From the ninth through the 11th centuries, Saxon England was prey to hordes of Danish pirates, or Vikings. Under Alfred the Great, the Saxons rose to the challenge, fought off the Danes, and made treaties only under conditions favorable to the Saxons. The attacks continued and one hundred years later, the Saxons, under Aethelred the Unready chose to pay tribute—by raising a special tax known as “Danegeld”—rather than continue to fight. This, of course, resulted in disaster, and within a generation the Saxon king was driven into exile and a Danish King assumed the throne.
It is now called “foreign aid” rather than “Danegeld”, and dealing with hostile forces that seek the destruction of Western Civilization is undeniably difficult. But rank cowardice and appeasement of energetic enemies is always disastrous foreign policy. This Kipling poem gets right to the heart of the matter, in terms even younger students can enjoy and understand.
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:
“We invaded you last night—we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”
And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!
It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”
And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.
It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:
“We never pay any one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”