to others encumbered with the doctrines and contortions of this spiritual framework that both justified and encouraged his goodwill, yet also burdened it with many life-denying demands and afflicted it with thwarted instincts that were turned into neuroses. Gordon was both an absorber and a nonconformist; a victim of his faith, and a man saved by it.

Regarding the Christian attitude towards violence - or, should it be said, the Christian attitude ever since Constantine, after the pacifism of the early Christians was infected by the ambitions of states that needed to preserve their capacity for violence - Gordon was, without a doubt, an absorber. He inherited the tradition of the "Christian soldier", the "crusader for Christ", which had been consolidated by centuries of European history, and he did not swerve from his belief that one could be both a Christian and a warrior, love Jesus and kill oneís enemy. Violence has always been a troubling matter for moral people. Yet most, in the end, reject absolute pacifism, reasoning in the following way: what if a killer were to burst into my home and threaten to kill my loved ones? Wouldnít love compel me to protect them from the killer, and wouldnít I be justified in using violence against him, if that were necessary to stop him? Once that principle is established, and most people readily accept it, there follows the next step: what if the killer were to burst into my neighborís house? Should I stand aside and let him die, limit my love to my own family? Shouldnít my love extend beyond my own house, beyond my own locked door? And if it does, shouldnít I, therefore, come to the defense of my neighbor who is in danger, and if necessary, resort to violence to protect his life? Once that principle is established, the question then arises, where do I draw the line? If I am compassionate, must I not defend all who are in danger who I am able to defend, the same as I would defend my own family, and my neighbor? Even people who are threatened in other lands? The use of violence, morally justified under the most direct and obvious conditions, can be expanded by extending outwards the principle that allows it under those conditions, giving rise to the birth of armies and the self-defense of nations on their own soil and, once a little strategy is absorbed, on battlefields in other lands, as well as the rescue of other nations from their own, distant predators. In this environment, seemingly constructed by a widening of oneís morality, which grows to encompass the people of the entire world, spectacular new opportunities for deceit are born; selfish manipulators are able to confuse the well-intentioned, to blur the lines between caring and despising, aiding and exploiting. For the Christian of the Victorian era, violence was expected to be undertaken with solemnity, as a last resort, after serious efforts on behalf of peace had been made (although, in practice, it was often embarked on, especially against "primitive peoples", with all the joy and pageantry of a fox hunt). [7] Old Testament values of righteous warfare, conducted by a race favored by God, against those who stood in the way of its destiny, were internalized by Great Britain by this time, and Jesusí rather impractical push for absolute pacifism, based upon a level of faith not possible in the face of the material output of the Industrial Revolution, was quietly pushed to the side. Then, as now, the Bible was selectively used to make spirituality pragmatic; to empower earthly agendas, not derail them. Gordon, whose wild-horse spirit bucked many a rider of his mind, did not throw off this concept. He suffered more than most soldiers for the bitter harvests reaped by war, and yet he did not reject violence or its high expression, war, but rather, integrated it into his Christian worldview. His religion did not cause him to beat his sword into a plowshare, but it did alert him to his own pride and to the secret craving for glory that horrified him, which he sought, most of his life, to escape from. Like many great warriors of history, he was stimulated by the intellectual and physical demands which warfare placed upon him; by the high-stakes puzzles which it allowed him to solve, proving the brilliance of his mind, and by the dangers, beyond the ken of peace, which it allowed him to face, proving the courage in his heart. Like climbing a mountain, battle gave him a chance to find out the state of his soul, and a medium in which to grow. But this was a mountain whose crags and slopes were made of living men, families, and a world; it was not just one man against the snow and the wind, and it could not be climbed in innocence. Gordon was aware of this, and nearly torn in two between his mode of self-expression, and its consequences. His spirit was both elevated and eclipsed by the gift that covered him with its shadow.

In addition to his religionís reconciliation with warfare, Gordon also seemed to absorb the most extreme content of its distrust of sex. While many spiritual systems throughout the world have left ample mental space for the enjoyment of sensual pleasure without thereby giving way to pure hedonism, or drowning society in its libido, Christianity has frequently set pleasure at odds with the sacred, portraying the body as a barrier to reaching a true commitment to God. With great frequency throughout the Bible, the ascetics come off as upright, while the wicked are described as sensual and decadent: slaves of their carnal senses, who are diverted, by their bodies, from spiritual attainment. Adam is corrupted by Eve who cannot resist the apple, Samson is undone by the charms of Delilah which he is not mighty enough to deny, Sodom and Gomorra are punished for their joyful, corrupted ways which turn their eyes from the sky, Herod is led to kill a great prophet by a dancing girl, Babylon is the whore that tempts the holy to damnation. In "1 Corinthians", the Apostle Paul urges man and woman to marry if that is necessary to prevent them from committing the sin of "fornication" - sex between the unwed: "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind." [8] However, for those who have spiritual discipline and strength as he does, it is even better to refrain from sexual relations altogether: "It is good for a man not to touch a womanÖ I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide [in chastity] even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." [9] Seen, in this light, pleasure is virtually the opposite of faith, and the body and its senses are impediments to meeting the divine, which depends upon renunciation, and the intense focus which only deprivation can produce. The sincerest and strongest Christian is therefore led to celibacy. The good Christian who is not up to this stringent standard, at least knows his limitations, and flees into the shelter of a formal, monogamous marriage in order to satisfy his desires within a socially-accepted space, where no sin will be committed, no taboo violated, and no neighborly bond broken.

Gordon, bombarded from childhood by the Biblical slant of righteous Victorian women, and naturally driven beyond the masses and their compromises by an irrepressible force of idealism that seemed to haunt him from birth, was doubtless set on a trajectory towards this Christian extreme at an early age. At the age of fourteen, he wrote in a journal that he wished he were a eunuch, a most curious comment for a youth to make, which leads some to wonder if any unusual or traumatic event may have occurred to him around this time, or if this sentiment only represented the clash of his adolescent awakening with the ascetic sensibilities instilled in him by his motherís version of Christianity. Throughout his life, Gordon would display the physical resistance of a priest to the sexual act, although his appreciation of women, as friends and ideals to be cherished and respected in the chivalrous manner of the knight, was evident. Today, Gordonís behavior would be considered bizarre and prudish; back then, it was only regrettable (to the ladies who were interested in him), but otherwise wholly consistent with the sincerest fringe of Christian believers, who the rest of Humanity could not (and chose not to) follow. Celibacy, however, was not without its cost for Gordon. It was not dictated by his body, it was a genuine sacrifice. Gordonís senses were not dead. He could frequently be found reading the Bible while sipping a glass of cognac or brandy, and he loved to smokeÖ From an early age, he seemed to suffer from attacks of angina, especially brought on by stress. These attacks, which helped to keep him on Godí short leash, and to prevent him from forgetting the fragility of Man, who lives constantly at the mercy of the divine, may have, at the same time as they deepened his spirituality, stemmed from it. For the lack of touch in the midst of so challenging a life, must surely have wrought a physical toll on him. Gordon spent much of his life, propelled by passionate emotions within an enclosed space, bouncing off of the walls of things he had renounced with an energy far too great for his self-imposed limitations. It was, perhaps, one of the secrets of his outward achievement, as well as, ultimately, one of the secrets of his demise.

Although a straightforward, if overly zealous, absorber of the Christian ethos he was exposed to, in other spiritual ways Gordon was an eccentric and nonconformist. His literal attention to Scripture, exaggerated even for those days (in which men were learning to view its stories as literature instead of history), led him to propose all sorts of theories which horrified geographers and Biblical scholars alike. Before his life was over, he would determine an alternative site in Jerusalem for the crucifixion of Christ, determine unorthodox locations for the Garden of Eden and the final resting place of Noahís Ark, and calculate the exact date of Jesusí second coming. Gordon also adhered, for many years, to the theory of predestination, which by then was very much out of favor in most Christian circles. He believed that everything to be in this world was already decided, and wondered, at moments of inner torment and anxiety, why he was still suffering over his decisions as though the future of menís lives depended on him, and were not already written into the unfolding fabric of the Universe. Yet, suffer he did. He did not abdicate his sense of responsibility on the doorstep of his theory, and that fact, in itself, troubled him, as though it meant he were somehow deficient in his faith. Gordon also had an off-and-on relationship with the Holy Eucharist, or the ceremony in which the Christian believer drinks the wine that symbolizes the blood of Christ, and eats the cracker that symbolizes his body, in a ritual "ingestion" of divine spirit. In the same way that food, once eaten, is digested and absorbed to become a part of the body, so, by means of this ritual, the spirit of Christ is said to enter a manís heart, and to be absorbed by him. In the future, after his Chinese experience, Gordon would one day come upon an open Bible at a friendís house, and find these words leaping out at him from its pages: "Whosoever confesseth that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he is God." [10] This powerful concept, which he sometimes accessed by means of the Eucharist, stunned and transformed Gordon, taking his spiritual development to a higher level, for now he was able to smash through the feeling of being detached and separate from his God, always pining for what was beyond him and unreachable, to a feeling of oneness, a fusion of the mortal with the divine. Now he could be possessed, disappear within, become a part of, become an instrument. In his moments of greatest esoteric lucidity, Gordon could feel God looking out of his eyes at the world, and using him, as a tool in His plan. In such a state, Death seemed only an illusion, because one was no longer oneself, but God, immortal and divine; and Death, should it come, would only restore consciousness, battered back from the outpost of a man, to its original source. Gordon called this mystical, empowering knowledge "the secret", and never let it corrupt his confidence into a sense of superiority. It did not inflate him, it balanced him; it did not inhibit him with his preciousness, it unleashed his courage and led him to expose himself, as the great must always do. But, of course, Gordon was human and not always at his best. His faith waxed and waned, his certainty gave way to doubt, and demanded new attention; his inner towers could crash to the ground in a single instant, collapsed by his pride, his perfectionism, his ideals and his passions; he fled daily into the Bible to renew himself, and when necessary, to fight with himself, gripping the throat of one Gordon to save the other. Gordonís life as a Christian was turbulent; his was no bland faith, no superficial, one-time pep talk left to the side of his life. It was a true commitment, a path into the unknown, an adventure, a sounding of the depths. There was a constant growing, dying, and rebirth in it, and a sincerity that made it seem half-mad to many, accustomed by now to the faded colors of a religion that had retreated from the world into the church, except when an alibi was needed. It was hypocrisy that now made Gordon seem insane to the brightest minds of the day, for he took seriously what was meant to be a farce. But many of the common people, nostalgic by the hole in their dead faith, were grateful to have someone to remind them of what had once filled that hole, and preferred to view him as a saint.

Although Gordonís faith was still a work in progress (as it would always be), it emerged quite strongly from his 1861 bout with smallpox. Fused with his military prowess and his growing experience in warfare, it was ready to make an impact on the battlefields of China, beginning in 1863. In this year, Gordon, with the approval of British authorities, accepted command of a 3,000-man mercenary force known as the "Ever Victorious Army", strangely enough under the employ of the very same Chinese government he had come to tame in 1860. As many of the environments into which Gordon would be inserted throughout his career, this one was complex, politically convoluted, a labyrinth of competing, collaborating, and often uncertain loyalties and interests.

Ever since 1850, China had, in addition to suffering the encroachment and interference of foreign merchants, missionaries, and armies, been embroiled in a fierce and bloody civil war which was destined to cost as many as 200 million lives. [11] China, at the time, was ruled by the Manchu Dynasty [12], which replaced the Ming Dynasty in the 17th Century. Dominated by ethnic Manchus, who swept southwards into China from Manchuria, and imposed outward signs of submission onto the populace, by forcing all Chinese males to adopt the Manchu hairstyle - a shaved head with a pigtail hanging down from the back - this dynasty was considered "foreign" by many Chinese, and correspondingly resented. At the same time, however, the Dynasty preserved the civil service bureaucracy, social system, and guiding Confucian philosophy which had long sustained China and provided continuity in the midst of its political upheavals and dynastic changes, so that Manchu rule was not so much an imposition upon Chinese culture, as it was an infiltration of Chinese culture and domination from within. Its conquest was softened as the country it had seized absorbed it, and remade it in its own image - much as China had begun to ingest Kublai Khan in the 13th Century. Nonetheless, in 1850, a great revolt was born: the Taiping Rebellion, spearheaded by a controversial mystic, Hung Hsiu-chíuan, or Tíien Wang (the "Heavenly King"), a strange yet gifted man who, during a physical and emotional collapse brought on by his failure to pass the civil service exam (the key to a better life), was transformed by a series of visions into believing he was the savior of China. In his feverish spiritual journeys at deathís door - journeys colored by the partly-digested influence of Christian missionaries - he saw himself as Jesus Christís younger brother, come to the world as its new Messiah, and charged with the divine task of purifying the country of its demons: men who had been taken over by evil forces, and institutions which reflected and provided structural outlets for those evil forces to manifest and harm the people. Hung was a man of many dimensions. In some ways, he was progressive: he called for an end to the practice of binding womenís feet, and advocated equality for women, who should be allowed to participate in the civil service on the same footing as men. In some ways, he was extreme: he called for an end to the private ownership of land, proposing that the State should expropriate and own all land, and lend it to the peasants according to need. This idea was, in fact, "Communist", and a precursor of the Maoist revolution of the 1930s and 1940s. In the manner of that revolution, Hung was in favor of abolishing the landlord class altogether, and executions of landowners were, in fact, widely practiced by the Taiping rebels as they swept through the countryside. Hung was also a cultural revolutionary, willing to upset and to try to uproot centuries of intellectual and philosophical custom, by displacing the writings of Confucius and other Chinese classics from the study repertoire of the civil service exams, and replacing them with the Christian Bible, which would become the new source of ethics, and the new force for molding life, in China. Consistent with the Christian sensibility, concubinage was to be ended and monogamy promoted as the virtuous path for rich and poor alike. However, Hung and his principal leaders appeared to maintain large personal harems in spite of this moralizing campaign, which seems to have been meant for others. Power has a way of creating its own reality, as the concrete means to attain almost always defeat abstraction.

Hung was, by all accounts, a dynamic and charismatic leader, and many in China were ready for his message. First received by marginalized "ethnic" peoples in the south, including his own Hakka minority, the message was soon consolidated and began to spread. In some ways arrogant (in its goal to smash the old and to remake China with material not of its own culture), the Taiping movement also exuded a sincerity and zeal in its early years that were captivating to a people weary of corruption, high taxes, poor services, widespread insecurity and rampant banditry (many locales, unable to depend upon the Manchu regime for adequate protection, had been forced to form their own self-defense societies to establish some semblance of order). Disciplined, committed, and brave, the Taiping rebels flourished in the half-ruled landscapes of a fading dynasty. Wearing their hair long, in defiance of Manchu codes of submission, they defeated Imperial forces, established a revolutionary capital at Nanking, grew more powerful from their acquisition of foreign firearms (available through trade), threatened to take over the entire country, were beaten back, consolidated control in a virtually impervious revolutionary zone, and sought, again, to extend their power from that base. In the beginning, Europeans tended to idealize the rebellion. It was, after all, Christian in origin, and they hoped that it might conquer and transform China into a Christian nation, more amenable to the West, less surly and resistant to trade. However, after a while, the "honeymoon" began to fade. The "Christian" basis of the revolt began to seem less and less like a legitimate and recognizable expression of Christianity, and more like the utterly personal creation of a very ill man who had grazed Christianity, and carried off shattered pieces of it to place in his mosaic of visions. The missionaries who thought he was a protťgť realized that he was, instead, a heretic who would not bend to their interpretation; he was, they came to realize, a "Christian" only by chance, a lost soul who had collided with their religion and staggered away in a self-righteous daze, covered with its dust. Others, also, were forced to contend with the dark underside of the "heavenly revolt." Victorious Taiping forces were clearly responsible for some horrendous, large-scale massacres and were repeatedly proven ruthless towards their enemies. Their victims included not only imperial troops and wealthy landlords, but also great numbers of peasants, who did not properly support them or in other ways antagonized them. Although Imperial forces were also cruel, it was hard to glorify the rebels who would not take the higher ground.

In this milieu, as the romantic mystique of the Taiping Rebellion began to fade in the eyes of European observers - as its violence, radicalism, spiritual incongruity, political unreliability, and rather unnerving zeal began to take center stage - its appeal began to wane. Whereas the European "public" was slow to abandon its idealization, European policy-makers were far ahead of them in deciding that the best card to play in China was actually supporting the corrupt and decaying Manchu regime against the Taiping rebels. The Manchus, already having submitted to European demands, were a known quantity, whereas the stance the Taiping rebels might take after winning control of China was unknown. The Manchu Dynasty was weak, and highly susceptible to European predation, a regime far removed from its initial force, from the velocity of its genesis, like a spent bullet at the end of its trajectory, whereas the Taiping movement was vigorous, young, and close to the power of its inception. The Manchus were like a garden with its doors open for imperialism, the Taipings had not yet been subjugated; they were a movement with an unbroken spirit. Around the time that Gordon was placed in command of the Ever Victorious Army, the issue was not so much whether the Taipings would gain mastery over all of China, for Imperial forces had already driven back their northern advance, but whether the Taipings might destabilize and threaten the vital port of Shanghai which was significant to European commerce; and whether the continuation of the civil war, itself, might not impede the further advances of imperialism, by blocking off the interior of China from foreign penetration, and disrupting economic activity throughout widespread areas of China.

Originally formed in 1860, through the efforts of Shanghai merchants fearing a Taiping invasion, and local Chinese officials who felt that the Manchu army might not properly defend their city, the Ever Victorious Army was a mercenary force comprised of foreign soldiers and Chinese recruits, led by an American adventurer, Frederick Townsend Ward. For some months, Ward successfully led this army against nearby Taiping commanders, fighting to give Shanghai more breathing room by clearing its environs of rebels. In 1862, however, Ward fell in battle, and local merchants, Chinese officials, and American and British diplomats struggled to find an acceptable replacement. At the end of a long and contested political process, thanks mainly to the efforts of the local Chinese governor, Li Hung-chang, Gordon was selected, and the die of his destiny cast.

Officially, Gordon was registered as an officer in the Imperial (Manchu) Chinese army, reporting to Li Hung-chang, with the blessing of the British army and political establishment. He was also made a Mandarin (by the Chinese), as a means of guaranteeing him a level of respect which would enhance his authority over native troops. Why Gordon, of all men, should have received this appointment is not absolutely clear, for although he had performed well in all military duties to date, he had not yet proved himself outside of the capacity of engineer, where he was known for his competence and skill, as well as for his fearless explorations and sketches of the front lines. Perhaps the main reason, at this time, lay in his ability to relate to and to impress the locals with his sincere and open energy, which presented a rare mix of humility (he saw men of other races as his equals, and acted accordingly) and his confidence (he was clear, focused, and believed in his judgment, as a soldier). He did not look down his nose at the Chinese, as many Europeans, nor insult them with condescension - nor did he reek of imperialist designs, he seemed blissfully unaware of his role in the grand imperialist blueprint, living in a smaller, more direct world of concrete problems to be faced and overcome, exuding decency, fairness, and honesty in that limited, but intense environment. Li liked Gordonís fearlessness in cutting to the chase, and observed that he was "direct and businesslike" and "had the stamp of an excellent soldier." [13] He felt he could get results from him. More than that, Li wrote in his journal, soon after meeting Gordon: "It is a direct blessing from Heaven, I believe, the coming of the British GordonÖ He is superior in manner and bearing to any of the foreigners I have come into contact with and does not show outwardly that conceit which makes most of them repugnant to my sight." [14]

Militarily, Gordonís main challenge in dealing with the Taiping Rebels was to overcome the difficulty of the local terrain, which was crisscrossed by rivers and canals sheltering numerous rebel-held towns and forts, which made an advance over land against them difficult and dangerous. The solution, already pioneered by Ward, was to turn the waterways from impediments into assets by bringing steamships with artillery into play, which could spearhead all advances made against enemy positions and allow the Ever Victorious Army to infiltrate and divide the Taiping strongholds. This basic concept was solidified on the operational level by acquiring and outfitting the military boats, and by the careful disciplining and training of the mercenary army, whose recruits were tirelessly drilled in everything from laying down accurate artillery fire to rushing up siege ladders to storm enemy-held walls. The work was tremendously complicated by seemingly incessant plots and machinations fueled by the shadowy motives of Taiping leaders, Imperial Chinese commanders (operating independently from the Ever Victorious Army), mutinous officers and men within the Ever Victorious Army, and rival mercenaries going over to the Taipings. Much of Gordonís work centered on getting control of his own force, weeding out the unruly and the unreliable, fighting to put an end to the looting which Ward had permitted his men as a reward for their success, and supplanting pillage with a reliable system of pay, in order to lay the economic foundations for the moral elevation of the troops. Where possible, he replaced American mercenaries with British soldiers loaned to him by the British army, for these were far more responsive to his command; and he worked to cultivate native Chinese troops, who he related well to.

The conquest of Taiping-held territory west of Shanghai was methodical and careful, the reduction of one fortress or walled town often being required before the Ever Victorious Army could proceed against another. Gordon, himself, conducted painstaking reconnaissance operations to lay the groundwork for successful assaults, meticulously mapping the terrain and sketching the fortifications to be overcome. In the interim between Wardís death and Gordonís assumption of command, the Ever Victorious Army had been led in one disastrous attack on the city of Taitsan, when its acting commander failed to correctly gauge the width of a moat, and, without proper equipment to bridge it, got hung up trying to pass over it as defenders fired down on his forces. Over 450 men had been lost on that day. Gordon would commit no such mistake, always building victory from the ground up with scrupulous preparation. This is not to say that his eye was not quick, and that inspiration did not play a role in his triumphs. The great commander is always one-part designer, and one-part opportunist. But as much as possible, Gordon insured victory and the lives of his men with conscientious planning. In many cases, as in the capture of the Taiping fort at Chanzu, he relied on bombardments from his steamboats, this time positioned in a nearby canal, to open up a hole in the walls of the enemyís defenses, which his storming party would then rush through. The capture of Taitsan, which had already beaten off one attack by the Ever Victorious Army and another by Liís brother, who had been lured with many Chinese troops into a trap, expecting to be aided by Taiping defectors, was more difficult. Following the formula used at Chanzu, Gordonís steamers blasted a gaping hole into the cityís walls, into which an infantry assault was hurled. Well-armed with rifles, and aided by European mercenaries of their own who directed deadly barrages of artillery at the attackers, the Taipings resisted two assault waves, inflicting heavy losses. Finally, Gordon himself took direct charge of a third assault, moving forward with his men, armed only with a walking stick which came to be known as the "wand of victory." As bullets flew all about, his amazing coolness under fire inspired his own men and unnerved the enemy, who could not seem to bring him down no matter how hard they tried. Skillfully, Gordon guided his troops over the contested approach to the city, and through the breach, until victory was at last theirs. Back in England, reports of this courageous victory, which forever imprinted on the British mind the image of Gordon advancing across the battlefield, chewing on a cigar and carrying nothing more than a cane, reached deeply into the collective psyche. Subdued by pragmatism, subordinated to a regimen of practicality - yoked for life to hard work with no outlet for valor, or else to leisure with its secret cracks of self-despising - the majority of the British public was hungry for someone to live through, someone to fulfill their longing to rise up from the soot or the polo lawn to be glorious, someone to represent who they wished to be, but were thwarted from being, either by society or by themselves. Gordon was the perfect answer, and they harnessed their ache to be more than they were to him, and chose him to drag their wounded souls through the world of their failures, towards his unbowed vision.

Meanwhile, in China, Governor Li Huang-chang was equally impressed. In the near future, he would go on to write: "What a sight for tired eyes and elixir for a heavy heart to see this splendid Englishman fight!Ö Fight - move - fight again - move again - landing his men - planning by night and executing by day - planning by day and executing by night! He is a glorious fellow!" [15]

Perhaps Gordonís most brilliant victory came not long afterwards, at Quinsan, which he captured with what strategists would call a near-perfect example of the "indirect approach." Rather than confront its formidable fortifications head-on, Gordon made a wide detour around the city, bearing down with steamers against the causeway which connected Quinsan with other Taiping strongholds, such as Soochow. This move, by threatening to cut off Quinsan from its sources of supply and reinforcement, led the defenders to sally out in an effort to clear away Imperial Chinese forces who were in the vicinity, so that they could effect a retreat. At this juncture, the artillery on Gordonís steamers opened up with devastating results, raking the masses of Taiping fighters with withering firepower, which led to an absolute rout. By the time the battle was over, up to 5,000 Taipings were dead, and 2,000 captured; Quinsan had fallen, and Gordonís own losses were two men. Although every man is sacred, for an officer in the midst of combat men are not the sons of mothers and fathers, but part of a calculation, the mathematics of a higher purpose that, at the price of condemning some homes to eternal darkness, seeks to cover the rest in sunshine. Gordon suffered acutely for his losses, but being a soldier, he knew that the results at Quinsan were spectacular. It is apparent that he also felt great pity for the masses of the Taiping dead who were, in some ways, the material out of which his victory was built.

Next began the operations against Soochow, which Gordon aimed to capture by taking positions along its lines of communication, and forcing its abandonment or surrender with a minimum of fighting. The equation of power was temporarily tilted against him when a prominent American mercenary who had formerly served in the Ever Victorious Army, Henry Burgevine, went over to the Taipings with a band of well-armed mercenaries, and succeeded in stealing a steamboat to boot. Gordon sought to convince Burgevine, whose force added a formidable core of fighters capable of stiffening Taiping resistance, to abandon his new alliance with the enemy. Burgevine, in a secret meeting with Gordon, then came up with a stunning counterproposal: that the two of them join forces to overthrow the Chinese government, and rule China for themselves! Of course, Gordon would have no part in it. In the end, Burgevine was finally successfully separated from the Taipings, and Gordon went back to the work of hemming in the city by taking its outlying forts. In one battle, at the Leeku stockades, a fellow officer standing next to Gordon was hit by a bullet in the head and fell, dead, into Gordonís arms. He, himself, thought some, seemed to invite death, walking about in the thick of battle, often in a bright red coat, as though he wished to die and be returned to his Maker. For Gordon, surrounded by the dead who infested his conscience, there was consolation in knowing that he shared the dangers of those he had sent to die, that he was equally exposed, and as ready to be torn from the world, in the name of his plans, as they. He followed the orders that he gave. There was also something deeply religious in his actions, a kind of pilgrimage hiding inside the war, a visit to his trust in God, and a submission to Godís will, every time that the bullets started to fly. As soldiering, in some ways, drew Gordon further away from God, it also brought him closer. He was both diminished as a Christian, and enhanced.

At last, Gordonís patient work outside Soochow seemed ready to bear results. The rebels were cramped by his gains and their losses, and felt the inevitability of defeat closing in. Under these circumstances, they listened to Gordonís overtures for peace, and divining his sense of honor and the merciful heart that his profession could not fully eradicate, they considered trusting him. It seemed, in total earnestness, that he was asking them to help him to lay aside his military brilliance in order to save their lives and his soul; to help him throw water over the flame of his glory, in the name of Humanity. After Gordon was able to secure, for the garrison, a promise from Governor Li that Soochow would not be subjected to the massacres and pillaging which frequently followed a surrender in this war, the Taiping leaders agreed to give up their arms. What followed next, was one of the most painful moments of Gordonís entire life. After he and the Ever Victorious Army had left the area, Chinese Imperial troops, triggered or not by disorder within the city that had yielded to them, went on a terrible rampage of looting and killing, perpetrating an awful massacre on the inhabitants of Soochow, and murdering the Taiping leaders who, trusting in Gordon, had been persuaded to surrender. As soon as Gordon found out, he returned to the scene of the crime to try to restore order, and only by the slimmest of margins managed to avoid destruction himself in the chaos that engulfed the city. Simultaneously outraged at Li for betraying the terms of surrender (Gordon was rumored to be looking for him with a pistol), and distraught because of the death of those who had believed in his word, Gordon emerged from the city with the severed head of the Taiping commander, which was pointed out to him by an informant among various mutilated corpses. Gordon retained the head in his possession until it was able to be reunited with the commanderís body, and given a proper burial. In the meantime, his sense of having been used, of having had his honor manipulated to lure victims to their death, then cast aside as though it were nothing but a worthless piece of bait that had served its purpose, drove him to a state of near madness. Some days after, a messenger found him lying on his bed, sobbing, with the decomposing head of the slain rebel leader still in his possession. Later still, a European observer noted that Gordon was in "a truly sorrowful state. He could not speak from emotion, his eyes were full of tears, he did nothing but walk about the room in a distracted manner." [16] Li sought to engineer a reconciliation with Gordon, who, at first, would have nothing of it, but rather, refused to lead the Ever Victorious Army and stayed on the sidelines of the civil war, sulking like Achilles wronged by Agamemnon. Finally, after some months, a British investigator produced a report supporting some aspects of Liís justification for the massacre, describing it as an action that was not premeditated, but which emerged as a result of uncertainty regarding the genuineness of the surrender, as some Taiping units may have commenced fighting after Liís party was in Soochow; whereupon Li, fearing the same kind of treachery which had resulted in his brotherís murder at Taitsan, executed the Taiping leaders, and simultaneously lost control of his undisciplined troops, who used street riots flaring up throughout the city as a pretext for embarking on a binge of killing and looting. Li formally absolved Gordon of all responsibility for the massacre, and took the blame for having failed to control the situation. At the same time, British agents pressured Gordon to return to the field, in order to help restore unity and order to China and end the Taiping threat once and for all. As one such agent stated, "The Destiny of China is at present moment in the hands of Gordon more than any other man.." [16b] Gordon, shaken and sorrowful, was finally convinced that the world would best be served if the work begun were finished, and the civil war that had cost China so dearly laid to rest.

In the engagements that followed, Gordon conducted himself more recklessly than ever, thrusting himself to the edge of the precipice of his well-laid plans, finding danger for himself in the midst of strategies constructed to minimize danger for his men. It was almost as though he were propelled by a personal death wish, driven by a desire to join the ghosts of those who were the victims of their trust in him.

In his first major action since Soochow, Yesing was captured easily, his own troops giving him a harder time than the enemyís. The Ever Victorious Army was upset about being restrained from looting, which was commonplace in that time and place. They felt left out, barricaded from the natural right of the victor to seize the spoils of war by their commanderís exaggerated scruples. In order to retain control of his soldiers, Gordon was forced to have one of his own men shot. He would not have another Soochow on his conscience. Perhaps the single most outstanding impression left on Gordonís mind from Yesing, was the extent of the poverty which he encountered. There was mass starvation and hunger everywhere, streets filled with the unburied dead, men with a little more strength stealing food from their own friends who were weaker, even acts of cannibalism. Horrified, Gordon forced open some local granaries whose doors had remained shut in spite of the catastrophe, and handed out supplies to the survivors. His commitment to end the war which was ruining China, disorganizing it to the point where it could no longer even take care of its basic necessities, was renewed. He must push on, past the demoralization wrought by Soochow, past the knowledge that both sides might be "equally rotten", as the soldier of fortune Burgevine had once told him. [18] He must gain victory in the name of order and the restoration of uninterrupted life cycles - cycles of human life, and cycles of agriculture, not reduced to chaos by the intrusion of war - and he must do so as quickly as possible, which meant stamping out the Taiping Rebellion: the fastest path to a return to normalcy.

However, as Gordon came closer to finishing off the Taipings, the ferocity of their resistance grew. With their backs to the wall, there was less possibility of half-hearted defense or withdrawal; the "flight" part of the fight-or-flight response was becoming increasingly untenable. At Kitang, the Taipings stood up admirably to Gordonís artillery, and furiously resisted his advance, even after a breach had been opened in the cityís walls. Gordonís troops, dismayed by the level of resistance and the still-intact firepower of the enemy, held back from the attack, leaving Gordon, who advanced without them, virtually on his own. This time, his "magic" wand of victory did not protect him, and he was shot in the leg. His troops, drawn forward to protect him, swarmed about him as he continued to push forward until finally, faint from loss of blood, he could not go on, and had to be carried from the field. After that, the attack collapsed. Kitang held on, and the Taipings celebrated.

With Gordon temporarily out of the picture, the Taipings mounted a series of dangerous counterattacks in the area, and Gordonís stand-in in the Ever Victorious Army lost an important battle due to a poor sense of timing, prematurely converting a prelude into an attack. Governor Li took to visiting Gordon daily, expending great efforts to nurse his "gift from Heaven" back to health.

When at last Gordon was ready to return to the front, the fortified city of Chíang-chou had become the strategic center of the campaign. Here, too, resistance was fierce. After blasting down a section of the cityís walls with artillery, Gordon was required to construct defenseworks opposite the cityís moat, and to throw a barrel bridge across it to enable his storming party to effectively attack. Even so, his men were beaten back, requiring Gordon, at last, to personally lead a charge into the heavily-defended breach. There, as he maneuvered through the terrain, jumping from spot to spot amidst the deadly rain of bullets, his men following the directions of his familiar cane, he came face to face with a piece of heavy artillery, a big gun that had been removed from the steamship Firefly, previously stolen by Burgevine and sold to the Taipings. Pointed straight at him, the gun was fired, but it did not go off. Conventional explanations surmise that the round was thwarted by damp powder, though others attributed the gunís failure to an act of God, or to the magical powers of Gordon, himself. Before the astonished Taiping gun crew could recover and prepare their 32-pounder for another shot, Gordonís men had overrun their position. Filled with a sense of invincibility in the presence of Gordonís "powers", the Ever Victorious Army swept forward irresistibly, and went on to capture the city; this triumph, in turn, opened up the path to the Taipingsí last significant stronghold, the capital of their revolutionary movement: Nanking.

Gordon, always the brilliant mapmaker and appraiser of fortifications, conducted the reconnaissance of the city and its environs which laid the groundwork for the attack, but the actual conquest of Nanking was left to the forces of the Imperial Chinese Army, who wished to take credit for the victory. They did not want to have to say that they had depended on foreigners to win the war. And yet, that is precisely what captured rebel leaders stated before their execution: "It was not Li Hung-chang, but the foreign devils who were capable of capturing Soochow and other districtsÖ" [19] Nanking, isolated and gravely weakened by Gordonís victories all around it, fell to the Chinese army in July of 1864; the Taiping Messiah Hung Hsiu-chíuan committed suicide, and the last vestiges of his army were destroyed, thousands in battle, and thousands by their own hand, in massive acts of self-immolation; the Taiping Rebellion, which had thrown China into chaos and shaken it to its very foundations for fifteen years, was finally brought to a decisive close.

With the fall of Nanking, Gordonís work in China was essentially done. There were some months of unremitting congratulations and praise, before he was able, in January of 1865, to return to England, where he was greeted as a full-fledged Victorian hero, popularly referred to as "Chinese Gordon." In retrospect, the war to repress the Taiping Rebellion had not been black and white, not offered, to anyone, the comforting lines of good versus evil. The suppression of the revolt had, ultimately, served the interests of the British imperialists, operating inside an ambiguous ethical space in which they were neither absolute villains nor morally elevated saviors. Within this space, Gordon, as an individual, had shone. While British merchants and farsighted politicians recognized the importance of the victory in terms of the possibility of expanded commerce and an overall enhancement of Britainís global strategic position, for the general public it had generated a personal and heroic story capable of filling the empty places in their hearts and souls. Captain Charles George Gordon, promoted, now, to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel, had become an integral part of their lives.

Of course, the British public wanted to get to know its hero better. To both its disappointment and delight, it found Gordon to be surprisingly uncooperative in this regard: elusive quarry for its adulation. Motivated by a Christian sense of humility - forever at war with his desire for recognition, and only able to suppress it by means of the extreme reaction of hiding from all who sought to glorify him, and avoiding those who might feed his ego until he lost all hope of purifying his motives - he desperately evaded the circuit of banquets and social gatherings intended for him, upon his return to England as a hero. It is true that Gordon also disliked the pretenses, forms, and appearances of Victorian social occasions, which he found to be superficial features of a world which had drifted away from God. As one biographer writes: "Never one to enjoy social niceties, he became an artful dodger of all manner of invitationsÖ Even there [in seclusion], fawning matrons and hopeful spinsters would try to capture him as a social prize." [20] In order to politely decline unwanted invitations, Gordon would frequently invent an excuse, stating that he would be out of town at the time of the scheduled party; then, driven by his compulsion to be honest, he would be forced to purchase a ticket and take a train out of town, a custom which protected the integrity of his word, but caused him a great deal of inconvenience and lost time. Gordonís evasiveness, in this terrain, made him a precious character in the eyes of the public, for it pointed to the earnestness of his spirit, which seemed truly to be in search of something greater than vanity, something deeper than earthly success. He would not, as Epictetus might have said, stoop to climb the social ladder; nor, as Cyrano might have said, "scratch the back of any swine that roots up gold for me." [21] For Gordon, a manís rise should be based on talent, not social charm, and his rise should serve a worthy cause, not merely his own fortunes in the world. The thought of ingratiating himself into a position of influence or authority, rather than earning such a place through genuine merit, horrified him; and although his attitude seems to have offended some whom it directly affected, a great many others respected him for it, sensing that here was a man above the corrupt and self-serving games which set the norm for a mediocre world. Additionally, some observers found a deep and strangely inviting reservoir of vulnerability in the Colonelís peculiar sociophobic behavior - an awkwardness and discomfort that elicited the strongest of maternal instincts from his female admirers - traces of a loner who could not fit, yet truly loved, and longed to help, the people he felt compelled to hide from.

In a society stratified by culture, ideologically and industrially contained by both the truth and the myth of wealth, rigidly bound to superficial and laborious principles of etiquette which were, nonetheless, deeply-imbedded tools of social evaluation and portals to inclusion, and vigorously policed by law and the muscle of the law, eccentricity became the alternative to revolution: the revolt of the individual replacing the revolt of the collective. In this new order, what was strange and what was quirky, so long as they retained a certain degree of innocence, became tolerable forms of sedition. Stress within the system was released, and negative examples of the price of rebellion (the "defeat of the nonconformists") were created. However, for those who survived the consequences of their eccentricity, admiration was in order; for to many who were marginalized by the system and came to loathe its burden of customs, and for others on the opposite end of achievement, who came to despise the means of their success - their facades of energy and competence encompassed by submission - the aberrations of the eccentric smacked of bravery; there was something beautiful in his strange gait, and misfit ways: the head of the human spirit held above the water of servitude, in which the world seemed to be drowning. In Freudian terms, whenever a nonconformist blossomed, the system stood, but the symbols of its domination were overthrown in the psyche, a fantasy liberation was attained. In an oppressively socialized culture, such small signs of life as this were enough to appease the inner enemy of civilization which dwells inside the human heart, perpetually challenging its right to exist. Simultaneously, the eccentric, by his mere presence, made the barren landscape bearable, and pointed towards horizons beyond sterility.

Gordon, instantly recognizable as an eccentric, was quickly subject to the curiosity, reproach, and admiration, due his kind. In Victorian England, this was far more so than it would be today. Gordonís flight from the social stage, his sometimes unpolished frankness, his extreme sincerity regarding religion, which he would not allow to remain within the confines of doctrines established for him by others, but sought to explore and to develop in his own way, all marked him as a very different sort of person. Even something so trivial as the bizarre way he stepped over cracks in the pavement while walking, perhaps motivated by the superstition "Step on a crack, break your motherís back", attracted interest and attention. Gordon was observed to perpetually adjust his gait as he walked from place to place, sometimes shortening his stride, sometimes taking discordant leaps, in order to avoid the cracks in his path. What might today be diagnosed as mere neurosis was, in the context of that asphyxiated environment, viewed as humanizing. (But, of course, there were others who thought Gordon mad, and hoped that he would never receive an important military command, with British lives at stake.)

Not long after his return to England, Gordonís demanding and difficult father - a man who had never approved of his sonís service in China, as the leader of an irregular, mercenary band - passed away. The long death watch and drawn-out lesson of human mortality impressed Gordon deeply. It set off a new cycle of spiritual searching, which grew within his melancholy, as he meditated by his fatherís grave.

Gordonís principal military assignment, after returning from China, was to supervise the construction of a series of forts in the area of the Thames, aimed at making the invasion of England by outside forces more difficult. The project was more a product of nerves than any real threat, and an opportunity for the military to prove its usefulness at home. Gordon, based at Gravesend, received the project from higher authorities, and was merely to be its executor. He found the whole concept to be flawed, mere psychological chaff thrown to the newspaper-aroused masses, since, in his opinion, the forts could easily be bypassed by an invader. Nonetheless, he loaned his technical expertise to the fantasy, providing concrete and efficient forms to the illusion of defense, at the same time as his sense of duty compelled him to vigorously criticize its underlying premise. In the end, more than any specific military accomplishment, Gordonís time at Gravesend stands out for the human and spiritual development which took place on the side of his professional activities. At Gravesend, Gordon made important connections with Christian friends who served as sources for new ideas, and as sounding boards for his own internal dialogue, helping to enrich the idiosyncratic tendencies of his passionate search, and to provide balance whenever he teetered on the edge of spiritual vertigo. It was at Gravesend that he came upon "the secret", the idea of Godís in-dwelling in Man (once faith opened space for Him to enter), a concept of tremendous impact that infused Gordon with a sense of mystical empowerment, and seemed sometimes to turn him into a channel of the divine. Or so, at least, thought many who described the overpowering charisma transmitted by his clear, blue-gray eyes, which left them with the impression of a great soul peering directly into their hearts. In Gordonís eyes, one could feel a great force of sincerity, and also the lack of a hiding place, for his perceptions seemed capable of "penetrating stone." There could flash the anger of the betrayed prophets, triggered by little things that were the harbingers of great ills. There could also enter remarkable compassion, kindness pushing aside the warrior, who was but the wounded expression of his love, limping brilliantly in an unhealed world. At other times, Gordonís eyes became deep pools of calm, angelic and disconcerting to those who were displeased with themselves. Everyone knew instantly that they could trust him, and that they could depend on him, whether friend or foe, to pursue the honorable path - to stand loyally by them as a comrade, or to face them with dignity, and attention to the fragile moral codes of war, as an enemy. Wrote one observer: "The steady, truthful gaze of the blue-gray eyes seemed a direct appeal from the upright spirit within him"; while a child he would one day rescue during his travels in Africa, would later explain that at first Gordon frightened him: he thought the Englishman had supernatural powers, and could see in the dark, because "he had the light inside him!" [21] Although the impact of Gordonís eyes must have grown as he began to internalize "the secret" at Gravesend, and to attain fleeting moments of being "the perfect instrument" of God, it is likely that his eyes were always expressive of his earnestness and courage; for already, in China, they had won over stalwart haters of the "foreign devils" and "white barbarians" of Europe, and inspired men of flesh and blood, under his command, to face and overcome enormous dangers.

Introduced, through his Gravesend connections, to social workers who were committed to applying principles of Christian charity to the woes of British society, Gordon soon began to undertake activities of his own to benefit the despairing and the destitute. He took to visiting the old and the sick at a local infirmary, to impart what cheer and comfort he could, intruding on their sense of loneliness and abandonment; and became actively involved in the feeding, clothing, education, and spiritual guidance of homeless youths, including the infamous "fisher-boys", or the unwanted kids, runaways, and drop-outs who hung out at the local docks, surviving on whatever fish they could catch. Gordon worked hard to better their situation, spending his own money to provide for them, and infusing them with a new sense of worth, as he shared the revelation of "the secret", which transformed them, in their own minds, from rejected paupers into vessels of divinity: expressions of God who deserved better than to be thrown away, and ought not to cooperate in their squandering. Gordon eventually found jobs for many of these "kings", and helped to set them on a "straight life path." In one highly-touted gesture of appreciation, cherished by the British press because of the sentiment and the poor spelling, which somehow attested to the deprived places into which Gordonís humanity reached, one of the colonelís "kings" scrawled "God Bless the kernel" onto a wall beside his home. British society knew that it did not take care of its own; that its economic and social system were responsible for committing great sins, for impoverishing and degrading multitudes, even within its own borders. Capitalism, by twisting Christianityís arm to give it room to romp, or else discrediting it with scienceís new discoveries in order to lower the volume of its moral exhortations, was, in fact, destroying it. People sensed this, but entranced by the spectacular fruits of industry and trade, which were squeezed out of the dynamics of injustice, found it hard to resist. Whenever they saw someone who remained faithful to the original spirit of their hollowed-out religion, they could not help but be moved by this counterbalance to their own weakness or hypocrisy. For the poor, a man such as this had not sold out, he had remained true to the spirit of Christ, who came to the earth preaching compassion without limits; for the wealthy, a man such as this was a blessing, a welcome fool who took upon himself the unfulfilled obligations of society, which had dumped its responsibilities onto the shoulders of conscientious individuals, whose helpless sense of brotherhood aided in dimming the threat of revolution.

Gordon, who performed these acts of charity out of genuine care, and with clear attempts to insulate them from his vanity, grew in popular stature as a result of them. In addition to this widely-admired work, the public loved to read about the colonelís evangelical passion, which led him to write his own religious tracts, and to seek to distribute them to farmers and townsfolk in the area of his assignment. It is said that some of Gordonís troops enjoyed watching him go about with his pamphlets, spying on him through a telescope to see how well or poorly his missionary work went. While to some, Gordonís zeal was unsettling, and led them to doubt his reliability, Gordon was always careful about evangelizing when abroad, acutely aware of the way in which Christian missionary work could impact alien cultures, and create resentment in the hearts of devout men of other faiths. In other countries, whether in China or the Sudan, he was always careful not to undermine political-military projects with religious proselytizing; which is to say that although his religion motivated and drove him as an individual, it did not blind him to the practical realities of his projects, and was never permitted, by his strategic self, to destabilize them.

As mentioned before, Gordonís spiritual development was not painless or easy. The man had a heart full of instincts natural to one of his talent and history. A huge, glory-craving alter-ego thrashed around inside him, a creature who he feared and had great difficulty in containing. In one illustrative example, a friend of Gordon, who he, in his humility, had sheltered from knowledge of his Chinese exploits (this man thought that the famous Gordon was "another Gordon"), asked him if he had seen anything of the Taiping Rebellion during his days in China. Gordon, unable to discipline his offended alter-ego, exclaimed: "I should think I did; why it was I who put an end to it!" [23] He wanted to do great things without succumbing to his pride, but found that it was not easy to achieve great things without a vibrant ego. Was it only upon a black horse that one could free Jerusalem? It was a dilemma that would haunt Gordon for the rest of his life, the battle between the sharp sword of vanity, and the blunt sword of modesty, competing for his allegiance on the earth. In a pinch, which sword would he reach for? Which of his two selves, crashing together in the paradox of the Christian warrior, would prevail? In the face of things he wished to accomplish, Gordon craved the beauty and speed of the black horse, and yet, the horse he wanted himself to love was the lame white stallion.

Besides this life-long struggle with his ego, Gordon was sometimes visited by tempests of rage, provoked by acts of ineptitude, selfishness, or hypocrisy which he could not tolerate; he was no unflappable saint, although he was fair to his men, too genuinely respectful of others to be turned into a tyrant by his passions. He was also frequented by long spells of melancholy and depression, which he referred to as "the doles" (short for "the doldrums"). His religion grew greater from his immersion in dark times, bursting out of them with the answers that were required to prevent his collapse. Godís colors grew more vivid, as survival demanded it. Some would say that his spiritual path failed, in that it did not free him from despair, but only used despair to construct itself. Those who say this do not understand that spiritual development is a companion to men on the earth; that it is intertwined with their failings, and grows with them, and alongside them, not above them. Sometimes it does not close oneís wounds, but only replenishes the blood which is being lost through those wounds. Sometimes, in its progress, it creates new sources of suffering in the place of old ones. Gordonís spirituality did not end his suffering; it accompanied him on his journey of suffering, on his long walk through a world filled with tears and cries for help which he could hear, but not answer.

Gordon, in spite of his spiritual quest and his embrace of the eternal, as promised by the Bible, also suffered acutely from thoughts of mortality while at Gravesend. For him, Time was a precious commodity, and his obsession with it went beyond the mere ambition to accomplish material acts. He had one boat in which he traveled between work sites, which was fitted with a single pair of oars, replaced by another which was fitted with two, so that he could be propelled more quickly to his destination and cut down on lost time. He was often seen glancing at his pocket watch, muttering, "Another five minutes goneÖ we shall never have them again." [24] Although he fervently believed in a paradise beyond the confines of the earth, a part of him could not help running from Time, fleeing from its merciless pursuit, seeking constant refuges of forgetfulness, sanctuaries of action to shelter him from its relentless passing. Its ticking clock was everywhere, a testament to Gordonís connection to his mortal state - and to the hard work of his Christian faith, which sought to hew stairs to God in the side of a very human mountain. In Gordonís struggles, transparent through his journals and his letters, and through the recollections of his friends, one sees the ambition, and the reality which defined the effort; the ideal, and the raw material it was given to work with; and vicariously, through it, the process each of us faces, according to our own beliefs, our own aspirations, and our own limitations, to better ourselves. It was Gordonís human frailties which, ultimately, made his spiritual achievements so compelling.

Important though Gordonís days at Gravesend were for his spiritual development, and for the enrichment of his legend, which was facilitated by the close view his deployment in Britain afforded the populace, Gordon was destined for other, more turbulent assignments capable of liberating his greatness from underutilization. He knew it, and his admirers knew it. In 1871, he took up an assignment with a British commission based at Galatz, which was charged with helping to supervise navigation along the Danube as part of an international effort begun after the Crimean War. This was not the active assignment which Gordon, or his public, longed for. In 1873, the British army moved against the King of Ashanti in West Africa in one of its innumerable "little wars" intended to advance the cause of colonialism. The British press clamored for the inclusion of its hero, Gordon, who it touted as "the best leader of irregulars the world contains", insisting that he was the perfect match for the task at hand. [25] However, Gordon was left out of the action; left to "rot in the uneventful backwater of Galatz." Was the British army loath to use its greatest asset, perhaps deterred by his eccentricity and reputation for doing things in his own way? Did the traits which endeared Gordon to the British public, produce the opposite effect in leadership circles of the British military?

Whatever the answer to these questions, Gordon was at last retrieved from the margins of history, by the unexpected arrival of an extraordinary new opportunity to serve a foreign leader, with the blessings of his government. In 1874, he arrived in Egypt, charged with governing an important swath of tropical Africa to the south, and eliminating the slave trade from the Sudan.

What was the context of this most unusual assignment? As in Gordonís last real challenge, China, there was a convoluted political situation with clear geopolitical stakes; a chance of adventure for Gordon, and for his nation the possibility of subtly insinuating itself into the driverís seat of the East, and discreetly fashioning Egypt into a client state.

At this point in time, Egypt was a part of the Ottoman Empire, that faltering expression of Turkish power which both France and England had supported in the Crimean War against the threat of Russian expansion. It was ruled by a Turkish viceroy, or Khedive, who was actually of Albanian descent. Although, in theory, Egypt was subordinate to the Turkish authority, this was a case in which the tail could wag the dog, and many felt that Egypt, with its great size and strength ought to break away from the Turks to rule itself. However, both Britain and France preferred, for the time being, that Egypt remain within the Ottoman Empire, which they did not wish to see debilitated, since they envisioned the Turks as a counter to the Russians, who otherwise might push deeper into Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. France and Britain, therefore, discouraged the idea of revolt, and worked, instead, to support the quasi-independence of Egypt within a formula of nominal allegiance to Turkey, at the same time as they sought to increase their influence in Egypt in order to gradually subvert its semi-autonomy and turn it into a European colonial enclave within an Ottoman shell. In 1869, the importance of Egypt to the Europeans increased exponentially, as the construction of the Suez Canal, undertaken by the Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, was finally completed, and that vital waterway, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and thence, to the Indian Ocean, was opened to international traffic. The tremendous advantage of using the new canal to travel between Europe and the incredible economic possibilities of Asia, compared to the previous, far lengthier route around the cape of South Africa, greatly enhanced the strategic value of the country in which the canal was located and turned it into an important new focus of geopolitical concern. The power of Europe, based upon ceaseless extension and growth, fed upon the markets and the resources of Asia, and the canal, by providing a shortcut to the lands from which that power was sucked, and increasing the velocity of aggrandizement and the possible rate of ascendancy among nations, potentially placed whoever could control it in the driverís seat of world politics. Open to all, founded upon a philosophy of shared access, the canal could not be allowed to fall to a rival power! Knowing full well the weakness of ideals in the face of self-interest, both France and Britain angled to implant their influence in Egypt, so as to be in a better position to guarantee their use of the canal in the event of an international meltdown.

In the beginning, of course, the advantage lay with France, which had played the pivotal role in constructing the canal. However, by 1875, one year after Gordonís arrival in Egypt, economic woes had forced the Khedive Ismail to put Egyptís shares in the canal up for sale, and Britain pounced on the opportunity, thereby gaining financial control of the waterway. Now all that was necessary was to consolidate the regional political power that would make that financial control defensible. For Britain (as well as for France, which was still in the running), finding ways to be useful to the Khedive was the principal avenue to achieving this end. They supported him through economic arrangements, with investments, loans, and technical support, and with indirect military aid, as in the case of Britain "loaning out" Gordon, who was given room to serve in the Khediveís government, supposedly as an independent operator, but with the understanding that gratitude for his services ought to be expressed towards his country of origin.

At the time Gordon arrived in Egypt, the Khedive was ambitiously attempting to extend Egyptian power south, creating an empire of his own in East Africa. Sudan was clearly within Egyptís zone of influence, and was, in fact, administered by a Governor-General based at Khartoum, who reported to the Khedive. Under the control of the Governor-General of the Sudan were also certain provinces, known as Equatoria, leading into sub-Saharan Africa; these provinces did not yet reach, but were pointed towards, the upper waters of the Nile and the regions of the great lakes, Victoria and Albert, which were home to the independent African kingdoms of Buganda and Bunroyo (present-day Uganda). The Khedive wished to gradually bring these kingdoms under his influence, as well as to definitively locate the source of the Nile, and one day consolidate Egyptian power along the riverís entire course, from start to finish, in order to guarantee the life of his land which depended on its waters.

However, there was one crucial obstacle to the procurement of British support for this project, and that was the existence of slavery in Egypt and the Sudan, and throughout the Ottoman Empire. Britain, which had once vigorously approved of and profited from slavery, especially in Jamaica and in the American colonies, had finally revolted against the moral shame of this pernicious institution, and abolished slave trafficking in 1807. Slavery persisted for a time, based upon the procreation of the already captive population, but was definitively outlawed in Great Britain and its possessions in 1833. ("Coincidentally", this moral awakening took place at the exact historical moment when new modes of production and systems of organizing labor had arisen in Great Britain to render slavery economically obsolete.) The moral struggle against slavery, which had spawned an active and influential abolitionist community in Great Britain, remained an important factor in British politics, leading the British navy to conduct patrols against slave traffickers off the African coast in an effort to put an end to the trade, although the perpetuation of slavery based upon the reproduction of existing slave populations in countries such as the United States (until 1865) and Brazil (until 1871), was beyond their control. Certainly, British abolitionists who had just recently savored the collapse of slavery in the United States, had no interest in seeing their nation deepen its commitment to countries which were wed to slavery.

And so, as a concession to this sentiment, and in an effort to keep the pump of foreign investment primed, the Khedive declared slave trading to be illegal within his domains, and proclaimed his intent to stamp it out. Slavery, itself, would remain. The local economy and way of life was too dependent upon it to extricate itself at a momentís notice; the political and economic shock of liberating huge masses of slaves all at once would be too great, and the potential repercussions too sweeping and destabilizing to contemplate. The weaning and the unraveling would take time. For British abolitionists, the attack on slave trading was, at least, a good start. Many of them, idealistic though they were, could understand that no matter how much they wished it, slavery was not going to end overnight, and that the cessation of slave trafficking - the active pursuit and capture of slaves - would do much to weaken the institution, which they hoped would gradually wither into extinction, once denied its source. Given the dynamics of slavery as practiced in the Muslim world, this was actually reasonable, as the rate of manumission and absorption of slaves into the Islamic community, led to a high percentage of "slave depletion" from generation to generation, requiring a constant influx of new captives in order to keep the system functioning.

Once the Khedive proclaimed his intention to end the slave trade in his domains, abolitionist resistance to British participation in his projects was not only removed, but support gained. The more, in fact, that the Khedive was able to extend his effective control to the south, deeper into the Sudan and into the tropical heart of Africa, the better it would be, from the humanitarian point of view. His conquests would block off large areas of Africa from the slavers; the side effect of his ambition would be the eradication of a great sin. At the same time, the British imperialist project, advancing subtly within the Khediveís designs, would benefit greatly, laying the groundwork for the future domination of East Africa. The crusade against slavery was the moral "in", the justification that would lead the way for the weapons of realpolitik. And, of course, who better to lead the advance than "Chinese Gordon", the beloved hero of the British public, renowned for his idealism and Christian virtue: the perfect instrument for the destruction of the slave trade, gullible enough or one-side enough in his perceptions to fight the good fight, while darker ambitions, traveling down the paths he cleared, infiltrated the lands he came to save.

What, exactly, was the state of the East African slave trade at the time of Gordonís arrival in Egypt? The trade was dominated by Arabs, as it had been for centuries, who sometimes led large-scale raids against black African villages in order to procure captives themselves, or else established trading relations with local chiefs and kings, who would provide them with slaves in exchange for guns and other trade items. These African chiefs and kings would sell captives, gained in warfare against other tribes, to the Arabs; or sometimes sell their own people, as a punishment for crimes committed. In cases, the chiefs and kings would expand the definition of what constituted a crime, in order to widen the sector of the populace available for enslavement In its heyday, the East African slave trade drew upon three principal sources: the central Sudan, including Bahr al-Ghazal, Darfur, and Kordofan, which was described, in the 1800s, as "one vast hunting ground"; the basin of the upper Nile, extending into the region of the great lakes (Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, and Lake Kyoga); and far to the south, well beyond the reach of Egypt, the region of Lake Nyasa (which lies in the interior of present-day Tanzania and Mozambique). The destinations of the slaves, primarily slated for use in the Muslim world, ranged from Egypt and the Sudan itself, to other parts of North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and, in days gone by, even India and China, where there were Arab colonies. To reach these destinations, the captives were most often moved over land, some to the coast of the Indian Ocean where they were shipped to the island of Zanzibar and from there, dispersed throughout the Muslim world by sea; others along grueling caravan trails winding their way through the Sahara, usually to points within North Africa. There was also a traffic in slaves up the Nile, into Egypt, as either a destination or a staging area.

Today, the history of the East African slave trade is as much a battleground of political agendas as it is the search for an objective memory of the past. Some Western scholars claim that the truth of the East African slave trade has been obscured by Muslim propagandists, eager to present their religion and historical actions in the best possible light, and by critics of American and European civilization, determined to protect their condemnation of that civilization by downplaying the injustices of other cultures, so that the vices of this one will stand out more dramatically on the pages of history. For their part, many Islamic scholars insist that the nature of slavery in the Muslim world was very different, and in many ways far less brutal, than the forms of slavery which were instituted in the West by the European powers linked to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. They point out that slaves in the Islamic world were most often incorporated as servants into the domestic environment rather than being fed to large-scale plantation or mining operations, and that the Koran and local custom promoted the humane treatment, and encouraged the eventual freeing, of the slaves. [26] Be that as it may, the East African slave trade generated violent wars, disrupted and destroyed family and community life in many areas, produced catastrophic loss of life during "the middle passage", especially along the caravan trails through the desert, and kinder or not once its destination was reached, still represented the involuntary subjugation and coerced submission of fellow human beings. Although there is surely historical value in contrasting the nature of the West African and East African slave trades, the one dominated by Christians and the other by Muslims, there is no reason to expect that the more depraved attributes of one should morally exonerate the other. Both were cruel and both were wrong. Although there is surely an ironical and hypocritical aspect to the idea of a civilization which was for many years carried upon the backs of slaves, riding to the rescue of slaves beyond its own borders, once the axis of profit had tipped from slave-labor towards wage-labor linked to imperialism in need of excuses, there was still good work to be done, within the cynical framework. [27]

By the time Gordon was called into play, some progress had already occurred. An expedition led by Sir Samuel Baker, in the employ of the Khedive, had extended Egyptian influence south along the White Nile, which reaches into the great lakes of Central Africa (the other main branch of the Nile being the Blue Nile, which sallies forth from Abyssinia, or modern-day Ethiopia, and joins the White Nile at Khartoum). Baker had established some outposts which served as bases for the inspection of river traffic to impede the transport of slaves up the Nile; but had also needlessly provoked armed conflict with the King of Bunroyo, who was turned from a potential ally in the war against slaving into an enemy. At the same time, British inroads won in Zanzibar, through diplomacy and trade, were shutting down that once-notorious route for the trafficking of slaves.

In the beginning, much of Gordonís work consisted merely in traveling through, and surviving in, his new environment. The Nile was not as easy a path to follow as it appears to be on the map. Shortly before Gordonís arrival, Egyptian army units had finally succeeded in clearing an effective path through the White Nile south of Khartoum, which had formerly been choked by a vast marshland known as the Sudd: incredible masses of aquatic plants and the residue of burned vegetation making the passage notoriously difficult and dangerous. In olden days, many a voyage had ended up paralyzed in the marsh, unable to push through fast enough in order to avoid the scourges of hunger and disease brought on by swarms of mosquitoes. Travel through here was not ordinary or routine as it needed to be if Egyptian power was to be extended southwards; it was an ordeal, a flirtation with death. As a result of the Egyptian armyís work, however, the passage was finally cleared. The waters of the Nile, backed up and slowed down for centuries by the marsh, were suddenly freed as though a dam had broken, and burst forth in an overpowering torrent that swept hippos, crocodiles, and native boats along with it, in utter chaos and dismay. At last, thankfully, the Nile recovered its poise, accommodated itself to its new liberty of movement and settled into a new, sustainable form: its latest incarnation, in the service of Man. This part of Gordonís journey was eased.

Nonetheless, serious problems remained. The climate was merciless, especially towards the Europeans and Americans who accompanied Gordon on his staff, and the Arabs placed under his command by the Khedive. The heat was exhausting, utterly draining. And disease was rampant, transmitted by bad water, by swarms of flies, and insatiable mosquitoes carrying malaria. Under these conditions, Gordon said: "Never let your mosquito curtain out of sight, it is more valuableÖ than your revolver." [28] Casualty rates from disease were extraordinary, and forced Gordon to seek to relocate his base as administrator of Equatoria, from Gondokoro to Lado, where the conditions were slightly better. As many of the men he had gathered about him died, Gordon persevered, fighting off fevers and the stings of numerous scorpions. He attributed his survival to his faith: to Godís aid and to the tranquility which his faith instilled in him. As he wrote: "The intense comfort of no fear, no uneasiness about being ill is very great and more than half the cause of good health." [29] He also scrupulously relied upon a homemade remedy consisting of ginger, Ipecucuanha, and rhubarb to help ward off illness.

Besides the challenge of the climate, the White Nile, itself, even released from the stranglehold of the Sudd, presented problems for the would-be traveler. It was interrupted, in places, by virtually unnavigable rapids and by the impressive obstacle of Fola Falls, which Gordon, himself, "discovered" (in the sense of being the first white man to observe it and place it on a map of the Nile). As he described the discovery, in the context of the dream of running steamboats down from Egypt to the lakes: "It is all over! I started from Dufile this morning [on foot] and, keeping on a higher level to avoid the wet edges of the river, came out about five miles from here. I fancied for some time I heard a noise like thunder, which increased as we approached the river. At last we stood above it on a rock bankÖ and there it was appalling to look at, far less to think of getting anything up or down except in splinters." [30] To deal with the rapids, there was the possibility of disembarking and outflanking them on land, then proceeding onwards in small rivercraft. There was also the possibility of guiding the larger boats through, steadied by ropes and by teams of men on the riverbank. Regarding the falls, there was no solution except to bypass it by traveling overland. However, as the aim was to get steamers onto Lake Albert and Lake Victoria so as to better exert Egyptian influence in the region, for the purpose of policing this well-known source of slaves (in addition to laying the groundwork for Anglo-Egyptian penetration), Gordon conceived of the idea of breaking down a steamer into sections which could be transported by porters around the falls, then reassembled at a point beyond them, and sent on towards the lakes. These overland moves exposed his men to yet a new danger: sporadic attacks by the elusive Bari tribesmen, who did not look kindly upon foreign intrusion in their territory; in one ambush, a small yet substantial detachment under one of Gordonís subordinates was wiped out.

In the end, in spite of great adversity, significant advances were made in filling in the blanks of Europeís knowledge of African geography, which was still a hybrid science of fact and myth, discovery and rumor, precise documentation and runaway imagination. Relying on a few effective subordinates, such as Romolo Gessi, to complement his own skills and efforts, Gordon and his team "discovered" Lake Kyoga, between Lake Albert and Lake Victoria, circumnavigated and mapped Lake Albert, and clarified the course and nature of the Nile as it approached the lakes. Back home in Britain, this work was a joy to the curious and the understimulated, whose needed dose of excitement could be drawn from the "mystery" of Africa, which men like Gordon, and Henry Stanley, a fellow "explorer of the dark continent", were bringing into their homes via the life-giving medium of the newspaper. [31]

Gordonís efforts to bring the lakes into the Egyptian zone of influence, however, were not absolutely successful, due to the hard feelings left behind in the wake of Bakerís attack on Bunroyo, and due to the fact that Buganda, the other key kingdom in the area, was being simultaneously wooed by Britain, which sought to extend its influence into Central Africa from Zanzibar and the Indian Ocean, and to penetrate the region directly, rather than indirectly through its relation with the Khedive. Britain being a greater power than Egypt, and its route of reaching the lakes via the overland trail from the Indian Ocean being superior to the arduous path down the Nile, held a clear advantage in this competition. This was especially so after the British stymied Gordonís plan to establish an Egyptian outpost at Mombassa, in modern-day Kenya, which would have allowed the Khedive to simplify his access to the lakes. It seems, for a moment, that Gordon had forgotten that he was British and that he ought to be advancing British interests under cover of the Egyptian operation to which he had been loaned; that his loyalty to his employer had made him forget that the Khedive was just a front, a tool, by which British objectives might be attained in the long term. This would, in fact, be a recurring problem for Gordon, whose chivalrous spirit could not countenance being used as a "mole", and therefore compelled him to act with integrity towards his foreign employers, at times leading him to resist the subterranean plots of the British, and to break away from their manipulative schemes. In this case, no real damage was done. Whether British or Egyptian influence prevailed in the region, slaving would suffer on account of it. Gordonís team succeeded in establishing cordial relations with Buganda, but without a definitive treaty, and would later go on to patch up its miserable relations with Bunroyo.

In terms of fighting the slave trade, Gordonís principal achievement in the beginning was to increase and extend the number of Egyptian outposts along the Nile, so as to better police the river traffic proceeding northwards from the lakes. In one very early success story, two ships headed north with cargoes of ivory and ebony were stopped, and after their floorboards were removed, discovered to contain a hidden load of 96 slaves. The slaves were freed, but they told the astonished Gordon that they did not wish to return home. Home was now in ruins; and the returned slaves, if they could start again, would most likely only fall victim to another raid and find themselves, once more, in chains. Gordon responded by settling the freed slaves as farmers near one of his bases, for protection.

As time went on, Gordon began to discover what he was up against: the true dimensions of the slave trade. There was first of all, rampant corruption among the Egyptian officials who were supposedly charged with enforcing the Khediveís anti-slaving laws; many of them, for a cut of the profits, would cooperate with the slavers, and help them to smuggle their human cargoes past established checkpoints. There were the limits of the laws themselves, which allowed Gordon to prosecute slave-traders, but prevented him from freeing slaves who had already been sold. There was the political resistance of powerful and influential individuals and groups within the Egyptian-Sudanese environment, who resented the crackdown against slaving and teetered on the edge of revolt on account of it. There was the fact that many Africans susceptible to slaving raids disliked the Egyptian government, and the Egyptian-Turkish garrisons which policed their districts, almost as much as the slavers, since these garrisons, which were poorly maintained, frequently overtaxed or raided the very communities they were supposed to protect, in order to support themselves. Besides this, there was the demoralization of many of the native peoples, in whom the naturalness and inevitability of slavery had been imbedded by centuries of custom; there were captives, freed, "whose eyes seemed dead and souls seemed stolen", joyless in their release, for there was no home to return to, and "nothing left within them with which to discern the beauty of liberty", it had all been stamped out; there were poor families which gave away their own children to the slavers, because slavery had become a normal part of their existence, a common language spoken by oppressor and oppressed alike, and there were people who settled disputes and paid damages with slaves (as in the case of a mother who gave away her son as a slave to a man her family had stolen a cow from). This reality stunned Gordon, as it had stunned Baker before him: the way in which slavery had worked its way into the very air and water of the land. There was also the dismal discovery that control of the Nile, while a helpful step in the war against the slavers, was also very limited in impact, due to the fact that the bulk of the slave trade was actually moving up through the desert to the west of the Nile, outflanking the river garrisons entirely. With an enormous zeriba (slave-holding compound) and adjoining town alongside a major caravan route in his possession, and large amounts of territory under his influence due to his skillful diplomacy and economic clout, a man by the name of Rahma Mansur Zubair, or simply "Zubair", had risen to prominence in the region. Head of a massive slave-trafficking organization, he also had a powerful army, fiercely devoted to him, which was capable of fending off the Egyptians, and he had, in fact, defeated the Egyptian military more than once; an able warrior, a shrewd politician, selectively generous to his friends and revered for it, harsh to his enemies and feared for it, he was a living legend, the human force behind the slave trade in the Sudan. At the time that Gordon came to Africa, Zubair, whose influence was felt throughout Bahr el-Ghazal, Darfur, and Kordofan, had actually been appointed ruler of much of that area by the Khedive, who could not defeat him in battle, and therefore sought to co-opt him. As might be expected, Zubair had formally given up slave-trading to pursue legitimate economic activities, but, in fact, he remained in discreet command of an enormous slaving empire which made a mockery of Gordonís work.

To deal with these issues, Gordon adopted a variety of strategies. Through pressure on the Khedive and the use of his administrative powers when possible, he sought to enhance the legal framework within which he was permitted to operate. He established the ivory trade, which was frequently used as a cover for slaving operations, as a government monopoly, providing him with a greater measure of control over its activities. He outlawed large bands of armed men and gunpowder in Equatoria, providing his men with grounds for apprehending slavers who were not able to be caught red-handed in the midst of their work. When merchants who had already bought large numbers of slaves were encountered, Gordon bypassed the law which made their possession of the slaves legal by superseding it with another law, which allowed him to impress locals into the army. The male slaves were liberated by being incorporated into the army (and many females, by being persuaded to marry these soldiers, were also legally removed from the possession of their owners, since they now had the right to accompany their husbands). Many of these freed black Sudanese would, in fact, go on to become Gordonís bravest and most reliable soldiers. Eventually, slaving was made a capital offense, and Gordon succeeded in initiating a government program requiring the registration of slaves by their masters before a deadline of January 1, 1878, after which time no new registrations would be allowed, meaning that it would not be legally possible to acquire slaves after that. That would vastly enhance the governmentís ability to crack down on the slave trade, by not only attacking it when it was in movement, and harder to pin down, but also when it was static, and had assumed the form of its results. The level of compression, slowly squeezing the institution of slavery to death, would be intensified. In the meantime, Gordon, as a concession to the practical realities of the Sudan and to his own political limits, agreed to support the return of runaway slaves to their masters; otherwise, he might destabilize the entire project, pushing the old past its ability to endure on his way to coaxing the new out of its corruption. Slavery would remain legal, as its roots were slowly forced to die of thirst. Gordon also sought to restore some of its former prerogatives to the local Muslim clergy in the area, hoping to appease it to the point that it would act as a counterbalance to the hotheads who his campaign against slavery had aroused to the point of rebellion. It was important for Gordon to show that he respected Muslim culture, along with its traditional authority figures, and was not engaged in some kind of Christian crusade aimed at the heart and soul of Islam. Gordon, in the future, would also have a box erected outside his headquarters into which locals could place notes informing him of their complaints, every one of which he would read personally and attempt to address. [32] His energy, cultural adaptability (in spite of his evangelical zeal, which he did not allow to make him rigid), and honest intent, all made a powerful impression on the Sudan. Gordon was not one to sit back and let things degenerate through distraction, not one to let lethargy get the better of him, or wishful thinking to take the place of effort; the laws were only the surface of his campaign against slavery, which was brought to life and made credible through his constant exertions and attention to small details, his incessant diplomacy and enforcement at the local level, his seemingly endless trips up and down the Nile via steamer, or into the desert riding atop a camel, to straighten things out and see what was going on with his own eyes.

Regarding the abuses habitually committed by the Egyptian-Turkish garrisons which were given him to command, Gordon worked hard on their discipline, and sought to eliminate the causes of their forays against the people who they were charged with defending. He established agricultural projects at many of his bases, which allowed the garrisons to become self-supporting, so that they would no longer depend on raiding to sustain themselves.

Finally, there was the issue of Zubair. The Khedive, himself, seemed to solve this problem by detaining Zubair in Cairo, after the great slaver chief, confident in his newly-recognized powers, came north to argue for even more authority in his domains, which he had recently expanded by the conquest of El Fasher, and the ingestion of the sultanate of Darfur. Kept in enforced exile from his dominions, under the watchful eyes of the Khediveís police in Cairo, it seemed that the slaving empire of the western Sudan had been beheaded; except for the fact that Zubairís son, Suleiman Zubair, almost immediately took his place, and was expertly guided, from afar, by his imprisoned father. The slaving empire remained intact, and its continued existence, making a travesty of Gordonís war on slavery, in fact played a major role in his decision to quit the service of the Khedive. Also contributing to the decision was Gordonís utter exhaustion from three years of grueling work in Equatoria. He was, quite literally, burned out, by a pace of activity that even his hardy constitution, in that climate, could not maintain. In his three years in Equatoria, Gordonís hair had turned gray, and his attachment to life had all but faded. He felt weary enough to die. As he wrote: "I am tired, tired, and no earthly rest will give me quiet." [33]

Late in 1876, Gordon returned to England, where he was lauded as a hero, a triumphant explorer of "the exotic darkness of Africa" and a valiant crusader against slavery, even though he thought his work thwarted and tragically incomplete. Though Gordon was depressed, his admirers felt fulfilled. "Chinese Gordon" had not let his public down, he had taken them through another amazing adventure, standing tall throughout. As Gordonís physical force slowly turned back towards life, a variety of possible projects flitted in and out of his mind, with his public watching from the sidelines; he surveyed these possibilities as they came and went, until the Khedive finally reappeared in his universe with renewed determination to harness his genius for Egypt. This time, the Khedive agreed to appoint Gordon, whose powers had previously been limited to Equatoria, as Governor-General of the entire Sudan, expanding his authority to attack slaving in its heartland. He also twisted Gordonís moral arm, insisting that Gordon had promised he would return (he knew how Gordon could not stand the idea of being thought of as a liar); and he appealed mercilessly to his sense of completion. How could Gordon leave such an important job undone? In the end, Gordon gave in, and ditched his escape from Africa, which he was drawn to more strongly than he was driven from. In Africa, Gordon sensed the limits of his body, and beheld the specter of his death. But his tenacity and spiritual commitment would not let him stay away. As Governor-General of the Sudan, and now commonly referred to as Gordon Pasha (Pasha being an expression of rank and privilege in the Turkish world), Gordon set about to deal East African slaving the definitive blow.

It was as Governor-General of the Sudan that Gordon implemented his most vigorous and effective measures against the slave trade, some of which have already been mentioned. He also hurled himself directly into the perilous western regions of the Sudan to meet Suleiman Zubair face to face, as well as to put down a rebellion of Darfur tribesmen which had been instigated by Haroun el-Raschid against Egyptian-Turkish rule. Gordon, who excelled in military operations, nonetheless had a broader view of the long-term and an understanding of the "economy of control", in which force is carefully conserved for those moments in which it is absolutely needed, and, otherwise, used to create a context which makes the implicit threats which are dissolved within diplomacy credible. Force, as the alternative, makes the diplomatic path sweet. But overused and callously deployed, without being provided a proper context, force destabilizes its gains, and leads to overextension and constant challenges, which finally dissipates the energy of control and defeats the purpose for which force is called into being. Besides this practical understanding, Gordon was also moved by humanitarian considerations: by the belief that war should be avoided, whenever possible, no matter how much he excelled at it. He also understood the weakness of the military forces he was given to command, especially far from their Nile bases in the vast, foreboding territory of the western Sudan, and preferred to use them as an appendage of his personality and diplomatic efforts, rather than as his leading edge.

Before he could reach Suleiman, who was not only continuing to run his fatherís enormous slaving empire with complete disdain for Egyptian law, but also undertaking clear preparations for launching an open revolt against the Khedive, Gordon had to dissipate the forces of Haroun el-Raschid (who was in conflict with both Suleiman and the Egyptians). With only a small force of men, moving decisively into the zone of danger, Gordon succeeded in inducing Haroun to withdraw back into his northern sanctuary, temporarily minimizing his revolt and creating the free space needed to operate against Suleiman. At the time, Gordon was driven forward by his indomitable faith, and by a spirit that had been expressed by other warriors, before him: "It is better to be in the right place at the right time with a hundred men, than absent with a thousand." [34] Or: "On síengage, et puis - on voit. (You get into the action, and then, you take it from there.)" [35] One part bluff, one part submission to God, Gordon simply threw himself into the midst of the danger with inadequate forces, which he did not have time to significantly augment or to remold, trusting in his eyes to find the options uncovered by his recklessness. His advance exuded tremendous confidence, and it was that confidence that his enemies felt, imagining that it must have some basis in men or arms; they reacted to velocity without discerning what it was that was moving so quickly towards them, gave way before a shadow that had no substance. Of course, this quick, airy victory would need to be anchored in the future with more concrete actions. For Gordon, the key was to improve the administration of the Sudan, large tracts of which were resentful of Egyptian-Turkish authority encroaching into their domains, and the oppressive taxes which were sometimes levied against them. Gordon hoped to build respectful relations with local leaders which would preserve their own sense of authority within the broader framework of the Egyptian-Turkish project, and counter their fears of ingestion; he also sought to ease the tax burden and to beat back the corruption and abuse which were alienating them.

Still on the way to Zubair, Gordon had yet another confrontation, this time with a local tribe known as the "Leopards", under whose attack his own, grade-D quality troops wilted. Gordon could muster only a part of his command to join him in driving them back, then finally subdued them by seizing the local water supply and compelling them to come to terms. A vow of peace made on the Koran, and this little war was done.

At last, Gordon was in range of Suleiman Zubairís enclave. Foregoing the possibility of military action, Gordon rode forward, with only the flimsiest escort, straight into the middle of the slaverís camp, riding past thousands of stunned and hardened warriors who could have killed him in an instant, to the tent of Suleiman, himself, who received him with a cup of water as desert protocol demanded. There, Gordon sat down face to face with his dangerous and powerful rival, told him that he knew he was planning a revolt, and demanded that he abide by the previous agreements made with Egypt in regard to slavery, and submit to the authority of the Khedive.

How was it that Gordon could place himself in a position of such utter helplessness? The truth is that he did not feel helpless, even though he was virtually alone in a camp of fierce and ruthless men whose way of life he was openly committed to destroying. Gordon felt the power of a great mission, a purpose stronger than life, moving within him, animating him, protecting him, as he faced men who had the ability and the motive to kill him; he felt invulnerable like a lantern in the night that does not fear the whole earth of darkness; like Daniel in the lionís den, whose faith steadied his heart when he was sealed, with a giant stone, inside a cave of beasts. "My god hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lionís mouthsÖ" [36] Perhaps Gordon felt his soul the equal of an army, as he sat before his enemies, and guided by "the secret", let God "dwell within him" and shine outwards at them with an energy which they could not resist. In this way, Gordon maneuvered not to bring artillery to bear against his enemies in order to destroy them at long range, but to bring himself into their presence, as closely as possible, in order to expose them to his eyes, which could transmit the will of God to them and imprint it on their souls. He sought to win this war by smuggling God, hidden in himself, into the heart of the enemiesí position, and conquering them with a power that was stronger than any army of the earth. Of course, in order to effectively carry out this strategy, Gordon had to be impervious to its possibly fatal consequences. How was he able to do so; to prevent the aura of divine authority which he wished to carry into the enemyís camp from being sabotaged by human fear, and disintegrating into the obvious and pathetic bluff of an exposed and powerless human being? A window on the mental state which Gordon was able to achieve on this occasion may be gained by examining an exchange which Gordon was to have with the King of Abyssinia on a future occasion, similar to this one:

King: Do you know, Gordon Pasha, that I could kill you on the spot if I liked?

Gordon: Do so at once, if it is your royal pleasure; I am ready. You would confer a favor on me by so doing, for you would be doing for me that which I am precluded by my religious scruples from doing for myself.

King: Then my power has no terror for you?

Gordon: None whatsoever. [37]

Gordon had mixed feelings about life, a sometimes painful terrain of dilemmas with no pure path through the wilderness of greed, ambition, vices, and expedients; too many chances to stray; too many sins crawling, like parasites, inside pragmatism, too many realities beating back the march of ideals; too many voices haunting oneís conscience from oneís own deeds, too many dead, too much loneliness; too great a struggle to keep the hearth of the unseen burning in the center of the obvious. The earth was a terrible place for a moral perfectionist to dwell in, even one who thought himself practical; beyond it, and beyond the tension of the irreconcilable contradictions, repugnant compromises and unattainable visions which degraded it, paradise beckoned, a state of being which Gordon fervently longed to reach. In some ways it could be said that Gordonís faith, spurred on by his discontent, infiltrated a secret death wish into his political agenda, leading him to seek to use that agenda as the means to end his life. This self-destructive impulse, which was countered by his concern for his men (he did not wish to drag them down as captives of his private death wish), and also by his sense of duty to the world (he did not wish to abandon it when he could help it), could be drawn on at moments of acute danger to dispel the terror of death which paralyzes the ordinary, and lead him to achieve incredible results. In the case of his meeting with Suleiman, it is likely that Gordon felt his own life weighed far less in the balance than the possible good to be achieved if he won his gamble; and that he was, therefore, prepared to sacrifice it to help bring an end to slavery in the Sudan. His faith in a better life beyond sustained him as he risked the life he had, while his absorption of God, via "the secret", may have reduced all of these considerations to the level of a subtext, as he walked into the "lionís den" without even harboring the thought of failure.

Suleiman, stunned by Gordonís boldness, listened to his demands, then retired to consider them. While the majority of his advisers counseled him to slay the audacious Englishman now that he was in their hands, one of his more influential lieutenants, Nur Angara, warned the others that if they killed him, the English would be likely to retaliate, "they will avenge his murder with massive force, he is one of their own"; Nur Angara, therefore, refused to go along with the plan to exterminate Gordon and, in fact, abandoned Suleiman and brought more than half of the slaverís troops over to Gordonís side. Faced with this devastating defection, half a product of logic and half a product of Gordonís personal impact, Suleiman sent Gordon a letter of submission before the day was out. The slaverís mighty empire, unvanquished by arms, had been crumbled by charisma - or had it?

Of course, this was not to be the last round in the struggle. Some analysts have attributed to Gordon an extraordinary naivetť with regard to his judgments of human character, pointing out numerous cases in which he misgauged the reliability of others and overestimated the value of their promises. While there is much truth in this criticism, it can be explained. Gordon was, in some way, attracted to the idea that men can change, and particularly attracted to the scenario of the monster transforming back into a man. He believed in practicing the Christian art of forgiveness, and believed that forgiveness could create lifelong bonds of gratitude; that it could turn hardened enemies into loyal allies, and open corrupt hearts to the beauty of a higher sensibility, embodied by the man who was compassionate and morally expansive. Gordon was committed to the ideology of second chances, devoted to the power of forgiveness, and for the sake of this virtue, which he felt the soiled human race depended on if it were not to slide straight into Hell for what it had already done, he sometimes cut too much slack to those who were set in their ways. Often, the victims of his moments of divine bearing stood frozen in the tracks of his charisma, utterly complacent until he had ridden away, whereupon they awoke from their unintended submission; and old priorities and customs returned to the forefront of their lives. Nonetheless, although Gordonís "victory" over Suleiman would prove ephemeral, it was, for now, victory enough that he had survived his daring visit to the slaverís camp. That, in itself, was enough to turn him into a living legend throughout the Sudan, and to enhance the credibility of his governance.

On a smaller scale, during this phase of his service in the Sudan, Gordon came upon an abandoned slave boy in the desert, who led him to several others who were chained together. Slavers had ditched them and fled when they heard that Gordon was in the vicinity. Gordon, who had performed the similar rescue of an orphaned boy in China, "Quincey", who he had carried in his arms from a battlefield and sent back to England to be schooled, arranged for this child, Capsune, to be adopted and schooled in England, and, in fact, helped to provide support for him out of his own pocket (as he did for Quincey). As Gordon tackled slavery on a sweeping canvas encompassing many thousands of square miles of the Sudan and parts of Central Africa, he tried not to let the vastness of the project inure him to the individual measure of what was at stake. What he did for Capsune he could not do for every victim of slavery, but he could personalize the grand brush strokes of his efforts through Capsune, and sustain the motivation that was necessary in order not to give in to a deeply-entrenched vice, in a grueling, harsh land which seemed to drain the will, and to invite death as a relief.

With things in this condition, in March of 1878, Gordon was called to Cairo by the Khedive to undertake a new and utterly unexpected assignment. The Khedive was presently in the midst of a terrible financial crisis, brought on by his own corrupt and inept system, and his deepening indebtedness to European creditors, who fueled his lavish dreams, then came in to reap the benefits of a ruling class living beyond its means. Although Gordon was British, and the British along with the French, Austrians, and Italians were insisting on control over aspects of the Egyptian economy as a means of guaranteeing payments owed to European bondholders, the Khedive chose Gordon to be his economic representative in the negotiations underway to resolve the crisis. Somehow, he seemed to hope that Gordon would simultaneously earn the respect for Egypt, among foreigners, which was due an Englishman, while continuing to serve him loyally, as though he were an Egyptian. Regarding Gordonís character, the Khedive had judged right. Gordon was in his employ, not Englandís, and he sought to honorably uphold the Khediveís defense of Egyptian sovereignty, which subtle economic inroads, now widened into avenues, were in danger of eroding. Gordon also felt at least a partial identity with the people who he lived amidst, in the Sudan, and he was sensitive to their interests in the context of international politics, which seemed likely to increase their suffering by compelling Egypt to squeeze still more taxes out of an already impoverished land, in order to help pay off its international debt. What the Khedive did not gauge correctly was the Europeansí reaction to Gordon. Rather than succumbing to his stature, as the Khedive had hoped, they expressed amazement that they should have to deal with a man utterly unqualified to participate in an economic commission focused on financial intricacies. This was a soldier, not a banker or economist, and it showed. What good will Gordon lost on account of his deficient rťsumť, was compounded by his moral obstinacy regarding the situation. Although Gordon made some truly useful suggestions - for example, urging the Khedive to give up an expensive and ambitious railroad project intended to connect Egypt with the Sudan, since the Nile already provided a better route for that purpose - his main focus was on limiting European control over the finances of Egypt, and on trying to convince the Europeans to soften the terms of the debt, so as not to impose unnecessary hardship on the people of Egypt and the Sudan. In the end, Gordon defended Egypt more vigorously than the Khedive, himself, who soon realized that independence was a lost cause, and that Gordonís headstrong resistance on his behalf was only worsening the situation, and darkening the inevitable. To Gordonís dismay, the Khedive gave in; he was not stronger than history. Gordon was left disillusioned, while the Khedive chose Gordon to be the receptacle of his disappointment in the world, seeming to grow suddenly tired of the man who could no longer do everything. It might have been a good time to go, except for the fact that during this peculiar interlude, Suleiman Zubair, gaining a sense of the weakening position of the Khedive, and also recovering, at last, from the shock of Gordonís mystique, had decided to revolt. Everywhere, throughout the Sudan, there were scarecrows of Gordon facing him down, but no Gordon. Suleiman had men, he had weapons, he had pride, he had a way of life, and as the memory of the meeting with Gordon receded each day, his thwarted ambition emerged more strongly, demanding that he stand up for it. The signal that the spell of Gordonís charisma had finally been broken was the destruction of a government outpost at Dem Idris, where two hundred soldiers and a large number of women and children were massacred, and many government supplies captured. Now it was imperative that Gordon return and resort to the naked use of force he had thus far minimized. Suleiman would not have it any other way.

For this new stint in the Sudan, Gordon called upon the assistance of a whole new set of international subordinates, some trained soldiers and some experienced men of adventure, in order to increase the effectiveness of his operation. He had realized, in his previous running around, from Abyssinia to Darfur, that the domains entrusted to him were far too expansive for one man to reasonably cover, and that, if he were to accomplish lasting results here, he must learn to successfully delegate authority, which began with finding the right men. Among the right men were his former associate from the days in Equatoria, Romolo Gessi, and the Austrian Rudolf Slatin.

With Gessi, Gordon set out to destroy the power of Suleiman Zubair once and for all. In this fierce and demanding campaign, Gessi actually bore the brunt of the fighting, leading his troops gallantly into the heart of the slaverís territory, beating off waves of massive assaults by the barest of margins, and holding out in semi-siege conditions for months. Gordon finally managed to get a convoy of ammunition to him to help him hold on and later resume the offensive, while Gordon himself advanced towards the giant slaving town of Shaka to take pressure off of Gessiís force and aim a blow at the heart of Suleimanís power. Shaka was captured in April of 1879, and this massive hub of slaving closed down. Gordon reveled in the grief of the slave dealers, who he had defeated, and in the number of the slaves that he had freed. But the war was still on. Gessi defeated Suleiman, whose resistance remained strong, yet again, and pursued him relentlessly until he finally cornered him early in the summer of 1879, capturing him and a loyal band of followers at Gara during a rainstorm. Believing Suleiman was planning to attempt an escape, Gessi had him executed shortly thereafter, without recourse to a trial. Gordon, who did not order the execution, supported Gessiís decision when he was informed of it. The slaverís empire had been shattered. The crusade behind which British imperialism had advanced down the Nile, utilizing the moral ambition of Gordon and his kind, had attained its objective, as another, less lofty objective pushed forward in its wake.

The war against slavery in the Sudan was not an insignificant affair. In terms of the human toll, between the years of 1875 and 1879, it may have cost the lives of 16,000 Egyptian soldiers, 50,000 natives of Darfur, and 8,000 natives of Bahr el-Ghazal: sobering numbers, indeed, for any cause. [38] And yet, the depravations of the slave trade were such that the cost might be deemed, at the very least, comprehensible. The human cost of the raids that devastated whole villages and covered the land with the shadow of terror; the "lost cargo" of the slaving caravans which worked their way through the merciless desert, the desert of ghosts, haunted by those who did not have the strength to keep on marching towards their servitude; the awful affront to human dignity, the broken hearts and the appropriated bodies, lives torn off of their paths and stood up in a market to be sold: this was something that deserved to end, even if, for some, the war to crush it was only a front for imperialism.

Besides his work against slavery, Gordon, during his term as Governor-General of the Sudan, worked to overcome the rebellion of Haroun el-Raschid. The man who Gordon picked to neutralize the rebel, Rudolf Slatin, finally overcame Haroun in March of 1880. This victory might be regarded as a successful step in helping to stabilize the environment Gordon had constructed in opposition to slavery and brigandage, or as the suppression of a legitimate local leader at odds with the absorption of his homeland by the Egyptian government. Gordon also worked to smooth out the troubled relations between Egypt and Abyssinia, which had become embroiled in a series of fruitless yet potentially disastrous conflicts. Gordon distinguished himself by arranging a face-to-face meeting with the semi-mad King Johannes of Abyssinia [39], in an encounter reminiscent of his visit with Suleiman. Although the political results were limited, the courage of the effort was, once again, impressive.

With his work in the Sudan substantially completed, and with the removal of the Khedive Ismail from office in favor of his son, Tewfik Pasha, due to pressure exerted on Turkey by the European powers who continued to be concerned over their finances, a clear moment for Gordonís departure had finally arrived. The new Khedive was not at all keen on Gordon, who Johannes called "the Sultan of the Sudan", and who the British press was referring to as "the uncrowned king of the Sudan." Tewfik did not need a governor who others viewed as a virtual ruler unto himself, a servant more illustrious than his master. Everyone was satisfied to let things end; and so, in July of 1879, Gordon, at last, having given enough of himself to justify a permanent retirement from striving and struggle, boarded a ship for home, weary but content, and grateful to God for what he had managed to accomplish.

Back in England by a roundabout path, Gordon was, of course, once more subject to the pressures of adulation and the demands of British high society, which sought to bring this strange, notorious prize into its midst. And true to form, he avoided and, without meaning to, scandalized them (but he was powerless over his disdain for superficialities). He was said to have referred to certain prominent and illustrious persons as "a mass of glitter to be worms in 30 years time"; and went so far as to reject a dinner invitation from the Prince of Wales. When the bearer of the invitation informed him, "But you cannot refuse the Prince," Gordon told him: "Why not? I refused King JohannesÖ and he might have cut off my head for refusing. I am sure His Royal Highness will not do that." [40] For Gordon, back in England, his return provided a chance to rest, recover, and enjoy the company of old friends, after a great ordeal which had left him looking thinner and much older. Additionally, it provided him with the opportunity to make new friends, such as Florence Nightingale, the heroic nurse of the Crimean War, who shared many of Gordonís Christian sentiments and became a valued correspondent. However, it was also a time of renewed dips into "the doles", as inaction seemed to trigger depression in Gordon, filling his world with emotions that expressed themselves as sorrow and emptiness. Gordon would spend the next few years alternating between the search for active assignments capable of challenging him, reigniting his sense of worth, and warding off "the doles"; and the search for reflective, out-of-the-way sanctuaries from the world, where he could escape from its demands and the destiny that was silently stalking him from his own courageous heart. He and his government would also struggle with each other. Gordon would constantly request leaves of absence from the army, or tender his resignation (only to have it denied), in the effort to give himself the freedom to act according to his own conscience and idiosyncratic worldview, whenever promising opportunities presented themselves abroad; while his superiors, regarding him as a "loose cannon" and a "maverick" who could not be trusted to "tow the line" and to promote British policies without trying to drag them towards his own vision, battled to block him from situations where he could "cause political damage." In its efforts to control him, and to find the right match between his talents and his assignments, the government and military command often found themselves at odds with the general public and the newspapers which, very much devoted to Gordon, habitually gave the government hell for not properly utilizing his abilities.

In 1880, Gordon accepted a position as the private secretary of Lord Ripon, the British viceroy of India, who was headed to India to implement a program of reform which was to help relieve the growing pressure that was building up there against colonial rule. Gordon, with his reputation of being "fair to the natives", was brought along as a political asset, but proved to be anything but. Gordon, who, when he had gone to work for the Khedive refused to accept the enormous salary offered to him, because he had wanted to promote the concept of service for the sake of service, and to reject the vice of enriching oneself from a poor land, was horrified by the lifestyle of the British military and administrative class which he found in place in India. To his sister he wrote: "The way Europeans live there is absurd in its luxuryÖ All the salaries are too highÖ It is a house of charity for a lot of idle, useless fellows." [41] While to his new correspondent, Ms. Florence Nightingale, he declared: "Ö the element of all government is absent, i.e., the putting of the governors into the skin of the governed." [42] This was, in fact, a recurring theme in Gordonís assessment of the British colonial system, all over the world. The effort to bridge the gap between British culture and the alien cultures of the colonies it ruled was lacking; the system was one-sided, undermined by assumptions and flawed perceptions based on disinterest. This was imposition, not symbiosis. For Gordon, humanity was common; cultural differences ought not to become the moats that separated worlds, but ought to be approached as mediums by which the humanity that was shared was expressed. The curious and the compassionate would always learn to recognize the human being no matter what the culture in which he hid. As Gordon said, on another occasion, to govern men well, one must " Ďget into their skins,í that is, try and realize their feelings and do to others as you would they should do to you: that is the true secret [of good governance]." [41] This does not mean that Gordon, as a product of his own culture, was without his prejudices and assumptions regarding the customs, lifeways, mindsets, and aspirations of other peoples; but he did not callously allow his own "cultural shape" to translate into an arrogant sense of superiority, a personal code of indifference, or a carte blanche for exploitation. He valued those who Britain dared to believe it could better, and was horrified by the blatant signs of betrayal that he found in the heart and soul of the colonial mission. Hardly had Gordon begun his work with Lord Ripon than he resigned, in June of 1880, realizing that this was not the place for him.

Gordonís next foray into world affairs came not long afterwards, as old friends urged him to come to China, which was on the verge of going to war with Russia, on account of Russian expansion into traditional areas of Chinese influence. The British government dreaded Gordonís involvement, fearing that he would accept a commission in the Chinese army and lead China into a huge, and politically complicated war against the Russians, or else, foment a civil war against the Manchus on behalf of his old comrade, Li Hung-chang; and it, therefore, sought to prevent his departure for the East. However, Gordon was finally able to assuage his superiorsí concerns and to get clearance for his mission, which he undertook as a private consultant, not as an official representative of the British government. Before the Imperial Chinese Council, dominated by those who favored war with Russia, he argued strongly against the initiation of hostilities, scoffing at the idea that the wooden forts with which the Chinese expected to defend Peking would serve the purpose demanded of them. At last, he blasted the Councilís path towards war as sheer "idiocy", and seizing an English-Chinese dictionary to help him once the stunned translator refused to continue transmitting his tirade, insisted, in Chinese, "Idiocy!" Protocol had been violated, and feathers ruffled. But the Chinese seemed capable of embracing the eccentricity of this strange man, without closing themselves to his logic merely because he had been offensive; they recognized his outburst as the expression of his sincerity and his desperation to prevent men he cared for from committing a devastating blunder that could cost thousands of lives and perhaps leave their country in ruins. A peculiar man, Gordon, not to be blamed any more than a gust of wind! Ultimately, China listened. War was avoided, and a treaty with Russia was signed. Though this act on behalf of peace could not compare, in drama or excitement, to the acts of war for which Gordon would be most remembered, it was, perhaps, his greatest victory of all. In the silence of something that never happened, there was a triumph of untold proportions.

Upon his return from China, Gordon found himself the object of increasing publicity, more for what he had already done in Africa which was just catching up with him now, than for anything current. Dr. George Birkbeck Hill was about to publish a book of Gordonís letters from the Sudan, Colonel Gordon In Central Africa, destined to be a bestseller, while Vanity Fair was set on getting a profile of Gordon into print. Gordon cooperated tangentially with these projects, struggling against the temptation of vanity, while simultaneously, perhaps, hoping to preserve some ability to affect the outcome, if need be, by not completely shunning involvement.

In November 1880, it was on to Ireland, once more without official assignment. In fact, Gordon traveled there with sporting guns, in search of leisure as much as controversy. Long ago, as a five-year-old boy living in Dublin, where his father was, for a time, stationed, Gordon had been upset by the noise of gunfire as the troops practiced on the target range, and by the sudden gatherings of soldiers called on to quell mobs of Irishmen protesting in the streets. British rule was deeply resented in Ireland, and somehow, as a sensitive child, Gordon absorbed the sense of agitation in the air, and the lack of moral confidence within his home. Something wasnít right here; traces of resentment surrounding the base fell on him, mysteriously, like snow, and he didnít like it, and wanted to shake it off. Now, as a grown man, and a famous one at that, Gordon had returned to Ireland to look a childís uneasiness in the eyes. This time around, with both the clarity and the autonomy to reject what he was born into, the helpless regimen of dominance, Gordon saw the answer to his childhood woes. Ireland was mistreated beyond belief. As he wrote to one friend, in the midst of seeing its poverty firsthand: "Tell the people of England that within twelve hours of their capital there exists a deeper misery and more unnatural justice than seen in China or Central Africa." He also sent a memo to the highest levels of the British government, which somehow, found its way into the pages of the Times: "I believe that these people are patient beyond belief, loyal, but at the same time, broken-spirited and desperate, living on the verge of starvation in places in which we would not keep our cattleÖ the priests alone have any sympathy with their suffering." [44] Gordon urged the British government to buy out the most ruthless of the landlords, and assume the responsibility of renting land to the Irish peasants at humane rates. Not surprisingly, the Irish press reacted warmly to Gordonís views, while the British government was infuriated by his "meddling", which, for them, had only added more fuel to the Irish fire.

It was time to do something about this loose cannon, and the perfect opportunity arrived as Gordon felt the need once more to withdraw from the society whose adoration he struggled to resist, and whose pressures he sought to flee. A position became open for him on the island of Mauritius, where there was little more to do than oversee the defenses of a place that was about as far down on the strategic totem pole as one could possibly go. Gordon would get his sanctuary, and the army would get peace and quiet. The gifted thorn in its side would be removed.

Gordon left for Mauritius in May of 1881, and promptly made his mark there, as everywhere else. He was repelled by the garden parties, the games of lawn tennis, and the luxurious residences in the hills, which defined the lives of the superfluous garrison, and chose to live in a hotel down in Port Louis, instead. On a small island, the impact of his eccentricity, which did not have the geographic proportions of England to dilute it, was especially strong. Without military challenges to offset it by revealing his talents, his quirkiness no doubt reinforced the idea, in the minds of many, that he was more of a crackpot than a genius; a man suitable for strange assignments in strange lands, but best kept away from positions of power in the mainstream. Because his professional duties were so easily discharged here, Gordon utilized his stay on Mauritius to engage in many of his personal passions, including wide-ranging strategic speculations and analyses, which were mainly sound, and frequently imaginative and prophetic; and Biblical research and conjectures, particularly concerning the Garden of Eden, which he believed lay underneath the sea off the Seychelle Islands, some thousand or so miles north of his base. (He traveled to these islands from Mauritius to seek evidence for his theory, and came back believing that the coco-de-mer tree, found only in the Seychelles, was the Biblical Tree of Knowledge.) Gordon also took it upon himself, during this empty time in need of filling, to make war on the three "vices" of his life: the bottle, the cigarette, and the newspaper. (He thought how much better it would be if he were to spend the many hours he devoted to reading the newspaper to reading the Bible, instead.) Most likely, here, Gordon bit off more than he could chew, and found, through the difficulty of sustaining his ambitious objectives, a more reasonable standard to hold himself to. In March of 1882, Gordon was promoted to the rank of Major General, which gave him too much rank for the little outpost at Mauritius. Transfer was therefore necessary. The question, now, was, what next?

For the British public, the answer was obvious: South Africa! For the British government, concerned about Gordonís unreliability, and the damage which a verbal match, dropped into a political powder keg, might do, the answer was less obvious. However, there were pressing issues affecting the Cape Colony at this moment, which had recently defeated the mighty Zulu kingdom (1879), and was now needlessly provoking the Basuto people located more deeply in the interior, who were caught between the British colony on the coast and the Boer enclaves of the hinterland. [44b] The government of the Cape Colony wished to disarm the Basutos, as a measure to protect the security of its settlers. The measure, which applied to spears as well as rifles, threatened the very security which it sought to promote by being excessive and provocative, alienating and embittering a people who had, thus far, proven friendly to the British (who were valued as a counter to the Boers). While the main tribal chief, Letsie, agreed to go along with the disarmament program, a powerful subchief, Masupha, and others inspired by his example, refused to participate. The question was, would an effort be made to forcibly disarm the tribe, indicating the need for another war, like the one that had just vanquished the Zulus?

Gordon, invited in by the Cape Colony to look at the situation, was in favor of a peaceful solution. However, he quickly alienated the South African political establishment by proposing administrative reforms which would grant the Basutos a far greater role in managing their own affairs relative to the Capetown government; and he alienated the military establishment by judging it unsuited for its environment, and recommending a major conceptual overhaul which would place increased importance on the recruitment of local troops, and the development of true mobility (the infantry was to be mounted, and the artillery which retarded its velocity was to be cut back). The colony was not pleased with these solutions, far ahead of its habits, but as events developed, it finally agreed to let Gordon make a personal visit to Masupha in an effort to sound him out and see if there was room for peace: for although the colony had finally realized that its disarmament plan was unrealistic, and let it go, it still resented the independent spirit which the aborted plan had lured out into the open and revealed in Masupha. Unfortunately, at the very moment that Gordon reached Masuphaís camp, practically alone and exposed as when he had visited Suleiman and Johannes, Chief Letsi, egged on by colony officials, began to amass an army with which to attack the dissident. Masupha, learning of the mobilization against him, was furious, at first suspecting that Gordon was in on the plot and had come merely to take him off his guard. However, Gordonís expressive face, equally filled with rage at the thought of being stabbed in the back and having his peace initiative used as a mere smokescreen for an impending attack, saved him from Masuphaís wrath. The dissident chief believed Gordon had also been deceived, and let him go. In the end, much was lost, for Letsieís mobilization, which had destroyed the peace initiative, turned out to be more theatrical than real, and the colony was not able to use him to gain control over the dissident Basuto factions as it had wished. Gordon, outraged by the entire affair, abandoned the task, and finding himself returning from the interior on the same train as J.W. Sauer, the Secretary of Native Affairs who had engineered the war effort behind his back, refused to ride in the same carriage with him. Meanwhile, back in England, Gordonís public shared in the outrage, villainizing Sauer as the man who had almost finished off their hero, by choosing to start a war when Gordon was in the hands of dangerous men who the invasion would transform into mortal enemies.

On a more personal and revealing note, while momentarily idle, with a small amount of time on his hands in South Africa, Gordon was invited to speak to a classroom of native African children in a Sunday School by the founding Reverend. Upon entering the room and surveying the faces looking back at him, Gordon suddenly seemed overcome by emotion, and had to rush outside, where the Reverend who had invited him found him sitting down, as though struck by a great blow which had wilted his body, his head buried in his hands. After a while, Gordon was finally able to be pulled out of this peculiar state, and persuaded to return to the classroom to speak to the young students who were waiting for him. He would later go on to explain that the sight of these childrenís faces, radiating an innocence that was overwhelming, a purity and potential that the world was still not prepared to do justice to, had hit him in a sudden flash, with beauty that was more than he could bear to see, knowing its likely fate in a country that did not exist for its own people. As he later wrote to a friend, "When I looked [at the childrenís faces] and recalled all that the black race has suffered from our own, I could not go on." [45] Gordon, somewhat in the manner of Lawrence of Arabia, who would partially fill his niche for a coming generation, had become a man stranded between worlds; a man serving as an instrument of imperialism, which he tried in vain to reform as he performed its work; a man advancing the cause of domination while identifying with the subjugated. Somehow, the dream of liberation always carried an unwanted passenger, someone elseís dark motive that was stronger. The visionary always fell before the callous one; compassionate souls inserted into the dark project failed to change its course, the humane roads they blazed always led subtly back to the world that wanted their energy, not their morality. The steady, lumbering mass of conquest wanted genius to guide it, ideals to mask it, hope to drive it, and thus left room for good men to think they could change it from within. For most of their lives, men such as Gordon, and perhaps Lawrence, believed that they could. But at those few moments when visions of their futility reached them through glimpses of the vulnerabilities they had not shielded and the wrongs they had not righted, the effects were devastating. Years later, Lawrence wrote, of his sense of no longer belonging to any world: "[The man who chooses to become a leader of aliens] is not of them. He may stand against them, persuade himself of a mission, batter and twist them into something which they, of their own accord, would not have been. Then he is exploiting his old environment to press them out of theirs. Or, after my model, he may imitate themÖ Then he is giving away his own environment: pretending to theirs; and pretenses are hollow, worthless thingsÖ In my own case, the efforts for these years to live in the dress of Arabs, and to imitate their mental foundation, quitted me of my English self, and let me look at the West and its conventions with new eyes: they destroyed it all for me. At the same time I could not sincerely take on the Arab skin: it was an affectation onlyÖ I had dropped one form and not taken on the otherÖ with a resultant feeling of intense loneliness in life, and a contempt, not for other men, but for all they do." [46] Gordon was more strongly centered in the Western tradition than Lawrence, with a more stable anchor to who he had been, not as fluid a shape-shifter or gifted a chameleon; less poetic, less far-wandering in dabbling with his different selves, less a crossdresser of souls, less likely to fly away into madness: the one was made of granite, the other of wind. And yet, there were parallels in the sincere nature of the bonds they formed with people Britain only wished to use. Most likely, Gordonís overpowering reaction to the South African schoolchildren occurred during a momentary break in the practical trance which allows us to live disappointing lives without despairing: a sudden awakening of his consciousness in the heartbreaking no-manís land between aspirations and accomplishments. In this terrain of unbearable clarity, no man could live long. Gordon had to go back to believing he could make a difference - or else die.

Upon his return from South Africa in October 1882, Gordon once more languished, searching for direction. King Leopold of Belgium was interested in procuring Gordonís services for his colony in the Congo, possibly as colonial administrator, and it was an option which Gordon did not dismiss. Strangely enough, he explained his interest in the Congo by saying, "It is a climate which precludes any hope of old age; there is a good chance then of ending oneís pilgrimage, which I incessantly long for." [47] But as Gordon, perhaps, felt some great symmetry slowly closing in on him, bringing him from his torments towards peace, offering to end, once and for all, the torturous tension between ideal and reality, and to take him to a world free of contradictions, he may also have felt the need to prepare himself, to take one final spiritual step before leaping into the unknown. Gordon had spent a lifetime reading the Bible, setting his heart and imagination to wander in the Holy Land. Now, he wanted to go there in person, and give his soul one final chance to soak up its spirit and grow towards his coming meeting with God: a meeting that he seemed to feel was on the way; or was it that he was only determined to induce it?

In January of 1883, Gordon stepped off the boat at Jaffa, and began his effort to make the transition from man to spirit. For almost one year, he would devote himself to spiritual meditation and life reflection, interspersed with meticulous historical sleuthing, as he sought to attach important moments of the Biblical narrative to concrete geographical points, which would help him to better visualize the episodes which inspired his faith, as well as give substance to "the religious fantasy", so that it might once more be believed by his peers - truly believed - in materialistic times. Of particular interest to Gordon were the sites where Noahís Ark was built, and where it came to rest after the Flood; and where Christ was crucified, and where he was buried. For Gordon, tracing the path of Christís steps through the Holy Land, and especially entering the physical space where his Savior had endured his final hours on the earth, was indescribably important; by setting his physical bearings precisely, by means of research, intuition, and his engineerís eye, it was as if Gordonís soul were able to generate such a vivid act of imagination, that the chasm between imagining and actually being present was finally bridged, and Gordon was able, at last, to stand side by side with Jesus, at the very moment that he sacrificed his life for the world; and to feel and to absorb his divinity, his commitment to God and the potential of Man, and his incredible courage, to die for his beliefs rather than tarnish them by fleeing like a criminal into the night, and refusing his appointment with Destiny. [48] It was martyrdom that brought Christís love to the highest level, by showing the world that life matters less than love, and that the strategies we use to cling to life must never betray the principles which life is given to us to uphold. [49] Purity is not the impediment to victory that the clever and the voracious believe it is; it is the victory. For Gordon, walking beside Christ through his final hours was a way of preparing himself for his own martyrdom, which his subconscious seemed to be guiding him towards, either as an escape from his life-weariness, or as an act of solidarity with his ultimate role model.

While Gordonís soul-searching in the Holy Land enriched his spiritual experience, it did not provide him with an epiphany which could have caused him to withdraw from worldly affairs for good, for he needed the world and its causes in order to be a martyr. He could not use Jerusalem to find inner peace and grow above the medium of his self-destruction; he needed both his discontent and residues of his ambition, to drive him towards it. Jerusalem was never meant to save him, only to prepare him for his sacrifice.

Many letters poured out of the Holy Land, from Gordonís hand, during his yearís stay there, as he sought connection from within his withdrawal; he also authored a small book, Reflections In Palestine, allowing any who would to listen in on his soul turbulence, and his unsuccessful efforts to satisfy himself with answers. Of one of his letters, written to the seasoned world traveler, explorer and Orientalist Richard Burton - a letter in which Gordon claimed to have identified the spot from which God made Adam out of clay - it was said: "Was ever such a serious letter written to so mocking a reader?" [50] While Reflections In Palestine was referred to as "a silly little book" by Burton, and, more tellingly, as "the book of a madman" by Lord Northbrook, first Lord of the Admiralty. [51] At the same time, another book, this one written by A. Egmont Hake about Gordon, was on the verge of coming out: The Story of Chinese Gordon. Since Gordon had been absent from the Sudan, and otherwise involved in England, India, China, Ireland, Mauritius, South Africa, and now, the Holy Land (as a private citizen and a pilgrim), the situation which he had worked so hard to create in the Sudan had begun to unravel in the face of a dangerous rebellion. The book, which would help to propel him once more to the forefront of his nationís attention, declared: "And now that we ourselves are face to face with new difficulties in Egypt and the Sudan, there are thousands who feel and say that if we were wise, to [Gordon] only should we look for deliveranceÖ He has gone to the Holy Land to be forgotten." [52] It was time for the pilgrim to return to the matters of the earth.

What had happened since Gordon had last left the Sudan, with the slave traders uprooted and Egypt seemingly in firm control of Sudanese affairs? A great Islamic revivalist movement had sprung up under the leadership of Mohammed Ahmad ibn Abdullah, who declaring himself to be the long-awaited Mahdi, called upon his followers to drive the Egyptians and Turks out of the Sudan as the first step in a holy war to purify Islam of the vices that had crept into it after the death of Mohammed the Prophet; and by rekindling the wavering flame of their faith, to restore the Muslim world to the preeminence which its own corruption had handed over to the nations of the "unbelievers." In Arabic, the word "Mahdi" means "guided one", and refers to a great redeemer expected to arise at a moment of degradation and crisis, in a kind of Ďsecond comingí, "to restore justice and righteousness to the world." [53] Throughout the Muslim world, exactly who this redeemer is seems to vary. For many Shiites, it is Muhammad al-Hanafiya, one of the sons of the Caliph Ali, who vanished mysteriously in a time of strife and was said to be "preserving himself" for the moment of his return. [54] At that time, he would overturn the "betrayal of Islam" which his own age was forced to bear, after the "defeat of the righteous ones" who had opposed it. For others, the Mahdi was to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, come for the same purpose: for the redemption of Islam, and the raising up of everything that had fallen low. While for some Sunnis, drawing upon the mystical claims of the Christian millenarian tradition, the Mahdi was expected to be Jesus (who would, of course, return as a Muslim, not as a member of the religion which had "corrupted his true position in the universe.") [55] According to some traditions, Mohammed the Prophet, himself, had predicted the coming of a Mahdi, while other traditions locate the birth of the Mahdi legend from the days of Muhammed al-Hanafiya. Some Islamic scholars find no legitimate authority, at all, for the idea of a Mahdi, insisting that it is an invention of the popular imagination, a specific expression of the universal human need for hope beyond the despair of oneís own times. [56] They see it as the embodiment of historyís movement in a single man, the personification of the fluidity of governments and civilizations which places a life-span upon injustice, and guarantees that no system can stand forever upon foundations of pain. Originally conceived of in the context of wars of succession between Muslims, and as a force for the internal cleansing of the faith, the concept of the Mahdi would soon take on broader dimensions, leading to a showdown between the Muslim Sudan and the Christian empire of Great Britain: a showdown which would pit two deeply religious and prodigiously talented men against each other in a war to the death.

Mohammed Ahmad ibn Abdullah was an unknown ascetic and mystic living on a small island in the middle of the Nile when Gordon, as governor of Equatoria, sailed past him on a steamer in 1874, on his way to his mission in tropical Africa. Neither one was in the universe of the other at that time; the knot of destiny that bound them together as one was neither seen nor felt. But by 1881, things had changed. Gordon was out of the Sudan, and the power structure that remained in his wake suffered for the lack of his energy and honesty. In the center of this political vacuum in the Sudan, Mohammed Ahmad had his great revelation; somehow, he believed himself to be visited by an angel or by the Prophet, himself; some say that the Prophet gave to him his own sword, and charged him with the redemption of Islam. Whatever the vision, whatever the means, Mohammed Ahmad felt transformed by it, and filled with practically irresistible conviction which attracted followers from all quarters, he proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi, the savior of Islam. The governor-general of the Sudan promptly sent a delegation of Muslim clerics to try to talk the "hothead" out of his "delusion", but these clerics were unable to make the slightest dent on his beliefs. The Mahdi was now completely convinced of his identity, and scornful of holy men who sold themselves to do the bidding of a corrupt regime that had degraded their religion and compromised their independence. The peace mission having failed, the governor-general next sent a military force, consisting of two well-armed companies of Egyptian soldiers, to apprehend the irritating troublemaker, but these two companies, becoming lost in the tall grasses of a marsh, were beaten to death by the Mahdiís impassioned followers wielding only sticks. In response, the Mahdi declared jihad, a holy war against the Egyptians and the Turks. Pressed by more threatening government countermeasures, the Mahdi fled with his followers into a more remote part of Kordofan, where he formed an army, the Ansar, or "Helpers", to defend his cause. This army was based upon the army which Mohammed the Prophet had raised to defend his revelations and their future in the world, just as the Mahdiís flight to a sanctuary out of the reach of his enemies was based upon the Hegira, or the Prophetís historic flight from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD. From this base, the Mahdi extended his efforts to proselytize and win over the local populace. Rather rapidly, some important groups, resentful of Egyptian rule and impressed by the coinciding trajectory of the Mahdiís religious movement, which seemed capable of galvanizing an effective revolt against Egyptian power, went over to him. Among these were the Jaíaliyin and Danaqla, as well as major elements of the cattle-raising Baggara nomads. Some of these groups were opposed to taxation and limitations on their movement imposed by the government, and some still sore from the war against slaving, which had affected their traditional way of life. At this historical point in time, and in this location, Islam was not committed to the eradication of slavery, and in this context, the Mahdi, even as a Muslim holy man, was not bound to, or inclined to, oppose local customs regarding the institution. Gordonís earlier war against slavery had, in fact, created sizable enclaves of resentment throughout the region which the Mahdi could now use as recruiting grounds for his own movement. While the Mahdi did not come to advocate slavery, he grew stronger by not opposing it.

In December 1881, another government force sent towards the Mahdiís base to neutralize his movement before it could take off, was ambushed and destroyed. Then, in March of 1882, another force was sent against him, this time a powerful column consisting of 6,000 men furnished with up-to-date firearms. In June, it was surprised in the wilderness while resting behind a thorn-bush barricade, and overrun by Ansar spearmen, whose fearlessness in the face of modern weapons was utterly disconcerting. Up till now, all the Egyptian government had accomplished was to feed the Mahdiís revolt, throwing him weapons and ammunition in the hands of poorly-led, unmotivated troops who were too easily vanquished, and increasing the psychological attractiveness of his movement by collaborating in the construction of its mystique. The people were beginning to say that God must be on his side, for his men, armed only with spears and their belief in Allah, were routinely thrashing the armies of a government endowed with vastly superior resources: a state which existed on an entirely higher technical and financial plane.

However, the Egyptian state was badly overextended at the time that the Mahdiís revolt began to assume serious proportions, and it could not reach him with more than a trickle of its power. In September of 1881, Egypt had been rocked by the revolt of Ahmad Arabi, a disaffected army colonel who led units of the Egyptian army in an uprising which forced significant concessions from the Khedive. Arabi and his faction gained a place in the government, and attempted to radicalize it vis-ŗ-vis the foreigners who they felt were dominating Egypt, subjugating it financially, and transmitting unacceptable economic hardship to the peasant class in the form of the debt burden they had imposed upon the nation. Foreign pressure soon forced Arabi out of his new position in the government, but popular support, expressed by rioting in the streets, brought him back. As Arabiís faction pushed Egypt more and more into a position of confrontation with the West, with the Khedive seemingly a bystander in his own government, the British at last deemed it necessary to take direct action against him. Their attachment to the Suez Canal, conceived of, now, as the lifeline of their empire, would not permit the formation of a truly independent state in this region. In July of 1882, the British navy bombarded Alexandria and overwhelmed Arabiís supporters, who had pointed artillery towards British ships in the harbor. Arabi, overpowered, fled into the interior to rally resistance, simultaneously threatening to blow up the Suez Canal and to cancel Egyptís foreign debt if the invaders did not withdraw. However, this threat, meant to discourage pursuit, only terrified and enraged the British to take further action. They decided that Arabi must be totally defeated and that Egypt must be occupied by British forces in order to safeguard the canal. Thus, in September, an expeditionary force of 20,000 men was landed south of Cairo, meeting Arabi and his rebels at Tel-el-Kebir and unequivocally demolishing them. Arabi, himself, was captured and sent into exile on Ceylon. Although triumphant, the chaos had weakened the military ability of Britainís Egyptian clients to respond to the crisis in the Sudan, and badly damaged Egyptís position in the war to outcompete the Mahdi for the hearts and minds of the Sudanese, by emphasizing its intimate links with the infidels, and its apparent subservience to foreign oppressors.

Around the same time that the British were invading Egypt to defeat Arabi, the Mahdi was launching a great campaign to capture El Obeid, the second largest city in the Sudan, after Khartoum. The effort began with a fierce assault, as wave after wave of Ansar spearmen poured into the city, breaking through its thinly-held outer lines to concentrate against the citadel, where government forces made a desperate, last-ditch stand. Witnesses described the carnage, as masses of bodies piled up underneath the withering fire of the defenders, whose repeating rifles were said to have glowed red from the heat of so many rounds fired for such a long time at such a rapid pace. As the bodies of the Ansar dead filled defensive ditches, the unbowed troops of the Mahdi were said to have used the corpses as bridges to cross over and continue the assault, driving the defenders up, at last, to the final sanctuary of the building rooftops. Here, the attack was finally repelled. There were just too many dead, and the bullets kept on coming. Bled white, the Mahdiís forces staggered out of the smoldering town they had nearly captured. Some analysts have faulted the garrison of El Obeid for not shifting to the offensive at this point, and following up the Mahdiís repulse with a decisive counterattack which could have crushed the Ansar. But this take seems overly optimistic. The garrison had barely held onto its own defenses and had little desire to leave the shelter that had saved it and to venture into the open in pursuit of a recklessly brave army that could at any time rally and engulf it. The garrison, instead, concentrated on reorganizing its battered position, while the Mahdiís troops re-formed around it, and initiated a grueling siege that slowly reduced it, with starvation and hopelessness, as the government failed to muster a credible relief expedition. In the end, the townsfolk were reduced to eating dogs, rats, mice, cockroaches and ants, and some were even seen to comb through excrement to pick out undigested pieces of grain to gnaw on. As time went on, the dead grew so huge in number that the city was invaded by swarms of vultures, some of whom became so swollen from their feasting that they could not fly away, and, in their turn, became the prey of the starving populace. In January of 1883, El Obeid, finally exhausted beyond the human capacity to endure, surrendered, elevating the revolt to a new level. The Mahdi had captured a major, well-defended town. The young and not fully respected uprising, dangerous to the unguarded in the wilderness, had suddenly matured, and showed itself to be capable of taking on and defeating the government even in its centers of power. At the same time, the army of the Mahdi was engaged in a steady process of refining itself. A special corps of sharpshooters was created to incorporate the large store of captured rifles obtained through the Mahdiís unbroken string of victories, and to integrate them effectively into his military machine. Deserters from the Egyptian military who were proficient in the use of modern armaments, such as artillery, were also utilized. Meanwhile, the sizable treasury of El Obeid was seized and put to good use. A man once regarded as a religious curiosity, and backwater irritant, was bloooming into a substantial enemy.

In March of 1883, in homage to the Mahdiís steadily ascending status, the Khedive secured the employ of a respected British veteran of the Indian Army, General William Hicks, who arrived in Khartoum to take charge of Sudanese forces in an effort to rout the religious zealot once and for all. The Hicks expedition was sizable and well-armed. Great Britain, itself, distanced itself from the project, attempting to reassure its public that, after its acceptance of a new level of involvement in Egypt, it did not intend to sink into the quagmire of defending Egyptian obligations in the Sudan, as well; otherwise, there might be no end in sight to the deepening of its foreign entanglements. Prime Minister Gladstone, who was now head of the British government, was not a comfortable imperialist, and he was wary of squandering the resources of empire by seeking to control what was "uncontrollable" or what was not vital. For him, the Sudan was expendable, and the Mahdi peripheral to his political vision. However, a victory by Hicks would certainly be welcome, if it could be achieved without the open support of his government, which was publicly in the process of disengaging from the situation. In fact, to the intense disappointment of Gladstone, and to the absolute horror of the British public and the Khedive, Hicksí army met with a stunning disaster in November 1883 at Shaykan, in the vicinity of El Obeid. The general was lured farther and farther from his base by an elusive enemy, his supply line stretched thin, his menís stamina and courage drained as they moved too far from the districts which encouraged them into lands which filled them with fear. Their hearts withered underneath the broad sky, their alertness suffered in the immensity. Many of them were unwilling conscripts, anyway, some of them brought south from Egypt in chains before the launching of the offensive. Once the Mahdi had brought them to the end of their power, he struck, and the result was devastating. Caught in a deadly ambush, the army quickly folded. The heroic performance of the European officers, including Hicks, who went down fighting, was duly noted by the Ansar, who respected bravery, just as much as they used it to set their traps. Not long after this, Gordonís old lieutenant, Rudolf Slatin, who had since become administrator of Darfur, was compelled to surrender to the Mahdi. Slatin, who had pretended to convert to Islam in order to better retain the loyalty of the natives under his command, was unable to resist the Mahdiís forces in spite of this ruse, and was retained as a prisoner of the Ansar. Throughout the years of his captivity, his life would be in constant danger.

Back in England, the Hicks disaster was also a disaster for Gladstone. The press and the people who were shaped by newspapers blamed him for contributing to the disaster, with his "hands off" policy which had essentially left Hicks to his own devices in the Sudan. Gladstone had been willing enough to profit from the project he disowned, but now that it had failed, he could not escape from the connections with it which he did not have. All around, there was the sentiment that England was pulling the rug out from underneath the feet of its allies, picking up and running away, abandoning its dead without a fight, forfeiting its pride for politics, and behaving in an altogether un-British way. No wonder, perhaps, that Disraeli, Gladstoneís greatest political rival in England, would one day choose to explain the difference between "misfortune" and "calamity" in the following way: "If Gladstone fell into the Thames, that would be a Ďmisfortune.í If someone were to pull Gladstone out, that would be a Ďcalamity.í" With the British public clamoring for a more emotionally acceptable outcome, and with the prospect of a terrible bloodbath awaiting the Sudan as the Mahdi closed in on the remaining Egyptian garrisons, which lacked the resources and the local support to withdraw back into Egypt as Gladstone was advising them to do, Gladstone felt the need for a political expedient which could save him. His entire position was in jeopardy, put at risk by an obscure messiah from the desert.

It was right at this moment of need that Charles George Gordon stumbled into his sights, thanks to an interview solicited by the Pall Mall Gazette, eager for a story. Gordon, who was, in fact, preparing to take on the assignment offered to him in the Congo by King Leopold of Belgium, was surprised by a correspondent from the Gazette, who showed up at his door and succeeded in drawing him out of his intention to remain discreet. Gordon, who had not known the full extent of the governmentís plan to "abandon the Sudan", was shocked as the correspondent relayed to him all that he knew about the withdrawal. Gordon, who could not bear to see his years of hard work in the Sudan undone by a sudden collapse of will, warned that Gladstoneís policy would endanger Egypt by exposing it to the idea of a victorious Islamic revolt, which might well arouse the people to rebel throughout Egypt. "The danger to be feared is not that the Mahdi will march through to [Egypt, but] arises from the influence which the spectacle of conquering Muhammedan power established close to your frontier will exercise upon the population you govern." He also considered the evacuation promoted by British policy to be unfeasible; lacking the necessary transport and the protection of the local tribes, the evacuees would be "plundered to the skin and even their lives will not be spared." [57] For Gordon, the sudden outpouring from his heart against the abandonment of the Sudan did not stem from his attachment to empire, although he recognized the strategic importance of Egypt (perhaps overestimated, he thought), which could be destabilized from the Sudan. [58] Gordon was uncomfortable with the ethics and the politics of empire. During the Arabi revolt, for example, he had written a letter very much at odds with official government policy, and with the longer historical path down which that policy had traveled into being. In that letter, he wrote: "Öunder the pretense of benefiting the people under the real object of securing the bondholders, our Government usurped the role over Egypt and suffered the consequences. Pity it is, our Government always goes against liberty of peoples, and favoring of autocrats." [59] Even before this, while engaged in strategic musings on the island of Mauritius, Gordon had dreamt of a day when British seapower might be protected by strings of fortified coaling stations, established in locations of limited extent "without the detrimental accompaniment of population, who may be with us or against us"; in other words, bases that did not imply colonies and the subjugation of native populations. [60] Although Gordon cannot be utterly extracted from the imperialist policies which his skills served, he was not, himself, committed to the defense of the Sudan as part of an imperialist conception; he had no commitment to the inflated grandeur of empires, sometimes too proud to take a step backwards from their pinnacle; he had no commitment to the preservation of the hollow, "parasitic" regime of the Khedive Tewfik, just because it bent to the will of England - he had more respect for the defeated Arabi. He valued the Suez Canal, but would not have cherished the task of stamping out justice all around it in order to insure its control.

For Gordon, what was so painful about the abandonment of the Sudan was the thought of men he knew, some of whom had served under him, being trapped, and left to stand and die alone; bonds forged in all sincerity, in the greatest moments of life, being forsaken for convenience. Although his mind seems to have changed regarding the future of slavery, where he originally maintained a more hopeful outlook, Gordon also came to believe that the triumph of the Mahdi would provide a favorable environment for the perpetuation of the slave trade, by locking Egyptian power out of the Sudan and cutting off the most important source of interference with that trade. [61] Gordon hated to lose the centerpiece of his lifeís work, and he hated to see a place he knew discarded frivolously by the game of politics. On January 9, 1884, the article featuring Gordonís views came out in the Pall Mall Gazette: "Gordon for the Sudan" proclaimed the headlines.

Although, at first, Gladstone was not keen to have the popular, eccentric general who was so often a thorn in the side of government have another go at official policy - and although he, himself, may have believed that Gordon was not "clothed in the rightest of minds" (why not, if his rival Disraeli also thought Gordon a "lunatic"?) - the public outcry for Gordon, the "underutilized hero who seemed a perfect match for the crisis in the Sudan", was overwhelming. [62] Gladstoneís political stock was falling rapidly, as his abandonment strategy promoted a widespread feeling of impotence and weakness which offended a populace already emotionally degraded by life and work in the entrails of an industrial civilization which starved the innate hero in Man, and left behind only the practical man, the beaten-into-submission man, who hated himself, because there was no labor left within reach which could restore his pride. In an environment such as this, defeated men saved themselves collectively through the actions of their nation, by assembling the meaningless gray products of their stolen lives into a gigantic whole with which they could impact the earth, and transform their futility into supremacy. For men such as these, wounded beyond repair, the acts of the nation were also acts of personal healing, and foreign policy was as much a medicine for the soul as a pragmatic arrangement of material realities. At this time, and in this place, the "flight from the Sudan" could not be weathered by the British psyche, without engendering a desire for revenge, which might be expressed electorally by the rejection of Gladstone; and he was acutely aware of this. As the newspapers raised the din about his ears, it finally came to seem to him that by "feeding Gordon to the masses", he might spare himself their further ire; that by giving in to their demand to send their hero into the fray in the Sudan, he might avoid the perception that he was doing nothing, and provide just enough activity to retain their support. For Gladstone, once this realization was reached, the key became to acquire Gordonís services without altering his basic policy objective, which was to avoid entanglement in the Sudan, and to encourage Egypt to withdraw its resources into a reduced area which it would be better able to control and defend. England wanted Egypt, but not Egyptís untenable extension into the south; it wanted Egypt to be a part of its empire, but it did not want to defend Egyptís own empire, running down the Nile into the Sudan.

Those who knew Gordon best simultaneously recognized that he was not only the best man Britain could field to face the crisis in the Sudan, but also perhaps the poorest choice Gladstone could make given the Prime Ministerís preferred solution to the crisis, which was to whitewash the intended abandonment of the Sudan with a token rescue mission meant to appease the national psyche, by transforming a psychologically dissatisfying collapse and flight into a psychologically gratifying, heroic evacuation. Gordonís presence, inserted into the retreat, would somehow redeem it, confer dignity upon it and convert it into a victory of sorts. All that was necessary was for Gordon to make an appearance, and get some of Egyptís trapped personnel out of the Sudan; to perform a ritual of solidarity, with some rescued troops to show for it. But, of course, those who knew Gordon well also knew that the very idea of retreat was inimical to his temperament. He was a spirited soldier and his instinct was to stand and fight rather than to retire. He was also a man more loyal to his principles than to his orders, which he somehow always found a way to interpret in the direction of his moral codes, and to twist towards his sense of justice. He had little patience for appearances, and was endowed with a deeply-rooted sense of honor, which was repelled by acts of misrepresentation and deception. He would not be able to turn a stated objective into the mere gesture that it was intended to be. There were some who attempted to appraise Gladstone of all this; but he needed Gordon so that he could extricate himself from the publicís dissatisfaction with his policies, and therefore convinced himself that Gordon would follow his governmentís orders, and conform to its objective of supervising the evacuation of the Sudan only, without attempting to defend it. Gordon, by now hooked on the idea of the mission to the Sudan, had already postponed his work in the Congo on behalf of King Leopold, and agreed to take charge of the withdrawal under the conditions laid down by the government, since the situation was becoming desperate, and there was not support for any other option. However, the War Office, apparently without Gladstoneís knowledge, or understanding of exactly what was implied, worked small clauses of flexibility into Gordonís official orders, changing his original role from merely being an "adviser" of the Khedive (who would be his nominal employer, although Gordon would receive orders through Evelyn Baring, the British Consul General in Egypt), into being the active director of the evacuation, who would "carry out" the withdrawal, presumably with the authority to take whatever action he deemed necessary to succeed in this purpose. Furthermore, his orders gave him room to "perform such other duties as may be entrusted to him by the Khediveís Government through [Baring]", opening the door to the possibility of expanding the scope of his mission. [63] The War Office understood the need for giving its commander in the field the latitude to act effectively, based on his judgment on the spot and the demands of rapidly shifting circumstances, but in so doing, it inadvertently created the basis for Gordon to break free of Gladstoneís leash, and to alter the Prime Ministerís policy to suit his own character and temperament.

In January 1884, Gordon set out for Egypt with Lieutenant Colonel JDH Stewart serving as his assistant. In Cairo, he met with Baring, and with the Khedive Tewfik, who was not enamored of Gordon as his father had been, and also feared that the use of a Christian foreigner in the Sudan at this time might work to the advantage of the Mahdi, by allowing him to portray the conflict along blatant religious lines, as a battle between Muslims and infidels, thereby adding fuel to the flames of his jihad. However, the consensus was now overwhelming, that Gordon was the only man alive capable of extricating Egyptís overextended and exposed garrisons from the Sudan in the face of the Mahdiís rapidly advancing forces. Gordon was, therefore, appointed Governor-General of the Sudan by the Khedive, and given clearance to proceed to Khartoum, to assume command of the sizable garrison stationed there, and to begin the process of evacuating it to the north. Although the surrounding countryside was brooding, unreliable, susceptible to the agitation of the Mahdi and covered by the shadow of impending defection, Khartoum, itself, received Gordon with jubilation. Apparently grateful and joyous crowds surged around the returning Gordon Pasha at the docks, as he disembarked from the steamship which had brought him down the Nile; and as he walked from the docks to the Governorís Palace, through the narrow streets of the city, enthusiastic multitudes pressed in on him, some seizing his hands to kiss, as they called him, "Father!" Feeling abandoned, with the seemingly unstoppable power of the Mahdiís jihad closing in on them, they were moved by the power of this manís loyalty to them; this man who had come back, from his refuge and safety, to stand among them in their time of need. They looked again into his confident, clear eyes, reveled in his aura, let it sweep away the sense of doom which had engulfed them, let themselves believe, once more, that they could be saved. One man, arriving alone, without an army, had changed the spirit of a city in a single day.

From the very beginning, Gordonís mission, as he conceived it for himself, was guided by two key objectives. The first was to engineer the evacuation of the Egyptian garrisons, government officials and their families, and foreigners, with which he had been entrusted. The second was to shelter the Sudan from the effect of that evacuation by providing for its good governance and stability after the withdrawal. In other words, Gordon was in search of a responsible "exit strategy", one which would not leave the Sudan writhing in chaos, one which would not leave it as a gigantic new base from which hostile military action and ideological agitation might be launched against Egypt, and one which might preserve the greatest portion of his previous work there, especially his work against slavery. This was not to be an easy task.

Whereas some British observers, including Gladstone in the beginning, had dismissed the consequences of a potential Mahdi victory, even going so far as to consider him a champion of justice who need not be opposed in his efforts to "liberate the Sudan from Egypt", this view became politically untenable in England after the destruction of Hicks - although that did not stop Gladstone from occasionally reverting to the idea. [64] Gordon, himself, originally noncommittal, appears to have gradually hardened towards the Mahdi, especially after the Mahdi rejected tentative offers for peace which he extended in his direction. The Mahdi, supremely confident after his victory at El Obeid, would not accept a subordinate position in a new Sudanese order engineered by the Egyptians and the British, since he fully expected to gain complete control of the Sudan by force of arms, without the need to enter into any compromises. When he sent Gordon the clothing of a humble suppliant, encouraging the Governor-General to convert to Islam, surrender, and appear before him garbed in the attire with which he had been provided, it outraged the devout Christian to no end. Gordon sent the Mahdi back a bundle of Western attire with which to clothe himself, and any chance for constructive communication was lost. Used to the pragmatic give-and-take of local chiefs and tribal leaders who thrived in a culture of political bargaining, Gordon was, at last, confronted with an idealist who would not bend, or be deterred by a good deal. For the Mahdi, a bird in the hand was not worth two in the bush. He wanted the two, and saw negotiation as a strategy of the weak; he did not ask for accommodation, he demanded submission. Gordon perceived the Mahdiís righteousness as arrogance; it grated, in a very personal way, against his commitment to Christianity. As he did not demand that others give up their religion (although in his own land he had preached the gospel and "fished for souls"), he could not bear the thought that anyone should attempt to persuade him, by force, to give up his. To "let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" was very different from putting oneís sword to another manís throat, and saying, "Believe what I believe or die." [65] Gordon regarded this as sacrilege, and it turned him very much against the Mahdi, whose claim to be a legitimate Messiah he rejected. For Gordon, the Mahdi was "the false Mahdi", an impostor, and therefore contemptible, as any charlatan. Gordon may have heard the stories, told by enemies of the Muslim leader, that the Mahdi had spices placed underneath his fingernails before addressing the faithful, so as to draw torrents of tears from his eyes as he spoke, waving his hands about his face, and mesmerizing great multitudes with his impassioned tirades. True or false, this lore was useful in disbelieving him, and no doubt fed Gordonís dislike for his new enemy. This does not mean that Gordon could no longer be practical regarding his foe; he was not ideologically crippled regarding his responses to him, or boxed in by his Christian faith and thereby prevented from formulating flexible strategies to oppose him; but the Mahdi offered very little for the pragmatist to work with. He was a crusader, and his zeal offered no handle for the practical man to grasp. Besides his intransigence, and the possibility that the Mahdiís jihad might reach northwards into Egypt once the Sudan had yielded to him, the Mahdiís triumph would secure the continuation of slavery in the Sudan for the foreseeable future, returning the land to its old ways. His crusaderís spirit had no quarrel with slavery, which was imbedded in his culture; he looked to other horizons to find justice and targeted other vices to be overcome. Therefore Gordonís "exit strategy" had no place for the Mahdi, once the Muslim leaderís firmness of purpose was revealed to him. The Mahdi must, instead, be neutralized.

How could this be done by a lone British soldier, without the military backing of his nation, and with Egypt, still disorganized by the Arabi revolt, in the process of abandoning the Sudan? For Gordon, ever a sucker for the idea of Christian forgiveness and ever a lover of the shocking and the imaginative in diplomacy, a grand new vision, stunning to all who heard it but potentially effective, swept into his mind. If the Mahdi were truly believed, by all, to be a Muslim Messiah, there was nothing that could be done. The whole Sudan would burst into flames of revolt and rise up to die in his name. No one would be able to resist his force. However, there were powerful centers of clerical authority throughout the Muslim world which did not and would not accept Mohammed Ahmadís claim to be the Mahdi, and seeing him as a "false prophet", and a future threat to their own positions, were not friendly to his crusade. Within the Sudan, itself, there was doubt as well as credulity. Ultimately, religion was only one possible basis of power and authority in the region, the other being the traditional leadership systems of the tribal groups which inhabited it. In the face of a genuine Messiah, these systems would be overwhelmed by their obligations to Islam, and the tribal leaders, carried along by their people, must fall into place behind the Mahdi; but in the face of a charismatic, but still unproven claimant to the redeemerís role, these systems might still resist him, if political and material considerations advised it. The degree to which the local tribes were porous to the message of the Mahdi still varied considerably, and gave Gordon hope that a strong and independent network of local rulers could be organized to fill the vacuum left by the Egyptian departure, and keep the Mahdi at bay. By increasing their power, and tempting them with it to avoid subordination to, and absorption by, the messianic movement, Gordon hoped to build a wall of tribes with which to hem the Mahdi in. In order to have a chance, however, the network must have a strong and respected leader able to unify it in opposition to the Mahdi, and for Gordon, the only man who fit the bill was the old and wily slaver Zubair! Considering the fact that Gordon had spent years in the Sudan fighting to destroy the trade from which Zubair derived his livelihood, and considering the fact that Gordonís forces had put to death Zubairís own beloved son, Suleiman, this was an absolutely shocking proposal, to say the least! However, it bore the unmistakable mark of Gordon.

Gordon knew how much respect the legendary Zubair commanded in the Sudan, and also knew how skillfully the old slaver had labored to build strong bonds with many of the tribes, which could now be used to resist the progress of the Mahdi. While Zubair would be made to commit himself to the principle of not restoring the slave trade should he accept his new position as administrator of the Sudan, he would very obviously be likely to ignore that pledge once Egyptian power had deserted the region and left him to his own devices. However, Gordonís reasoning was that if the Mahdi conquered the Sudan, slaving would return, anyway; it would be better for England and for Egypt if it returned under Zubair, than under the Mahdi. At the same time, the second half of Gordonís exotic concept was to convince the Khedive to cede Bahr al-Ghazal and Equatoria to the Belgian Congo, where Gordon planned to go and work for King Leopold after he had accomplished his mission of evacuating Khartoum and the rest of the Egyptian garrisons from the Sudan. From his new base in the Congo, Gordon hoped to renew his campaign to "dry up" those two major sources of slaves by extending his concrete and effective authority into them, and warding away the slavers with the help of the affected peoples. Thus, although slaving institutions would be reconstituted in the Sudan, they would be blocked from gaining the human material they needed to survive. Slavery would be starved at the sources.

Gordonís plan, however, ran into insurmountable political obstacles. Although Zubair was willing to work with Gordon, the British government was not prepared to facilitate the return of the legendary king of the slavers to the Sudan as an alternative to the Mahdi. Public opinion would never tolerate it. British sensibilities would be offended; and few had the grasp of the reality Gordon was facing to comprehend the purpose of such an elasticity of ideals. Gordon, in fact, was roundly criticized in some quarters back home for even suggesting the bizarre alliance with Zubair, and after he assured local notables in the town of Berber that they could keep their slaves (since he realized that any act to formally abolish slavery in the Sudan would be unable to be enforced after the Egyptiansí departure), he was criticized yet again for shameless backpedaling on a moral issue which he had once advanced. And yet, it made no sense to Gordon at this stage in the crisis to promote a reform that he had no power to carry out, and which would likely only turn the last of the tribes he counted on to reject the Mahdi against him. As for Gordonís plan to attach parts of the Sudan to the Belgian Congo so that he could work against slavery from what was to be his new base, Great Britain was absolutely opposed. Its geopolitical vision had no place for the expansion of a rival European powerís sphere of influence in Africa.

Without recourse to Zubair as a pillar for his strategy, Gordon was reduced to attempting to win the loyalty of the tribes that had still not joined the Mahdi by promising them autonomy and liberty from Egypt (a promise which the Khedive had authorized him to make). The problem with this approach was that the decree was not seen as a gift, but as a statement of weakness, as the empty gesture of a beaten and withdrawing occupier, which merited no gratitude, and made no credible demand of loyalty. Instead, it elicited the predatory instinct, the instinct to give chase to that which is fleeing, and made tribes festering with resentment alert to the possibility of preying upon the retreat; while other tribes, feeling stripped of protection by the Egyptian withdrawal, were moved to ally with the rising star of the Mahdi for the sake of their own survival. Gordonís dream of leaving a viable, post-Egyptian government behind him in the Sudan as an alternative to the Mahdi, was left in ruins.

Now, all that could be accomplished was the originally intended evacuation. However, that was not nearly as easy to execute as some officials of the British government imagined it should be. First off, there were not enough boats to move the Egyptian and foreign civilians, and the military garrison, out of Khartoum and down the Nile to safety in one great sweep. The evacuation would have to take place in lengthy and repeated stages, one batch of refugees at a time escaping in steamships and rivercraft, which would then have to be sent back to Khartoum to pick up the next batch: a time-consuming process as the Mahdiís forces closed in. Furthermore, it was not as if the journey down the Nile were secure. There were various stretches of rapids punctuated with exposed rocks along the escape route, which required great care to navigate, and at times, the assistance of laborers on the river banks, who would be used to help steady and drag the boats with ropes. There was also, at times, the need to collect wood and supplies for the ships from the shore. Since the loyalty of the tribes along the river was, in cases, questionable, the danger was intense and the need for vigilance extreme. The evacuation of all who wished to return to Egypt, as opposed to a few "important" citizens and officers specially designated to be saved, presented a huge logistical and military problem, which must be solved in a constricted and rapidly diminishing time frame.

In order to reduce the length of the evacuation cycles, and thereby accelerate the velocity of the retreat, Gordonís plan was to use the Nile town of Berber, 200 miles north of Khartoum, as a terminus for the evacuees, rather than some point further along the Nile and into Egypt; from Berber, the refugees, assisted by camels and pack animals, would march 200 miles to the Red Sea outpost of Suakin, which was occupied by a British garrison, and from there, they would be transported by sea to Alexandria. The only problem with this plan was the rebellion of the Hadendowa tribe along the Red Sea coast, under the leadership of Osman Digna, a former slaver and dangerous strategist who had declared his allegiance to the Mahdi. Late in 1883, he had decisively defeated Egyptian forces outside of Suakin, and the British, feeling too pressed too close to their vital Red Sea port, put together an expeditionary force under General Gerald Graham to stamp out his revolt. In February of 1884, Graham fought a bitter battle against the Hadendowas at El Teb, and in March of 1884, another at Tamai in which the British were nearly overcome. In this amazing battle, the British advanced in a great square, a formation preferred over standard lines for dealing with a numerous foe who might strike from any or all sides at once; this was especially so when moving through expansive terrain without clear features for resting oneís flanks. The great hollow square could be used to shelter pack animals and supplies during an attack, and to harbor skirmishers and mobile columns which could sally out of gaps opened in the square to launch counterattacks against the enemy, if desired. These gaps were most frequently covered by rapid-firing "machine guns" - that is, controlled by concentrated firepower so that the enemy could not exploit these open lanes into the center of the square. As for the exterior of the square itself, it consisted of well-trained and meticulously-drilled British infantry, armed with repeating rifles, either Remingtons or Martini-Henrys, who were able to ward off massive numbers of attackers with a withering fire, and to meet them with fixed bayonets if any managed to reach them alive. In this fierce battle, distinguished by the nearly superhuman courage of the poorly-armed Hadendowas, who surged forward armed only with their spears and their belief in God, the usually precise British formation was disoriented by the smoke of its own guns and elements of its coordination broke down. Then, a crucial machine gun, set to hold an open lane into the square, jammed, and waves of Hadendowa fighters poured into the gap, wreaking havoc from within. For a time, sheer chaos reigned, as the British advantage declined, and brutal and confused hand-to-hand fighting took the place of disciplined, long-range slaughter. But at last, the intruders were repelled, order in the square was restored, and the Hadendowas were driven from the field with heavy losses. The British had won, but were left shaken and stunned by the fighting spirit they had just encountered. As Britainís imperialist poet, par excellence, Rudyard Kipling would later write of this battle, referring to the Hadendowas by the name of "Fuzzy-Wuzzies":

He rushes at the smoke when we let drive,

And, before we know, heís hacking at our head;

Heís all hot sand and ginger when alive,

And heís generally shamming when heís dead.

Heís a daisy, heís a ducky, heís a lamb!

Heís an India-rubber idiot on the spree,

Heís the only thing that doesnít give a damn

For the Regiment of British Infantry.

So hereís to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your home in the

Sudan;

Youíre a poor benighted heathen but a first-class fighting

man.

And hereís to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your hayrack

head of hair -

You big black bounding beggar - for you broke a British

square. [66]

The poem, surely a strange mix of admiration and racism, also provides more than a hint of why the British mindset, so self-deceived by its pretense of benevolence, was so offensive to Africans, Indians, and East Asians in the heyday of empire. From the mere act of looking down, many a revolution was born.

In the case of Tamai, it seemed that Grahamís activity, launched on behalf of Suakin, should easily and naturally interface with Gordonís work of evacuating the Sudan. By progressing with his campaign against Osman Digna, Graham could successfully clear Gordonís intended escape route from Berber to the Red Sea, neutralizing the Hadendowa threat, and thereby rendering the proposed retreat feasible. However, incredibly, at this point, Graham refrained from establishing a working connection between his project and Gordonís. Tamai had razzled his nerves. He felt he had accomplished his own limited objective of providing Suakin with breathing room, and that he would need more resources than he had in order to clear the path to Berber in the face of such a determined enemy. And Gladstone, at this point, was simply not willing to commit such resources. He did not want Gordonís presence in the Sudan to tie up more resources, he wanted it to release resources; he did not want to be obligated by Gordonís mission, but freed by it.

With the failure of Grahamís campaign to open up a secure corridor of retreat from Berber to Suakin, the plausibility of evacuating Khartoum was drastically diminished. Although Gordon would later be blamed for aborting the evacuation of Khartoum in order to defend it, in a deliberate and headstrong attempt to compel Gladstone to reverse his abandonment of the Sudan and mount a relief expedition aimed at defeating the Mahdi, the truth appears to be that Gordon lacked both the resources and strategic options needed to carry out the evacuation. Whereas Gordon and Stewart and a few choice bigwigs could have slipped out of the city, still, leaving no one who British public opinion would compel Gladstone to rescue, Gordon, like the captain of a ship, was bound to be the last to leave. And if the ship was doomed to go down, he must go down with it. As one writer described it: "If you send out a soldier to run away from those at whose head you have placed him, you must not send Gordon." [67] Sent on an impossible mission, as it turned out - to pull off a miraculous retreat without the resources or logistical organization to carry it off - he was doomed, by his sense of honor and solidarity with those who depended on him, to share, at the very least, the consequences of their mutual failure.

Of course, there would also, later, be psychological analyses to add deeper nuances to these interpretations. Some biographers in the future would relate Gordonís stubborn stand at Khartoum to a childhood prank, repeatedly perpetrated while his father was stationed at Corfu. In those more carefree days, the young Charlie Gordon, who did not know how to swim, would hurl himself from a rock into the sea, compelling some friend or family member to leap in after him and rescue him. He found it grandly amusing, to be the center of attention in this way, to provoke such desperate concern and to acquire proof of being loved. According to the biographers, Khartoum may have been Gordonís ultimate act of jumping into the sea, a drama transplanted from his childhood into the prime of his life, and played out on the worldís stage. Other biographers, meanwhile, refer to Gordonís journals and letters, and his constant longing for rest, for an escape from earthly concerns, for a return to his Maker. In Khartoum, they believe they see Gordonís death wish, infiltrated into his final political and military project, converted into a vehicle for his self-destruction. Forbidden by his religion to kill himself, he needed to find a hopeless cause to die for, to sneak his suicide past the angels.

While providing additional layers of insight to the complex motivations of Gordon as he became slowly rooted to Khartoum and its impending doom, the fact is that circumstances really did appear to give Gordon very little room for maneuver, leaving him with the choices of either buckling down to defend the city and, if need be, going down with it, or else to run while he still could, and leave behind those (the majority) who could not run with him. Regarding the power of his death wish, although there is a strong element of truth in this, it was almost certainly countered by his commitment to those who wanted to live and who trusted in him to save them, a commitment which is proven by the tenacity of Gordonís defense of Khartoum.

In all events, by the time Khartoum was cut off from the outside world by the advance of the Mahdiís movement, which mobilized new allies along the Nile (intensifying the jeopardy of river traffic), severed his telegraph line to the north, and finally, in May of 1884, captured the city of Berber, massacring its garrison and blocking Gordonís only plausible exit to the north, Gordon had already succeeded in evacuating close to 2,500 women and children, and sick and wounded members of his garrison. There was not time for anything more.

By this time, the basic elements of the siege were set. Khartoum was encircled, and the Mahdiís army was now in sight of the city, and beginning to fire into its defenses with artillery and small arms. Gordonís efforts to counterattack, establish the possibility of mobility and open up strategic options had been clipped by the defeat of two expeditions he sent out, under the command of less-capable subordinates, with the intention of beating back the Mahdiís advancing troops. He now had only the means to defend the city itself, with his brilliant engineering eye and talent for laying down fortifications; and the steadying influence of his personality, which prevented the town from folding in the face of the awe-inspiring threat: a mass movement of nearly Biblical proportions, comprised of whole peoples seemingly on the move, swarming about the city with spears, rifles, and drums, and the unshakable faith that they were in the midst of making history and changing the world forever.

On two sides, Khartoum was naturally protected by the two branches of the Nile, the White Nile and the Blue Nile, which met on its northern edge, before splitting south and east towards their separate origins. Wide and deep, with strong currents, especially in the summer months when the waters reached their highest levels, the two Niles acted as natural moats for the endangered city. Across the White Nile, the fortified village of Omdurman, exposed but important, provided badly-needed shelter for river traffic entering and leaving Khartoum, by keeping hostile forces at a distance. As for the vulnerable expanse of open land between the two rivers, to the south and east of the city, Gordon did his best to close it to the enemy with an impressive line of defenseworks, which was constructed across it right up to the rivers which flowed by, guarding its flanks. The defenseworks consisted of a series of formidable trenches, with earthen ramparts flung up behind them, topped with barbed wire. Behind these fortifications, infantry armed with repeating rifles, and supported by several well-placed pieces of artillery, were positioned to control the land approach to Khartoum. Most importantly of all, the terrain in front of these fortifications was insulated by a primitive yet highly effective minefield designed by Gordon, who no doubt modeled it upon the experimental minefields first laid by Confederate forces during the American Civil War, which utilized artillery shells buried just below the surface of the earth; if stepped on, the sensitive tips of these shells would be compressed to trigger a frightful explosion, wreaking havoc on all who were in the vicinity. In addition to the buried shells, Gordon seems also to have used "crowís feet", sharpened iron prongs concealed in covered pits whose use dates back to the late middle ages, effective against advancing infantry; and even shards of broken glass, which were a credible deterrent to the barefooted troops of the Mahdi. The purpose of the minefield, which was deadly but not absolutely impenetrable, was to slow down the velocity of any mass assault which might be launched against the fortifications to the point where it could be handled by the firepower of the defenders; or else, if the charge persisted in its speed without making adjustments for the danger, to thin out its ranks so that by the time it reached the fortifications, the human tidal wave would have been reduced to a weak and easily repelled trickle of survivors. The minefield, soon discovered and tested by Ansar forces, had all the impact Gordon hoped it would, and more. It proved to be a huge psychological, as well as physical barrier, to the jihadists as they closed in about the city, preventing them from effectively utilizing their superior numbers to push their way into Khartoum from the south and east.

To defend the city against the huge multitudes which were gathered against it from the vastness of the Sudan, Gordon had a force consisting of 2,316 black Sudanese troops, 1,421 Egyptians, 1,906 "Bashi-Bazouks", 2,330 Shaigiya tribesmen and 692 residents of Khartoum who volunteered to serve under him, or a total of 8,665 men in all. Among these troops, Gordonís favorites were the Sudanese blacks, many of whom appreciated, or were even beneficiaries of, his war against the slavers, and therefore looked up to Gordon as a liberator and advocate of their people. Gordon felt confident in their loyalty, and trusted in their valor. With the Egyptian troops, Gordon noted mixed results. At times, he despaired of their ineffectiveness and lack of fighting spirit, then was surprised and ashamed (because of his low regard for them) by their unexpected acts of bravery. The "Bashi-Bazouks", or mercenaries drawn from among the subject peoples of the Turkish Empire, and typically used by the Turks to garrison distant outposts, were frequently undisciplined and undependable, while the local Shaigiya tribesmen were brave enough when motivated, but ultimately unreliable, due to their susceptibility to the overtures of the Mahdist movement. Outside of Khartoum, Gordonís men, even at their best, were shaky, prone to flee at the slightest setback, to desert or even to defect (one of his counterattacks was sabotaged by its Egyptian officers, who led the troops out of the city and attempted to hand them over to the Mahdi on a platter; the officers threw off their fezzes, replaced them with Mahdist turbans, beheaded an artillery officer and the bugler, and stranded the assault without leaders in the face of the enemy.) The terror the garrison of Khartoum felt towards the Ansar, especially with the well-defended sanctuary of the city so close by, inviting it to return, completely crippled Gordonís ability to deploy his forces effectively in the open, and to take back the initiative from the enemy. However, once within the fortifications, the quality of Gordonís troops was vastly improved. They were more under his control, less able to defect, and immeasurably more confident. As one analyst of the American Civil War described the difference between Confederate forces when they were outside of the defenses of Vicksburg compared to when they were inside of those defenses, they "had [at first] run like sheepÖ [but] now that they were in entrenchments which had been prepared long beforeÖ they felt at home. Their demoralization was all gone." [68] In the same way, Gordonís forces responded to the magic of fortifications, which psychologically altered and enhanced them, turning them from a fragile force prone to panic and meltdown, into a resolute and competent garrison capable of defending Khartoum in the face of massive resistance. With this psychological elevation added to the equation, the matter of holding onto the city became one principally of logistics. As the Mahdiís army tightened the noose around Khartoum, and as Gordonís solid fortification of the city deterred a successful assault, the survival of Khartoum now came to depend upon how long the cityís dwindling supplies of food and ammunition could be stretched. Ultimately, of course, since they could not last forever, and since the Mahdi, who had learned the power of patience at El Obeid, was prepared to maintain the siege indefinitely, Khartoumís survival came to depend upon the mobilization of a relief expedition. Without help from the outside, Gordon and Khartoum were doomed to either starve, or "run out of bullets" and be overrun.

Naturally, Gladstone was, at first, highly resistant to the idea of mounting an expedition to rescue Gordon. He had sent Gordon to direct the withdrawal of Egyptian and British interests from the Sudan, not to embroil Britain in a new war there. To Gladstone, it seemed that Gordon was usurping the Prime Ministerís role in shaping British foreign policy, and bullying him, with the force of public opinion, to pursue a path diametrically opposed to that which he had intended. Stubbornly, Gladstone delayed, while newspaper columns, using the raw material of telegraph communications, and later the letters which Gordon was able to get out of Khartoum by steamer or to smuggle out via native couriers, fanned the flames of public outrage, and turned the nation against its government. For the British man on the street, Gladstone was abandoning a national hero, and soiling the nationís honor in doing so. He had sent a great man into danger, and now was leaving him to die, all in the name of principles which seemed insignificant in comparison to the bonds that men ought to feel towards one another. What for Gladstone was lofty, for the common man was disgraceful. On the altar of his abstract ideals of how a great empire ought to behave, a man of flesh and blood was being sacrificed: a man of flesh and blood who was deeply loved, and felt, by many, to embody the most beautiful aspirations of their tainted existence. To give up Gordon would be to give up the precious delusion that sustained them all, to put out the light of who they wanted to think they were and leave them in the darkness of a disheartening truth; while to rescue Gordon would be to salvage themselves from the ruins of what they had failed to be.

In the end, the clamor of the people proved too much for Gladstoneís principles. Queen Victoria, herself, telegraphed the Minister of War, and said, simply: "Gordon is in danger. You are bound to try and save himÖ. You have incurred great responsibility." [69] When the Minister of War subsequently threatened to resign from Gladstoneís cabinet, and to precipitate a political crisis from which the Prime Minister might not be able to recover, Gladstone at last gave in, and agreed to approve of the organization of a relief expedition, provided that it was scrupulously focused on the limited objective of physically extricating General Gordon and Colonel Stewart from Khartoum (an objective which Gordon would surely have been forced to be expand, since he would never have left Khartoum without taking the rest of the garrison with him). Once the decision to "rescue Gordon" had been made, the fate of Khartoum now came to depend upon the speed with which the effort could be organized and mounted. Time was running out. Supplies in Khartoum were already dwindling. The energy of the troops would soon begin to fade with hunger; the constant activity needed to keep strong defenses from becoming hollow, would wane; structures without vigorous human enforcement would be overly-probed and perhaps figured out by the enemy. The rate of desertion would accelerate, the danger of defection increase. For Gordon, who had the military basics of the defense down pat, the logistical aspects of the situation now began to feed back, once more, into the issue of morale, which became his crucial obsession.

In order to preserve morale, Gordon instituted a system of rewards, and awards of recognition for conduct which contributed to the defense of the city. He created a local currency to try to keep the economy functioning, while simultaneously, of course, implementing the necessary system of rationing to prevent supplies from being consumed too rapidly. Although it made military sense to fortify the governorís palace into an "inner citadel" or compound, capable of resisting the Ansar should they break into the city, and providing him with a second, concentrated line of defense in case of an emergency, he did not do so, in order to show the people of Khartoum that he "was in the same boat as them", and that if the city fell, he would share in its fate; he would not abandon the people he had come to protect, by withdrawing into the refuge of his own private defenses as the Mahdiís forces poured in to ravage and destroy Khartoum as they had Berber. The city must hold, or they would all die together. It was a grand gesture which would prove deadly at the very end; and yet, it did much to keep the city from caving in for the many months that it endured, cut off from the rest of the world. During these months, Gordon became its heart and soul, the symbol of tenacity which rallied it and sustained it through the many dark days when desperation had hope backed up into a corner. His soldiers, and the man on the street, looked at him, carefully, studied his every gesture and his every expression, for the signal to stand firm or collapse. As Gordon wrote in his journal, at this time: "I conclude no commander of forces ought to live closely in relation with his subordinates, who watch him like lynxes, for there is no contagion equal to fear." [70] When his appetite decreased, due to anxiety or stress, he noted that his men seemed affected and unable to eat, themselves. Thus, with tremendous effort, Gordon attempted to withhold the turbulence that was raging within from the eyes of those who responded to his every unconscious cue; to hide the fierce cycles of stoicism and faith giving way to despondency, the war between the Heaven he believed in and the Earth his duty bound him to, turning over and over in his heart, producing an endless change of moods and perspectives. He affected a cheerful, confident, and optimistic exterior, withdrawing to his journal to reveal himself as he truly was, and to pour out the troubles of his soul. One witness, staying in quarters near his, gleaned insight into the generalís tormented nights, listening to his endless footsteps pacing about in the room behind the wall, where it seemed there was a restless tiger seeking a way out of his cage, or else a frustrated philosopher tearing at the veils that hide the truth. Gordonís soul was in turmoil as the siege wore on, his struggle to accept the will of God in open conflict with his soldierís pride that could not stand the thought of losing, and with his terrible sense of obligation to those whose lives were in his hands. One part of him, committed to dignity, was a swan gliding gracefully towards death; the other part a drowning dog thrashing to keep its head above water. How to fuse the two, the grace of the resigned with the effectiveness of the desperate? The serenity of one who knows that everything comes from and returns to God, with the force of one fighting to preserve an illusion he cannot let go of? How to live with oneís head in Heaven, and oneís feet on the earth? As time passed, the governorís palace, haunted by Gordonís sleepless figure, acquired an eerie sense of grandeur. From its open, spacious balcony he could watch the timeless waters of the Nile flowing by in the dark, and look beyond it to the host of the enemy that surrounded him and was slowly strangling the life out of him; or above it, to the star-filled sky from which men drew their first visions of God: the birthplace of both the Mahdi and himself. How to explain that - that the magnificence of the sky and the God that it gave to men should divide men and turn the righteous against one another? During these long hours of reflection, the palace, quiet and cooperative with Gordonís solitude, seemed like life, itself: beautiful and doomed, a moment of transitory power and hope in the midst of an overwhelming night. Gordon, as he paced about the palace halls, or looked out of its ample windows, became acutely aware that he might be savoring the last days of his earthly existence, traveling the final stretch to God. Would he be ready for the meeting? Would his mind, his heart, and his soul, be in harmony with the Beyond when the moment came; free, at last, from the failings and misunderstandings that cloud the glory of life, and make men live in darkness when they are surrounded by light?

But this was only Gordonís personal dilemma. As far as maintaining the morale of the city went, he quickly realized that his substantial powers of public deception would not be nearly enough to sustain the spirit of Khartoum in the face of its dreadful challenge. The people needed something to hang on for, something to motivate them to bear the privation, suffering, and fear inherent in not capitulating to the Mahdi, and throwing themselves upon his mercy; they needed a reason not to break down and surrender. In a word, what they needed was hope; and, realistically, under the circumstances, hope could only come in the form of a relief expedition. Plans for such an expedition, and rumors regarding it, had been floating around for some time, and Gordon kept the idea circulating about the city in order to prevent morale from totally collapsing. In the meantime, the messages he managed to get out of Khartoum urged Great Britain to act at once, before the cityís ability to resist was completely eroded.

In September 1884, in an effort to impress the British with the urgency of the situation, Gordon finally sent Colonel Stewart and a small force out of the city via steamer, in a risky operation to attempt to bypass the Mahdiís forces at Berber, and carry messages and advice through to the British. It was hoped that this delegation, of sorts, would be able to stimulate the relief expedition which was so desperately needed if Khartoum were to survive. Unfortunately, the expedition quickly ran into trouble. The steamer foundered in a difficult part of the Nile, beset by shallows, rapids and protruding rocks. It ran aground and becoming trapped on the rocks, compelled Stewart and several companions to disembark and seek assistance from the local sheik who commanded the adjoining riverbank. This sheik pretended to be sympathetic to their cause, and offered them camels with which to continue their journey; then, once he had lured them into his tent, ambushed them and had them dispatched with axes. Subsequently, his men waded out into the river to kill the remaining passengers aboard the steamer, and after that, went on to provide the Mahdi with a gigantic treasure of intelligence, in the form of captured documents and letters which spelled out the military prospects and resources of Khartoum in extraordinary and damaging detail. The Mahdi, reveling in this great windfall of information, sent some of the captured letters back to Gordon to prove that Stewart had failed to get through, and to crush his adversaryís morale. Gordon was more alone than ever, and there was no hope for Khartoum except to surrender. Or so the Mahdi told him. Gordon received this awful news in October, the same month in which he was compelled to arrest some important local figures in Khartoum for masterminding a conspiracy to turn the city over to the Mahdi. In his journal, Gordon wrote: "I declare if I thought the town wanted the Mahdi, I would give it up, but, as far as I can judge, the mass of the people approve of the arrests." [71] Khartoum, within its defenses, was becoming restless and shaky, but still seemed committed to resisting.

A key factor in its persistence was the news that a relief expedition was, in fact, already underway even before Stewartís ill-fated mission had been launched; Gordon finally received word of it through native couriers, and proceeded to send back advice to the advancing troops, attempting to guide them, as best he could, with his strategic insight and intimate knowledge of the country and its people. Under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, who also happened to be a personal friend of Gordon, the expedition was to be spearheaded by a "flying column" designed to reach Gordon, whose situation was becoming desperate, more quickly than the expedition as a whole would be able to manage. The troops would be brought down from Cairo to the town of Korti via flat-bottomed whaling boats, better able to navigate the difficult stretches of the Nile than the classic steamship. At Korti, they would be met by a large stock of camels, purchased in advance on the local market by British agents; mounting the camels, they would then move through a stretch of the Bayuda Desert which was nestled within a huge bend in the Nile, allowing them to bypass the Mahdi-held town of Berber which obstructed further progress down the Nile towards Khartoum. Emerging from the desert at the town of Metemmeh, past Berber, they would meet steamers sent by Gordon from Khartoum, which would bring them into the city. In theory, they would then extract Gordon from Khartoum, which was their official mission; but in reality, they would be compelled to reinforce the weakened garrison, to refurbish it with supplies, and to drive the Mahdi away from the city and also out of Berber, in order to create a safe space for the legitimate evacuation of Khartoum, the only kind of evacuation that Gordon would tolerate. Without a doubt, his irresistible personality and unwavering sense of duty would, at the very least, wring this concession out of his old friend.

Intelligently designed and earnestly pursued, the relief expedition nonetheless suffered from several devastating flaws - from interpersonal and inter-organizational competitions and miscommunications, and outright political rows, which delayed its onset; from idealized concepts which underestimated the primary need for velocity, and sacrificed speed for perfection; and from logistical gaffes which slowed the operation down to a dangerous pace, given the growing desperation of Khartoum, which was beginning to go into its final days of agony, like El Obeid just before it fell: Khartoum was also, now, a city plagued by hunger - a city pierced by hungerís pain, and undermined by hungerís lethargy. At this point in time, Gordon allowed a large number of city residents who preferred to take their chances with the Mahdi, as well as numbers of Ansar women and children who had been in the city for some time deliberately living off of his supplies, to leave Khartoum; he could no longer support them and had no desire to restrain them, though he recognized that their departure could lower morale and convey the image of a sinking ship; and they could also provide the Mahdi with damaging intelligence about conditions within the city. However, Wolseleyís relief expedition was now so close, practically dangling in front of him, that he felt the blow to morale could be sustained; and now he might have enough supplies to go around for just a little bit longer. As conditions became more unbearable with every passing day, the entire city joined him in clinging to the hope that Wolseley would arrive in time. It was clear to all that it was going to be close: a tight race between the relief columnís painfully measured progress towards Khartoum, and the cityís rapidly declining ability to hold on. Gordon, with messages he tried to smuggle out through native couriers, lashed the British, driving them to move faster. Though his tone remained stoical, he told them, in no uncertain terms, that the end was near.

On January 17, 1885, a date by which Khartoum should already have fallen - Gordon had given it life far beyond its time - the British flying column finally ran into the expected resistance, close to Metemmeh, where a large force sent by the Mahdi had gathered to meet it by the wells of Abu Klea. In this all-important battle, approximately 1,600 British troops were pitted against over 10,000 Ansar warriors; the British were far more expertly armed, however, as the Ansar came at them mainly with spears, having left the best of their firearms with the Mahdiís forces still gathered around Khartoum. In its course, this fierce battle was surprisingly similar to the one at Tamai, which inspired Kiplingís "tribute" to the "Fuzzy-Wuzzies." The Ansar charged, and kept on coming as gunfire at first jolted their ranks, then began to harvest them methodically: fields of proud men punctuated with brightly-colored banners cut down in a disheartening moment of technological efficiency. Then, unexpectedly, the predictable battleground changed. The British, fighting again from a square, opened ranks to allow skirmishers back into their midst; but Ansar warriors followed so closely upon their heels that they broke into the square, and taking cover among the camels sheltered within the square, wreaked chaos from within and cast the outcome of the battle into grave doubt. No longer able to rest behind the lethal technology of their weapons, the British were forced to summon all the valor and desperation that they possessed, to stamp out this incursion into the center of their formation of death. At last, order within the square was restored, and the superiority of British weapons was allowed to take effect once more. The Ansar were driven from the field with enormous losses, and the British were well on their way to reaching Gordonís steamers at Metemmeh, although some more heavy fighting, with the outcome never in doubt, would be required to get there.

From all accounts, news of the defeat at Abu Klea struck the Mahdi like a thunderclap. For years, now, he had been accustomed to winning, and an aura of invincibility had come to surround him and all he did, seducing enormous multitudes to join his cause, as it seduced him to believe in himself with an unshakable faith that was undeniably contagious. Abu Klea snapped Mohammed Ahmad out of his framework of mystical confidence, and thrust the reality of British power and the impact of technology back into the forefront of his mind. He seemed to suffer a great loss of nerve, and faced with the prospect of the British moving against him as he stood paralyzed outside Khartoum, he decided that he should break camp and abandon the siege, to retire back into the desert and shield himself with the vastness of his country.

However, at this critical juncture, one of his officers protested. He claimed to have received new intelligence regarding the vulnerability of Khartoumís defenses, and urged the Mahdi to make one final attempt to take Khartoum by storm before giving way to the advance of Wolseley, and abandoning his prize. What had this officer noted? Something which Gordon had also noted, and which troubled him deeply: the seasonal receding of the waters of the Nile upon which the flanks of his land defenses rested, had now exposed the area around the edges of the defenses, which no longer rested on the river. This allowed the defenses to be outflanked. Also, parts of the deadly minefield, laid down when the river was not at its highest, had subsequently been covered over by the river in the summer and fall of 1884, then exposed as the river withdrew in the winter of 1884-1885. Many of the mines were now easily viewed, or else defused by water which had seeped into them. There was even some erosion of the parapets and trenches. All of this meant that along the mud flats close to the river, Gordonís once-formidable defenses were now in a state of disarray: not obviously and horribly so, but still very dangerously so, in the face of careful observers and determined adversaries. It is not certain whether the Mahdi received information about the degraded state of Gordonís defenses as the result of treachery from within Khartoum, or as the result of the energetic prying of his own troops, who may have begun to more successfully reconnoiter Gordonís fortifications as the activity of Gordonís men slowed down as a result of their collapsing physical condition. Whatever the case, the Mahdi was convinced to attempt a final massive assault against Khartoum from the south, aimed at this newly detected weakspot, before letting go of the city he had fought so hard to conquer. As for why Gordon had not corrected this weakspot before the great assault took place, it may be presumed that he did not have the manpower or material to do so, or else that the level of agility remaining within his exhausted army was not sufficient to safely repair the damage to his defenses, without alerting the enemy to the weakness and drawing an attack against it which he no longer had the means to repel. Perhaps, under these circumstances, especially given the proximity of the British relief expedition, Gordon gambled that the enemy would not notice his vulnerability, and he thought it best to try "to get away with it." It is likely that he may have compensated by trying to position some more firepower opposite the degraded parts of his defenses.

Whatever the case, in the early pre-dawn hours of January 26, with the city still shrouded in darkness, the Mahdiís forces launched their sudden attack. Rudolf Slatin, still a prisoner of the Mahdi, heard the sounds of the assault from within the Ansar camp. As he described his impression of the battle, "I was just dropping off to sleep at early dawn when I was startled by the deafening discharge of thousands of rifles and gunsÖ It was scarcely light and I could barely distinguish objects. Could this possibly be the great attack on Khartoum? A wild discharge of firearms and cannon, and in a few minutes complete stillness." [72] What Slatin had heard was the desperate response of Gordonís defenders to the wild Mahdist charge. Many of these defenders, it was later learned, had not been present at the point of the attack, but had vanished into the city beforehand to forage for food: one of the unfortunate consequences of the cityís grueling ordeal against hunger. As for the defenders who were present, they were hit too fast and too hard, without adequate insulation from the assault, to resist. They were quickly overwhelmed, after the furious but brief salvo that Slatin heard; whereupon one column of Ansar fighters turned its attention to "rolling up" the rest of Gordonís defensive line, rushing along the parapets and killing defenders all along the defensive perimeter in order to open up a wider swath into the city; while a second column poured straight into the heart of Khartoum, to strike at its strongpoints and command centers, and prevent any possibility of it rallying.

The city, broken into in the state of exhaustion that it was, had no hope of resisting at this point. It was destined to be overrun, and subjected to the expected massacre, with some captives spared, and a great many slaughtered without mercy. As for Gordon, himself, the story of how he met his end in Khartoum, the city he could not save and the city which he would not let die without him, has come down to us in three main versions. According to all three, as the din of the terrible attack erupted in the darkness, he hastily garbed himself in his uniform, and emerged from the governorís palace to do something - to fight, to try his charisma one last time, to die in the open and on his feet at the very least, without suffering the indignity of having to be searched for by the enemy, and dragged out of his hiding place, afraid to meet his destiny. According to the first version, Gordon was headed out of the palace with a small party en route to organizing a stand in one of the cityís strongpoints, when he was cut down by a volley of gunfire from approaching Ansar warriors, who intercepted him. According to the other two versions, he died on the steps of the palace, having left it to face the Ansar who had rushed to his residence and swarmed about it, determined to hem him in or kill him. In one of these two versions, Gordon fought the Ansar on the steps of the palace, who overcame and killed him. According to the other, Gordon looked down upon his adversaries from the top of the stairs, and demanded to meet with their master, the Mahdi. Gordon spoke some Arabic, and would have said this to them in Arabic. Whether he thought he could impress the Mahdi in a personal meeting, as he had once impressed Suleiman Zubair and disarmed him with his eyes, or whether he thought he might talk moderation into the Mahdi, given the proximity of the British expedition, and gain some clemency for Khartoum from him or even forge some kind of a deal in the midst of the chaos, it is hard to say. Whatever Gordon had in mind, it seems that an irate sheik, possibly fearing the subversive impact of his charisma on the Mahdi, or simply enraged by the stubborn resistance which Gordon had put up, so costly in Ansar blood, cried out: "O cursed one, your time has come!" [73] He broke the spell of the fearless British general, facing them all down, by rushing forward and plunging his spear into him. Gordon was said to look at him with contempt, then turn away, as the Ansar surged forward to finish him off. All three versions have credible witnesses, but this last one is the one that has weathered the test of history best of all and survived as the truth, probably because of its unparalleled romantic content; for history loves great theater as much as it loves fact. Certainly, in this case, given what we know about Gordon, what is most dramatically compelling is also most likely to be most true.

Some hours after Gordonís valiant demise, Rudolf Slatin, already deeply upset by the wild revelries in the Mahdiís camp which seemed to indicate that Khartoum had fallen, was confronted by a small band of soldiers who approached him with a bloody cloth in their hands. Taunting him, they slowly unwrapped it to reveal, inside, a severed head. To his horror, Slatin, who almost fainted, recognized it as Gordonís! "Is this not the head of your uncle, the unbeliever?" they demanded (in Slatinís presence, they always referred to Gordon as "uncle"). Slatinís reply: "What of it? A brave soldier who fell at his post; happy is he to have fallen; his sufferings are over." [74] Having positively identified the head, the Ansar mounted it on a pole which was left outside of the Mahdiís tent, as proof of their leaderís greatness and the folly of opposing him.

Meanwhile, two days late, on the 28th of January, the British finally succeeded in working two armed steamships filled with troops up to Khartoum. There, they took heavy fire from the banks of the Nile as they drew near, but even so were able to verify, to their horror, that the city was no longer in Gordonís hands. The Mahdi had taken the city. The expedition had failed by the slimmest of margins, but those slim margins spelled disaster. "Almost" was filled with death and despair.

Back in England, news of Gordonís death stunned the nation, which had been made prematurely joyful with false rumors of his rescue. Now, disbelief and disappointment pushed aside the obscene celebration of something that had never happened, people stood around in silence, shook their heads, then began to talk among each other, to commiserate, to pray, and to blame. Gladstone, who quickly became the villain of it all, would fall from power on account of Khartoum, which became the symbol of his weakness; while Gordon would be placed upon a pedestal where he would remain for almost a century, until the ruthless art of deconstruction would finally take him down, in its war against the assumptions and prerogatives of his times. Although the adventures with which Gordon had enriched the dreary lives of English Victorians would be no more, he preserved the beauty of that which he had already written with the final chapter of his life, lived in the true style of the Christian martyr. Gordon had survived his complexities, his anxieties, his doubts, and his flaws to face his death with courage and with dignity, true to the principle of not abandoning those who had called upon him for help, and placed their trust in him. Gordonís loyalty to others assured the loyalty of the British public to his memory. He represented the best their culture was capable of producing, and somehow seemed to prove its worth, in spite of its sins. Though England could not rescue him, he rescued England by giving his greatness to its imagination, and shining from behind its transgressions, like the sun shines from behind a cloud. "Gordon came from us," the people might say, and turn their love for him back in their own direction, as precious self-esteem in the barrenness of the industrial mire. "From our loins came Gordon. If we could sire him, we know we are not as fallen as we seem." Like Jesus, who sacrificed himself to take away the sins of Man and provide every man, anew, with a clean slate, so Gordon became the sacrifice of his age, its redeemer and its cleanser by dying at Khartoum, on the cross of imperialism. That which he served he purified; even though he could not alter it, his footsteps in the country of sins pointed the way towards values which would one day overcome those sins. His imprisonment in a culture that could not accommodate his great soul weakened that prison.

As a brief historical footnote, now that the main trajectory of this story has been told, the British relief expedition sent to rescue Gordon retired from the Sudan after finding Khartoum in enemy hands. Its stated purpose was to conduct a rescue mission , not to fight for the future of the Sudan, which was left under the control of the Mahdi. However, the Mahdi, whose fate seemed in some ways inexplicably intertwined with Gordonís, did not long outlast the man whose head he had displayed on a pole outside his tent. On June 20, 1885, the Mahdi died from an illness, probably typhus, and left his newly-won empire in the hands of his favorite lieutenant, Khalifa Abdullahi, who marched northwards in December of 1885, to threaten Egypt, itself. This, however, was too close to the heart of British power to be tolerated, and the Ansar were decisively repelled at Ginniss by a British army and driven back into the Sudan. There, the Khalifa remained in power for many years until a British expedition finally pushed down the Nile in 1898, to reintegrate "the lost Sudan" into its empire, and avenge the defeat of Gordon. But this is only one more episode of British imperial politics, and not what this article is about.

Gordon. Charles George Gordon. General Charles Gordon. Chinese Gordon. Gordon Pasha. Gordon of Khartoum. Where does he stand in the fields of deconstruction, now that his story has been retold, and his life revisited? Is it proper to look up to him anymore, being tainted with the mission of Victorian England as he is, his accomplishments bearing the stamp of an imperialist power, and an imperialist age? Is it right that we should keep him among the stock of historical characters whose memory we preserve to inspire us in our own times; or should we let go of him, now that the vices of his age have been recognized, and let him slide quietly into the night that swallows up the rest of us, let his existence fade into the background of human struggle and aspiration, lose its last claim for a place in the corner of our consciousness? Should we let the weeds cover over this manís grave, stop bringing flowers, let him slowly be erased from the pantheon of heroes who we worship as a way of growing?

As this article has, I think, shown, Gordon was an extraordinary man, endowed with many admirable attributes: courage, a sense of honesty and fairness, loyalty, spiritual hunger, integrity, and exceptional talent which was manifested in the form of his leadership abilities and military skills. It is also true that these attributes were attached to a project of international domination aimed at economically incorporating, politically manipulating, militarily controlling and culturally remolding huge parts of the world which were vulnerable to the advanced technical capabilities of the West; a project glorified and excused in its own times, but now viewed as a sheer act of imperialism and colonialism, which subjugated immense tracts of Africa and Asia to both direct and indirect British rule. This project was not the creation of Gordon, but rather, the product of his society in competition with other European societies, acting within a dated philosophical framework that seemed to make sense to many who inhabited it at the time. Gordon was not a leader of this movement; he was a footsoldier in it, attaching himself not to its avaricious side, but to the side of it that genuinely sought the loftier opportunities brought into reach by its scope: opportunities to excel as a soul and opportunities to right wrongs while marching under the banner of a wrong. Family tradition brought him into the military, and inculcated nationalism bound him to it, while internal Christian processes stretched the cultural borders of his soul, and turned him into a maverick who, though not completely breaking free of his societyís moral limitations, was elevated above its basest defects. In the end, Gordon was something of a rebellious pawn, simultaneously a servant and a dissident; a moral alchemist who remained a part of the imperialist project only because his efforts to change the lead of his countryís actions into the gold of a changed direction did not succeed. Those who seek to transform the world from outside of the power structures that generate concrete reality frequently find themselves without the means to root their principles in the world; while those who seek to transform the world from within those structures frequently find themselves ingested and absorbed; their useful qualities are stolen while their redeeming ideals are isolated and spit out of the possibilities of history. The "whole package" of a man is broken down into what serves the status quo and what does not, the one part harnessed, the other part shunted away, and in this way the brilliant infiltrator who hopes to transcend the system while working within it is effectively channeled into being a collaborator. Gordonís defeat of the Taipings in China was neither a blatant act of conquest, nor a clear act of liberation, it was an act of personal growth in the midst of a storm that had no obvious moral bearings. His battles against slavery in the Sudan were ethically commendable, but also served as Trojan Horses for the entry of British imperialism; while his tragic and heroic stand against the Mahdi could be viewed either as a valiant defense of the potential of the Sudan, or as an effort to repress that potential.

That Gordon excelled as an individual, there can be no doubt. But, what of the environment in which he excelled? In the end, as we pick and choose, and select and reject the men and women who are to be our heroes, how much weight do we give to the human being, and how much weight to the environment in which that human being deploys his or her qualities? Is it possible to admire a genius who paints with beautiful colors on a canvas of sins? Is it possible to love the magnificent horse which runs like the wind across a landscape of crimes? Deconstruction has effectively dismantled the Victorian era, smashed its pretenses into pieces, taken down the frosted window of its romantic delusion of itself to look inside at the real workings of the deformed house: the poverty, the injustice, the imperialism, the colonialism, the psychological repression, the snobbery, classism and racism, the violence beneath the polish, the absolute moral mess of a society that prided itself on being the high point of civilization. Does the collapse of the Victorian myth imply the fall of Gordon? When a nation or an age falls off the pedestal of its illusions under the stark gaze of historyís judgment, do its heroes go down with it? Or can the stars that shine in the night survive the collapse of the sky in which they shine?

Perhaps, at this point, it would be helpful to take a step back from Gordon, and to consider some other figures of history who have felt the impact of deconstruction.

We may begin with Christopher Columbus, who, when I was going to school, was presented as an unquestioned hero, a brave explorer who believed in himself in spite of the doubt of the entire world, and persevered to discover America. Today it is known that his plans were based on an extensive system of information available to him through Portuguese navigators, and that he was far from being the only sailor in the world to believe that the earth was round; that, although he was indeed skillful, his calculations regarding the size of the earth were terribly wrong and he and his crew would have perished on their way to India for want of supplies if they had not had the good fortune to run into America, which had, by the way, already been "discovered" by millions of Native Americans who were living in it; and that, far from being only a talented and heroic sailor, Columbus was also a conqueror, who made war on Native Americans who had greeted him as friends, sent prisoners back to Spain as slaves, and made the acquisition of gold his priority.

General George Armstrong Custer, of course, was once a legendary hero of the American West, a frontier idol of the United States famous for his "last stand" at the Little Big Horn; the ultimate symbol of American gallantry. Lacking the older history of Europe, our new land also lacked the inspirational folklore of the knight to personify its ideals; but we had our frontiersmen, our cowboys, and our cavalry to take the place of the medieval knight: and, in this folklore, it was Custer who reigned supreme. He was Americaís "King Arthur", and after he died, its tragic, beloved martyr. Today, we know that Custer was an ambitious, hard-fighting soldier whose craving for glory made him irresponsible and reckless, a waster of lives; he orchestrated the awful massacre of a peaceful Cheyenne village on the Washita in 1868, and it seems likely that in 1876 he would have massacred a much bigger Native American camp on the Little Big Horn, as well, if he had not been defeated trying.

Abraham Lincoln, our sixteenth president, was the "great emancipator", the president who freed the slaves after a long and terrible civil war between the North and South. As a child, to me, he seemed to be about as close to perfect as you could get. His log cabin; reading by candlelight; his jokes; his morality; his backwoods political career; his rise to national prominence; his war to free the slaves; his amazing hat! With deconstruction, I learned that Lincoln, though against slavery, was not prepared to use force to end it, and that the Civil War was really fought to preserve the union; that is, to prevent the United States from splintering into two parts and being fatally weakened and forever drained of the power needed to realize its destiny. Lincoln did end slavery, once the war he had hoped to avoid gave him that power, and it became "politically credible" to do so. I also learned that Lincoln, while a young man in Illinois, had joined a group of settlers to help defeat Black Hawk and the Sauks who would not be swept aside by the steady stream of white invaders who were taking over their land without a fight.

For many years, Walt Whitman was one of my favorite poets. He was possessed of a contagious exuberance towards life, an overwhelming curiosity and affection towards other people, other cultures, other religions, and the bounty of the earth. His mind seemed fabulously open, his heart perpetually in search of celebration, reverence, and solidarity. During the Civil War, he had exhibited remarkable tenderness in caring for the wounded and the forlorn. Yet later, I learned that, as a young journalist, he had jingoistically supported the US invasion of Mexico in 1846, an invasion which is today recognized as having been a pure act of aggression and territorial expansion, a shameful page of "Manifest Destiny", which was our American version of Britainís "White Manís Burden", our own pretext for imperialism. Not everyone back in those days favored the invasion: Abraham Lincoln opposed it as a congressman, and Henry David Thoreau as a philosopher. There was not a universal "brainwash", and Whitman should have known better. He also fared badly regarding the Custer myth, for after Custerís fall at the Little Big Horn, he helped to perpetuate the untruth of Custerís magnificence with a paean to the fallen fighterís heroic spirit.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, among the most highly-regarded and beloved of the "founding fathers", architects of our nationís freedom and world-changing democratic revolution, were both slave-owners.

William Jennings Bryant, the radically compassionate populist who sought to defend the rights of the small farmer and the common man in an age of big banks, industrial giants, railroad barons, and unscrupulous monopolies, was also the "buffoon of the Scopes Monkey Trial", who advocated the right of a state to fire a teacher for presenting the theory of evolution to his students.

Marcus Aurelius, the highly-respected philosopher-emperor of ancient Rome, who was known for his stoic meditations, and his commitment to tranquility and justice, also carried out fierce persecutions of Christians during his reign. Their pacifism and refusal to serve in the armed forces of Rome, which was struggling to beat back the incursions of German barbarians at the time, offended him deeply, and he felt that they must be punished for undermining Romeís efforts to defend itself.

Carl G. Jung, who is today revered as one of the greatest psychologists of all time, combining the best of modern psychological insight and methodology with a remarkable openness towards mysticism and the occult, has been hammered by deconstructionists as a Nazi sympathizer, whose work helped to create a favorable environment for the development of the Nazi political myth, infused with ancient Aryan ideology, Germanic folklore, and pagan-mystical trappings. Although it seems Jung was never an outright Nazi, and ultimately disapproved of the course the movement took, he was initially enthused by the prospect of ancient mythology bubbling upwards into the consciousness of the modern nation, and injecting the vitality of primitive times and the transformative potential of myth into a civilization which he considered to be rootless and shallow. He was also dismissive of the political threat of Nazism, believing, "You canít reject evil because the evil is the bringer of the light." As one critic explained Jungís state, during the critical formative moment of Nazism: "Öhe didnít see and didnít understand the outer world. For him this [the Nazi movement] was an inner happening which had to be accepted as a psychological pre-condition for [the] rebirth of [Man]." [75] Jung did not resist when resistance would have been most productive; he was like a scientist thrilled to see a technology which he had pioneered being put to use, without comprehending the terrible damage it would cause once it was shaped into a weapon. Nor did he understand that some birth pangs are not worth the child to be born. Although Jung never entirely jumped into the arms of Nazism, his momentary parallel path outraged many, who later launched a partly-successful effort to deconstruct the benevolent image of the wise-man Hierophant of modern psychology.

Sei Shonagon, one of my favorite Japanese writers, was a brilliant and sensitive woman of ancient times whose writing can both move and enlighten, if one can only get past the numerous off-handed classist remarks which abound in her reflections.

These examples, of course, show us, first of all, that Gordon is not alone among historyís heroes in being scrutinized, reconsidered, and perhaps demoted. History does not stand still, it constantly moves towards new perceptions, new perspectives, new sensibilities, new understandings of right and wrong, new expectations, new demands. As it shifts, according to the movements of struggle, fusion, rejection, conversion, transcendence, regression, and discovery that contort the earth, and as it responds to the impact of cultural, climactic and technological processes, things that are frozen in the past and unable to respond to these shifts become subject to new judgments, for which they are not "prepared." They are, after all, trapped in the past, and are not able to benefit from the modern observerís new vantage point, nor to profit from the cultural support that that observer has for feeling and seeing as he does (not "against the grain" of his times, but in harmony with them). The view which we hold to be superior, which topples the hero of the past, may, in other words, be just as much a product of our culture, as his failings were a product of his. It is not so much that we, as individuals, are morally superior and have the right to look down at him, but that we have been conditioned and culturally shaped to perceive the world in a manner which now leads us to condemn him. Under these circumstances, is it right of us, being good products of the forces that have shaped us, to despise the good products of the forces of the past? Is it not possible that there are basic human attributes, distorted according to the environments in which they are set down to act, which we may still admire in spite of the ways in which those environments have caused them to deviate from our cultural standards? Can we really expect the heroes of yesterday to be handed to us on the PC platter of our own times; men of other centuries to be so modern? They did not wear our clothes; in many cases, they did not speak our language. Why should they have the same views? Is it fair of us to extend ourselves, in righteous certainty, both forwards and backwards in time, to demand that both the future and the past think like us; to clone ourselves, as it were, and invade every nook and cranny of history with mirror-images of ourselves by whom we will judge the real men and women who lived in those times?

Of course, the answer to these questions is utterly personal. We have the right to choose our own heroes, to place garlands upon the heads of men who the whole world despises, and to disdain the Gods of others. In my case, I can do without Columbus and Custer. For me, there were awakenings possible within their cultural conditioning which could have diverted them from the ruthless deeds which they performed. If their souls were stronger, they could have overcome the temptations of their age. It is my personal choice to feel this way. Regarding most of the others, I see that there is no longer any point in one-sided idealization, in starry-eyed self-deception; and yet, there is too much to admire in them for it all to be sacrificed in the name of a perfection which has never existed, not in the past and not now, not in them and not in me. I note their flaws with disappointment, yet retain great fondness for them, and in cases accept their mistakes as inevitable; and realize that some of their mistakes may only be mistakes from the vantage point of my time, and may, in the end, actually be my mistake, for imagining that what can be done now could be done then.

With Sei Shonagon I am forgiving, she is a woman who I like and was very much branded by the sanctuary in which she lived. Whitman could have used a bucket of cold water thrown over his passion for America, to wake him up to the idea that you can love something without rolling it like a ball over the whole earth. After that, Iíd tell him to keep on writing. Honest Abeís wrinkled, worn-out face at the end of his presidency shows me that thereís nothing Iíd need to tell him, he found it all out for himself. Marcus Aurelius was a great man, but also a prisoner of power, and the inheritor of a wretched history. I continue to draw solace from the wisdom of his meditations, and to use his failings as a means of understanding the complexity of the human soul, as well as the depth of the conflict between worldly effectiveness and inner purity. Washington and Jefferson could have risen to another level, and blazed a trail for their times by truly living according to the credo that "all men are created equal." They did not. However, they did accomplish many great things in their times, and Jefferson, especially, put many great ideas out into the world. I am grateful for that. As for Carl Jung, I am satisfied that he was not a Nazi, merely a man distracted by the power of his inner life from the dangers of irremediable social change. He did not play a significant role in the development of Nazism, and he could not have stopped it; his sin was more personal, one of not recognizing its vile direction soon enough, and not coming up with anything stronger towards it than the "wait and see" attitude which, for a time, predominated in his circle. Jungís contributions to the understanding of man, mind, and spirit are extraordinary, and for me, it is impossible not to admire him, in spite of his defects.

I think, by now, my direction regarding Gordon must be clear. Great souls rarely escape from their times, rather, they move through the medium of their cultures, like fish move through water. Very few fish crawl completely out of the sea and start to breathe the air and to live on the land. Very few souls completely smash through the mental barriers of their times, to break through to a new heaven and see the stars and planets of the future. Within the borders of distant, sometimes alien cultures, you search for eternal human qualities, compelling attributes that cut through time, yet also obey time. You see, through the shape of a different world, a great soul moving about in its medium. You are mesmerized to the point of allowing it to exist in its own times. You relate to the soul, more than to the limits its environment has placed upon it; you fall in love; you have a hero.

For me, the love of Gordon was spontaneous, instinctual, the first reaction of my boyhood to his appearance in my life, before the work of deconstruction had begun. I admired in him all that you may, perhaps, have come to admire in him from reading this article. His courage, his honor, his rejection of materialism, his spirituality, his brilliance, his shyness, his strangeness, his idealism; the way his peculiarity resonated with my own, the gifts which an eccentric can bring into the world. He was a great soul match. Not someone I sought to blindly imitate, for there were substantial differences between us, but someone who I admired, who could inspire me because he was enough like me to give birth to me.

After deconstruction, as you may imagine, there was a period of detachment. We grew apart. How could there be a place, in my life, for a man who my new contacts and friends regarded as nothing more than an instrument of imperialism, a soldier of a colonizing power?

But the attractiveness of Gordon did not die. Somewhere, underneath the ground of my new consciousness, he persisted like a seed waiting for a new level of understanding to restore him to my heart. From starry-eyed child lover of Kiplingís Jungle Book, and Gary Cooperís Lives of the Bengal Lancers, with no compass other than my love for adventure and fascination for the exotic, I became the politically-aware student of history and compassionate advocate of justice, who could not continue to embrace a Victorian soldier who had advanced the cause of British imperialism. But in this higher place, I felt lonely. Surrounded by principles, but not by men, the soul languishes. It seeks an image to turn its eyes towards. In the immensity of the invisible, it seeks an idol, a tangible place to keep a fire lit.

Then, having outgrown Gordon, I passed through yet another cycle of my development, a spiritual phase bringing with it the possibility of forgiveness, and seeing, through the masks of cultures and the damage of environments, to the essence of men. In this new phase, Gordon returned to me; the hollow grandeur of principles that were distant without a voice, admitted him as a resident, and the hollowness was once more filled with life. The imperial project of Victorian England was left behind at the door, but Gordon was free to enter. In cutting slack to the past, I was cutting slack to the present, and to me. I was freeing all of the beautiful people of the past who were used by their times, and freeing all of the beautiful people of our own times who are being used and who the future will misperceive as bad. And recognizing the possibility that beautiful souls may become enmeshed in things that are not beautiful, I was also driving myself towards a new vision, a new clarity, hoping to reach a place in my actions and in my heart where what I do will not just be right for my times, but for all times.

It seems, there is still a place for heroes, after all.

Charles George Gordon: welcome back to the world.

 

PRINCIPAL SOURCES:

The Holy Bible, King James version.

Fuller, JFC, Major General. A Military History of the Western World, Volume II: From the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 1588, to the Battle of Waterloo, 1815.

Stavrianos, LS. Global Rift: The Third World Comes Of Age.

Strachey, Lytton. Eminent Victorians.

Trench, Charles Chenevix. The Road to Khartoum: A Life of General Charles Gordon.

Waller, John H. Gordon of Khartoum: The Saga of a Victorian Hero.

 

NOTES:

[1] JFC Fuller writes, of the Battle of Plassey, in which England (whose interests were directed by Roger Clive) defeated France for colonial supremacy in India: "What did this small battle, little more than a skirmish, accomplish? A world changeÖ From the opening of the eighteenth century, the western world had been big with ideas, and the most world-changing was that of the use of steam as power. Savery, Papin and Newcomen all struggled with the embryo of this monster, which one day was to breathe power over the entire world. All that was lacking was gold to fertilize it, and it was Clive who undammed the yellow streamÖ. India, the great reservoir and sink of precious metals, was thus opened, and from 1757 enormous fortunes were made in the East, to be brought home to England to finance the rising industrial age, to supply it with its life blood, and through it to create a new and Titanic world. As Alexander had unleashed the hoarded gold of Persia, and the Roman proconsuls had seized upon the spoil of Greece and Pontus, and the Conquistadores the silver of Peru, so now did the English nabobs, merchant princes and adventurers, followers and imitators of the Seths and the Omichands, unthaw the frozen treasure of Hindustan and pour it into England. ĎIt is not too much to say,í writes Brooks Adams, Ďthat the destiny of Europe hinged upon the conquest of Bengal.í The effect was immediate and miraculous. Before 1757 the machinery for spinning cotton in England was almost as primitive as in India, and the iron industry was in a decline. Suddenly all changed. In 1760 the flying shuttle appeared; in 1764 Hargreavesí spinning-jenny; in 1768 Cartwrightís power-loom. ĎBut though these machines served as outlets for the accelerating movement of the time, they did not cause that acceleration. In themselves inventions are passive, many of the most important having lain dormant for centuries, waiting for a sufficient store of force to have accumulated to set them working. That store must always take the shape of money, not hoarded, but, in motion.í Further, after 1760, Ď a complex system of credit sprang up, based on a metallic treasure.í In 1750 Burke informs us that there were not Ďtwelve Bankers shopsí in the provinces, while in 1796 they were to be found Ďin almost every market town.íÖ ĎPossibly since the world began,í writes Brooks Adams, "no investment has ever yielded the profit reaped from the Indian plunder, because for nearly fifty years Great Britain stood without a competitor." Thus it came about that out of the field of Plassey and the victorsí 18 dead there sprouted forth the power of the nineteenth centuryÖ" [p. 240 - 242, A Military History of the Western World, Volume II. The quotes within the quote come from Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay.]

[2] British involvement in Latin America was far more limited, due to the influence of the United States in that hemisphere, and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which the US discouraged European interference in the affairs of the Americas.

[3] Gradually, the rising standard of living in the main manufacturing countries would enable countries with lower standards of living, who first entered the international market as suppliers of lower-priced raw materials and agricultural goods, to break into manufacturing, on the basis of their cheaper labor. They would then begin to undersell products in the existing manufacturing centers, leading to a reverse flow of gold and capital from the wealthier lands back into the poorer lands. Wealth would, therefore, not be monopolized and frozen in the treasuries of some countries by the dynamics of free trade, but, rather, would be fluid and constantly redistributed by shifts in the factors of production. The model envisioned by Adam Smith would lead to abundance and prosperity for all. However, as time went on, these "free trade" dynamics were increasingly distorted by the realities of power and politics. Britain, for example, might use the superior force available to it through its military might and economic influence, to break down tariffs in other countries, while maintaining or raising its own tariffs against foreign products in response to the pressures of local industry. It might also insert its own entrepreneurs into foreign countries awash with cheap labor, and channel the wealth made through these operations back home, rather than allowing it to significantly enrich the country of origin. Thus, "free trade" came to be a one-way street, and the international trading system was reconstituted to continue building up the power of the already powerful, while denying the weak the means to attain equality. This was nothing more than a form of parasitism by the strong, advanced by corrupted economic theories, laced with armies.

[4] See William Blakeís "Garden of Love" in "A Sampler of English Poetry" in the "Poetry in the Public Domain" section of "Poetry and Lyrics", in this web siteís "Creative Safehouse." Here you will find a contemporary British interpretation of the stifling effects of religion in his country. "ÖAnd priests in black gowns were walking their rounds, And binding with briars my joys and desires."

[5] See Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents.

[6] Waller, p. 65.

[7] As the Irishman Dominic Behan wrote in "Come Out Ye Black and Tans", a song taunting the supposedly valiant exploits of the British against poorly-armed native peoples throughout the world: "Come tell us how you slew/those brave Arabs two by two/Like the Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows/How you bravely slew each one/with your sixteen pounder gun/And you frightened them poor natives to their marrow."

[8] 1 Corinthians: 6:9.

[9] 1 Corinthians: See 7:1-9.

[10] Waller, 127.

[11] Estimates very widely, and this figure includes not only battle deaths and massacre victims, but also victims of famine, epidemics and other consequences of the massive disorganization, dislocation, and social breakdown produced by the war.

[12] Also known as the Qing Dynasty.

[13] Waller, p. 74.

[14] Waller, p. 77.

[15] Waller, p. 83.

[16] Waller, p. 102.

[16b]  Waller, p. 95.

[17] Waller, p. 95.

[18] Waller, p. 90.

[19] Waller, p. 110

[20] Waller, p. 119.

[21] Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac. Translated by Brian Hooker. (Modern Library, 1923). P. 116 (in Act II).

[22] Waller, p. xix.

[23] Waller, p. 124.

[24] Waller, p. 122.

[25] Waller, p. 136-137.

[26] The Koran. Chapter 24, "Light." (Translated N.J. Darwood.) In this chapter, frequently cited examples of the Muslimís moral position towards the slave, include: "As for those of your slaves who wish to buy their liberty, free them if you find in them any promise and bestow on them a part of the riches which Allah has given you"; and, "You shall not force your slave-girls into prostitution in order that you make money, if they wish to preserve their chastity."

[27] The historical importance of slavery to Britain is increased when one looks to the impact of American slavery, oriented towards the production of cotton, on the development of the British textile industry, and its leap into the industrial/commercial age.

[28] Waller, p. 168.

[29] Waller, p. 168.

[30] Waller, p. 182.

[31] This was, of course, the Stanley who, backed by the press, went out in search of the missing missionary, David Livingstone, and finding him, greeted him with the famous words: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" Stanley went on to conduct additional explorations in the area of the lakes and in the Congo.

[32] The complaints would, of course, be left by the literate, although the illiterate might employ a scribe or convince a local religious or political figure to give voice to their concerns.

[33] Waller, p. 196.

[34] Tamerlane.

[35] Napoleon.

[36] Daniel 6:22

[37] Waller, p. 240.

[38] Waller, p.245.

[39] Waller, p. 243.

[40] Waller, p. 252.

[41] Waller, p. 256.

[42] Waller, p. 257.

[43] Waller, p. 271.

[44] Waller, p. 265.

[44b]  The Boers, were, of course, the descendants of Dutch colonists who became particularly well-adapted to life in southern Africa.  They fought against both native Africans and the British.

[45] Waller, p. 281.

[46] T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom. NY: Penguin, 1962. P. 29-30.

[47] Waller, p. 279.

[48] These physical locations, "precise" according to Gordonís way of seeing things, were often at odds with the beliefs of archaeologists and Biblical scholars.

[49] For an absolutely opposite perspective, see Elaine Pagels and Karen L. King, Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity. In the ancient text, but much more so in the modern analysis of early Christian dissent which dominates this volume, a strong counter-tradition to the glorification of martyrdom is presented, in which the affirmation of Christís life of compassion and healing is elevated above the compulsion to imitate him through self-destruction "in his name."

[50] Waller, p. 290.

[51] Waller, p. 294.

[52] Waller, p. 288.

[53] Islam, Alfred Guillaume (NY: Penguin, 1954). P. 121.

[54] Ali and his line (through Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed), were regarded by Shiites as the rightful leaders of Islam, but they were displaced by enemies in power struggles for control of the rapidly-expanding Arab Empire in the years following the Prophetís death. Muhammad al-Hanafiya, Aliís son by a woman other than Fatima, was still revered, since his name was invoked during an abortive rebellion meant to restore the "rightful position" of Aliís line, and he was said to have vowed to return in the future to win the battle that could not be won in his own time.

[55] Guillaume, p. 121. Many Christians do not know that Jesus is respected as a legitimate prophet of Allah by Muslims (although for them, Mohammed is the definitive prophet, and the corrective prophet, who came to try to restore the threads of Godís holy message, preached by predecessors such as Abraham , Moses, and Jesus, which were unraveling in the face of misinterpretation and misuse). Muslims say that Christianity has misinterpreted Jesusí life and purpose, falsely claiming that he is "the son of God", and built a corrupt and deceptive religion around this sacrilegious premise. This view does not reflect badly upon Jesus, in the minds of devout Muslims, but upon Christians.

[56] Guillaume, p. 121.

[57] Waller, p. 323.

[58] Gordon believed the Suez Canal to be particularly fragile and exposed in the event of a major conflict, and believed that British strategic interests could be served by the maintenance of its base at Capetown, and by its commitment to preserving its command of the sea. [Waller, p. 271]

[59] Waller, p. 309.

[60] Waller, p. 270.

[61] Earlier, while in the Holy Land, Gordon had speculated that the triumph of the Mahdi might result in a more complete suppression of the slave trade. [Waller, p. 294] At that time, he may have misperceived the precise contours of the Mahdiís idealism, which did not encompass the defeat of slavery.

[62] The quote "not clothed in the rightest of minds" actually comes from Gladstoneís secretary, but is thought to be representative of the Prime Ministerís own opinion. [Waller, p. 323-324.]

[63] Waller, p. 328-329.

[64] Waller, p. 378.

[65] The Biblical quote is from Matthew 5:16.

[66] Waller, p. 363-364. The version presented here was converted into normal English from the original, which was written with a Cockney affect.

[67] Waller, p. 370.

[68] JFC Fuller, A Military History of the Western World, Vol III. P. 66.

[69] Waller, p. 368-369.

[70] Waller, p. 375.

[71] Waller, p. 404.

[72] Waller, p. 438.

[73] Waller, p. 442. The sources for the three versions of Gordonís death are as follows: (1) Killed while attempting to reach a strongpoint within the city to rally resistance: a servant of Gordonís secretary, and a spy-messenger in the employ of the British. (2) Killed fighting on the steps of the palace: Khalil Agha Orphali, Gordonís bodyguard. (3) Killed, without fighting, while facing the Mahdiís supporters on the palace steps: Ibrahim Bey Bordeini, a town notable, and Sheikh Medawi, one of the Mahdiís emirs, who claimed to have heard the story from Ansar warriors who participated in the attack.

[74] Waller, p. 438-439.

[75] Richard Noll. The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung. NY: Randam House, 1997. P. 274.

 

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