Turncoats and Redcoats

Take a load off Annie, take a load for free;
Take a load off Annie, and you can put the load right on me.

—The  Band

It is said that Lai Wa Wu, who for the moment is Anywoman, speaks in the following words of the teacher Vijay Prashad, who in a parable of the land of America has been offering wisdom in words hardly favorable to military men:

When Vijay left the stage a young Coast Guardsmen came up to him with his finger waggling. He wanted to say something about how the armed forces create leadership and respect. It was hard to take him seriously as his body disrespected someone twice his age.

Unpleasant as he is, the Guardsman in the parable is correct.  The military does create leadership and respect for leadership.  But the wise would do well to ask: what’s so great about leadership?  Isn’t leadership, that ancient chain, always a form of disrespect for the age and wisdom of people who have long lived in communities and know their watersheds and food sources and are willing to protect them?

The wise in their communities free themselves from chains of command and all such surly bonds.

I just want to emphasize that in what I am saying here I don’t mean any disrespect for our fighting men and women in the armed forces.

Just kidding.  Of course I mean disrespect.

Anyone who believes in community and justice had better darn well mean disrespect for standing armies.  When the set of communities that came to be known as these United States came together to fight off an aggressor, they grouped together as an irregular militia against a standing army composed of mercenaries and full-time soldiers, which is to say a mix of turncoats (allegiance for hire) and redcoats.  There was a particular problem, the people in the communities banded together to deal with it, then went home and plowed their fields.  The fighting force the world now knows as the Americans is ironically the very mix of turncoat and redcoat, of private contractor and full-time soldier, which Americans originally banded together to fight.  This force is a standing army.  And standing armies from Britain to Egypt to Canada always have their own momentum and their own interests, and they are seldom the interests of the people they’re supposed to protect.

If you think the bureaucrats who run the Pentagon have the slightest interest in the welfare of boots on the ground except insofar as boot-interest coincides with the interests of the bureaucrats, your level of naiveté has disqualified you from all future discussions.  Leave now or we’ll throw you out.

This misunderstanding about the difference between standing armies and federations of local revolutionary armies fighting in their own watersheds comes from Americans not knowing their own basic history.  The nation came into being precisely to fight standing armies, not to join them.  Joining a standing army like that of the American fighting forces is essentially a treasonous act.  I don’t happen to think nation-states are such a great idea, but the people who like them should try to get their own foundational narratives straight.  Leftist contempt for private citizens who carry guns, for example, comes from a misunderstanding about the relationship between established governments and standing armies, and it is a naïve view of how benign governments are.

I grew up near the Concord River directly across North Road from the Job Lane House in the place called America, and I’d walk home from track practice at school along the same stone walls behind which the locals had stretched out on their bellies to shoot at the German mercenaries and other British redcoats.  My dad favored the British, and he’d point out all the taverns where the good folks of Bedford and Lexington and Concord had gone to get tanked before having a poke at the boys from England.  But even he would agree that the whole point of the revolutionary experiment was to see if you could destroy the standing army, not join it.  And yes, I’m talking to you yellow-ribbon-waving folks in my (subsequent) stomping grounds of Clarksville, Tennessee.  I’ve heard how much you’ve been enjoying sending your own sons off to get killed in foreign adventures in a standing army.  You’d think at some point mother love would over-ride brainwashing, but I guess not.

When the American ‘leader’ came to Toronto last June, the local citizens and neighborhood foot constables didn’t get together and figure out a plan to make sure the children and elderly and so on stayed safe.  The opposite happened, in fact.  There are no neighborhood foot constables, and the communities for years have been careful to send their power away to the Ottawa River watershed.  Humber and Don and Garrison Creek communities have been assiduous in demonstrating their incompetence and vulnerability by waving the banner of non-violence and letting distant politicos and war profiteers intrude into every facet of their lives.

Instead of a situation in which our local communities were conferring with themselves and in their own interests, a distant bellicose government along the Ottawa River colluded with an impregnable and unresponsive Toronto government to call on a standing army of even more distant soldiers already on the payroll and increase their pay by half—time and a half—and encourage them to enjoy themselves manhandling the local women, beating up teenage boys, keeping the fire department away from burning cars to allow for photo opportunities, and attacking my ten-year-old.  We were forced to pay tribute of over a billion loonies for the privilege that weekend.

But you can only blame governments so long before you start wondering why your own community doesn’t get up off its butt and protect itself.  In Toronto this morning a driver in an American Jeep Patriot revs his engine—one snow-wet foot on the brake (probably his left foot, if you think about it) keeping the vehicle from lurching into our crowd of folks getting on to the streetcar in front of him.  We board.  I see Liam’s hi-IQ friend Evan (ten) in the back of the streetcar when we’re wedged into the front, and we call to each other to estimate the number of people on the car.  Ninety-four plus the crowd of maybe fifteen getting on at Ossington, we figure.  So now think about that highly subsidized Patriot cowboy, menacing us with his cancer smoke and his callous barely restrained lead foot.  Sure, he’s protected by a little standing army of cops taking a load off fannie when donuts get them out of their car seats, and standing behind them is a standing army of regulars ready to step in—in time and on time and a half—if things get rough.  And of course there are always the Americans standing behind the Canadian troops.  There’s a chain of command.  But there are over a hundred of us on this streetcar, a good mix of accidental and intentional environmentalists.  And we’re slowly bleating to death.  We can’t figure out a way to take care of one fucker menacing our children?  Is our culture really this vitiated?

Bleating to death.  That’s all I’m saying.  All the accidental environmentalists on the streetcar keeping their heads down and going ba, ba, ba…and then one day—why not?—bah…humbug.  Well, he that hath ears, let him hear, as my old carpenter friend used to say.  Are you with me here?

Haven’t looked in the good book for a couple of decades.  But that doesn’t matter because I pretty much had it memorized back in the day.  There’s a phrase in the end times part of the book used to describe the moment when things are really bad: “time, times, and half a time.”

Time enough, I’d say.

DAVID Ker THOMSON is a streetfighter with a bad knee and a PhD in early American history from Princeton. The Lai Wa Wu quotation can be found here.  dave dot thomson at utoronto dot ca


Fine-tune last week’s interview with Andrés Dimitriu this way: correct spelling of Monsanto; Evo Morales is president of Bolivia; Professor Dimitriu was not suggesting that Menem is a Peronist; the Germany/China/Argentina connection is just a small part of a more complex interaction exhaustively detailed in other conversations; most interestingly, the emphasis on nation-states being “the problem” is not Dimitriu’s but, as my long-term readers will appreciate, mine.  On the philosophy of faithfulness to the protocols of leadership, be sure to catch, next week, my “The Corrections (What was I thinking?)”  As ever, all genuine information genuine street tested—you heard it here first.


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