MAGNANIMOUS is a great word

Magnanimous is truly a great word and its story is rather a weighty one. Magnanimous means great of mind; elevated in soul, raised above meanness and ungenerousness; of lofty and courageous spirit; honourable; noble; not selfish; generous or forgiving, especially towards a rival or less powerful person. It is derived from the Latin words magnus meaning great and animus meaning soul .

The opposite of magnanimous is pusillanimous (derived from Latin small-souled) which means lacking in courage and resolution; contemptibly fearful; cowardly. It derives from the root pau meaning few, little and animus meaning spirit, courage.

I came across a powerful quote from Lieutenant Colonel Tim Collins. It came from a speech to his men of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish 16 Air Assault Brigade just before the attack on Iraq (March 2003) I don’t know if you remember it:

“We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them…But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory. Iraq is steeped in history. It is the site of the Garden of Eden, of the Great Flood and the birthplace of Abraham. Tread lightly there.

This was a most eloquent speech and magnanimous was the perfect word to use. It was March 2003 that the invasion of Iraq occurred. Two years later in 2005, Tim Collins, having left the army, wrote a follow-up piece:

‘The Iraqi army was defeated – it walked away from most fights – but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organise the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived.One cannot help but wonder what it was all about.

‘If it was part of the war on terror then history might notice that the invasion has arguably acted as the best recruiting sergeant for al-Qaeda ever…The irony is that I made certain assumptions that my goodwill and altruistic motivations went to the top.

‘Clearly I was naive. This time it is the role of the leaders of nations to explain where we are going and why. I, for one, demand to know.

Being magnanimous, sadly, is a word that we no longer use in the same sentence as Iraq.