Sunday, 4 November 2007

Let them eat bullets

Do you know how far the spiritual descendants of Marie Antoinette have developed the art of pacifying the poor?

Take a look at the richest nation on earth, where they also happen to have the widest gulf between the wealthy and the poor in the developed world. What do the powerful in America do when they see millions of their fellow citizens left far behind with no prospect of any improvement? They offer them a way out. Join the military. In one stroke, those who do not have any hope of getting a good education, a well-paid job, health care, or any of the things the privileged can take for granted, are given a highly attractive option.

And when in large numbers they take up that option, it means that the country can afford to give up on conscripting a citizens’ army. In the days of the Vietnam War, every American family (except for the super rich who can use their influence to ensure their sons stay well away from military action) stood an equal chance of bearing the responsibility of fighting their country’s war abroad, and they watched the development of the conflict with intense personal as well as civic interest. When a growing number felt that the risks and sacrifices demanded of them far outweighed the alleged gains to be made from the war, they vocally called for an end to America’s military role in Vietnam. When their own were killed day after day, the body politic spoke with one voice to call off the misadventure.

Now predominantly the poor make up America’s cannon fodder. They voluntarily sign up for a career their better-off fellow citizens gladly leave to them. They are patriotically saluted off to fight in a distant land. Should they be killed in action, no publicity is allowed when their bodies are returned to America. The civic minded do not want them to be forgotten, but those who only really care about their own families, and those who advocate violent actions against others so long as the repercussions are to be borne by less fortunate souls, barely register their loss.

So today the poor, instead of congregating outside the mansions and palaces of the upper class, shouting for bread and justice, wait quietly in line to join the establishment which has reserved for them a special place. Here, in return for support which progressive reformists of the last century tried to secure for everyone without prejudice, they, and they alone, would have to take their turn to face snipers and shrapnel, brain damage and death.

Imagine what Louis VI would have done in the face of the angry crowd calling for a fairer society, if he could simply point them to form an orderly queue over at the military registration office. With offers of decent pay, special discounts, scholarships, helpful mentors, loans, plus numerous other benefits, not to mention a wide selection of cakes, the revolution would never have even got started. Rather than threatening the powerful with militant confrontation, they would march off and get themselves killed instead. It’s a lesson the present day George II has learnt well.

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