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Train of thought

Nota Bene: The short editorial below follows a line of thinking that I think is implicit in Matthew Parris‘ article about the war, which contains a number of views I share (and a couple I don’t). It’s a very uncomfortable train of thought, particularly when it’s running in the way in which I take it. I had some serious misgivings about whether I wanted to write this down at all; for one thing, I’m not sure whether I want to reach the conclusion that it seems to point to, and for another, that conclusion would very definitely offend and shock a lot of people, and not in a way in which I want to. So, don’t be surprised if it comes to an abrupt stop.


Spare a thought for the military proletarian at this troubled time. There is a strand in left thinking which holds that soldiers and policemen are not a proper part of the working class; they should be thought of as scabs, enforcing the will of the ruling class on the genuine workers. For my part, I have a certain sympathy with this argument when it comes to the cops; I don’t in general like the police as a body of men, and I think that there’s far too much of an overtly political side to what they do, which they do not shirk. But I can’t swallow the idea that the army are not proletarians. I don’t believe that soliders, in the main, sign up for the Army in the hope, or even in the very strong belief, that they are going to be asked to fight in a war, particularly not an imperialist war. I think that in the main, they sign up out of a lack of alternative employment, for the camaraderie and varied physical activity, and (all too often) because they have troubled family backgrounds and are looking for some stability in their lives. They have the same hopes and dreams as us, and the same grumbles about their pay and conditions. They are brothers, who deserve our solidarity.

This is hardly a controversial view; I would be surprised if there wasn’t general agreement among the Stand Down crowd for the proposition “against the war, not against the troops”. When our brothers and sisters in the military proleteriat get sent overseas into physical danger, whatever one’s view on the justness of the cause, we should be hoping for a quick war with as few casualties as possible.

“As few as possible” is a fairly nebulous number, but modern military technology (by which I mean extremely nasty bombs, by the way) means that casualties can be kept very low indeed. It’s well known that there is no support at all among the American public (the only public that matters) for a war in which more than 1000 Americans die. So, in hoping for casualties among American and British troops to be as few as possible, we are effectively hoping for a repeat of Gulf War 1, an almost-no-shooting war followed by a painless and happy occupation. Check out the Matthew Parris article linked above; he makes probably the best case I’ve seen for the (on the face of it ridiculous) proposition that the Arab world will be happy with such an outcome. It’s not impossible, I suppose.

The problem arises for those of us who fear a successful war far more than an unsuccessful one. An American Empire is a real possibility, and is something to be very greatly feared indeed, both for its likely effects on the subjects of that empire, and because of what we know about global terrorism, for everyone else, including me. And the only thing that can credibly stop an American Empire is the distinct possibility that the American people, who would have to pay for it, don’t want it.

Americans, as far as I can tell, like wars that they win quickly with few casualties. Americans don’t like (in fact, they hate with a passion), wars that drag on, or wars that claim large numbers of American casualties. It is hard to escape the conclusion that Americans are much more likely to be unwilling to elect governments which intend to pursue a policy of imperialism, if they have reason to believe that such a policy will create wars which drag on with lots of casualties, than if they believe that the USA can win wars without putting more than 1000 American lives at risk per war. The forthcoming war against Iraq is likely to shape those beliefs for the next twenty years.

Isn’t realpolitik horrible?

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