Walking Wounded [a look at public officials' pasts]

The walking wounded tread the halls of power -
But covered, mostly, are these wounds they bear.
Westminster tolls outside, inside, each hour;
On us impinge effects of how they fare.

They got their grievous injuries at school -
At boarding school, often, abused as fags -
So early made to sense coercion’s rule.
In other ways, social awareness lags:

Compassion took a beating, made to fall
When soul-survival rose most urgent need.
Now, later, threats to privilege recall
Those dreads of loss – and fears arise to feed.

As boys, they learnt it well – to keep concealed
What made a person vulnerable – and hurt;
Some inner wounds sustained have never healed,
Through lacking air and light. Their manner’s curt -

Or else suavely evasive – when a chance
Remark (or pointed one) now somehow triggers
Memories: that nervous over-shoulder glance
At jeering, leering, looming, dooming figures.

‘To stay on top’ became their watchword then:
Their only route of rescue from duress,
Acquiring worldly power over men;
The ladder up to safety seemed success.

Equality would bring them down again,
And prone again as prey – it must be fought!
So hierarchical patterns they sustain,
But say appealing things they think they ought;

As once (to curry favour, escape pain,
Be seen as biddable) they feigned compliance;
Though trusting in deceitfulness is vain,
When cornered where can frailty place reliance?

The poor provide them comfort: ‘That’s not me!’ -
Their luxury and wealth provide a shell.
Unspoken but felt inwardly, a glee
At seeing someone else now go through hell.

A few inflict on young (whom they were like,
Then: helpless) same behaviour (gross abuse) -
Or fatal wrongs. Some more obliquely strike:
Whole populations suffer power’s misuse.

Others feel their victimhood as shame
Or carry knowledge they were in that crew
Who joined to not be beaten. Tallied blame
Empowers blackmailers to rule in lieu.

There may be worthies – victims in their time,
Who took from harm an honest path ahead -
Resolving not to perpetrate such crime,
But bearing forth with sympathy instead.

In each case, facts ought surely to be known -
Not held back (past still silenced, burdens borne);
Admission is a seed of freedom sown:
A key to release many from guilt’s scorn.

This is a time when citizens could probe:
Investigate their leaders’ lives, to see
What wounds they bear. So rulers should disrobe;
Let down pretense: then, shamed or honoured be.

Walking Wounded [a look at public officials' pasts]


Dunfermline, United Kingdom

  • Artist

Artist's Description

The poem tries to look at how childhood trauma may have shaped some people who are now in positions of power, and how this may affect how they govern.

[Re the meaning here of ‘fags’ (line 6), please see note below.]

This poem relates to multiple police investigations and government inquiries (by both the UK (Westminster) parliament and the devolved Scottish (Holyrood) parliament), now under way, into cases of child abuse – crimes which spanned decades, have involved high officials, and which (it has been alleged) include murders of some victims and of others who could have revealed the truth.

To determine the facts; to bring such criminals to justice and keep them out of public office; and to clear any innocent politicians who may be unjustly suspected; all these seem to me vital and urgent, in order for the public to again trust government.

So I have launched a petition:
“Set up an independent system to publicly check MPs’ honesty by rigorous testing.”
I suggest testing, including but not solely by polygraph (‘lie-detector’) for all politicians.

[Please note: in line 6 ‘fags’ is not American slang but refers to the practice of ‘fagging’ in certain schools, where younger pupils were obliged to act as errand-boys (‘fags’) for older pupils, supposedly in exchange for assistance or protection (a system obviously open to abuses). Though this practice officially came to an end by the 1970s or 1980s, it will have been part of the experience of many older parliamentarians and officials who in childhood had attended such private schools (confusingly, called ‘public schools’ in England). ]

The book Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion, by Nick Duffell, is reviewed by Elaine Gunn here:

I acknowledge that not every public-school attender will have found their school years damaging in this way, nor has everyone with such inner damage attended public school.

I have commented on these scandals’ effect in undermining the electorate’s trust in politicians, on May 6, 2015 in this thread:

The suggested use of polygraphs to test politicians is not a new idea; it was covered
in 2011 here:
and in 2014 here:

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