A Bayonet Is a Weapon With a Worker on Each End: Rethinking Veterans Day
A Bayonet Is a Weapon With a Worker on Each End: Rethinking Veterans Day
By Colin Jenkins / hamptoninstitution.org

In 1885, the Knights of Labor organized a successful strike against Jay Gould's Missouri Pacific Railroad. In response to the strike, Gould famously growled, "I can hire half the working class to kill the other half."

Gould was right. In any hierarchical arrangement, where power and wealth become concentrated in the hands of a few, this tactic becomes available to those wielding this power over a vast majority. Among the masses of workers, slaves, and impoverished, there will inevitably be many willing to "police their own" in order to be in the masters' good graces. History is rife with these examples.

In ancient Greece, the "most prized" slaves were awarded authority positions over their fellow slaves, sometimes given special status as overseers. Masses of slaves captured or bought from nearby Scythia were transformed into an official police force, known as the Scythian Archers, and were "brought back to Athens to carry out the laws of the state," which basically amounted to controlling and strong-arming the slave population in the city. Naturally, their willingness to brutalize their fellow slaves was rewarded with special privileges.

On the colonial American slave plantation there were those who became actively complicit in the subjugation of their fellow slaves. In return for special privileges, these particular slaves agreed to stay close to the master, live among the master and his family, and report to the master any wrongdoings or subversive actions on the part of the masses of field slaves. William Wells Brown, a slave from Kentucky, later described the privileged status he was awarded for his "service": "I was a house servant - a situation preferable to that of a field hand, as I was better fed, better clothed, and not obliged to rise at the ringing of the bell, but about half an hour after."

In Gould's time, referred to by Mark Twain as "the Gilded Age" due to its insidious corruption and wealth inequality, social unrest among the masses of workers became commonplace. "New York City had 5,090 strikes, involving almost a million workers from 1880 to 1900; Chicago had 1,737 strikes, involving over a half a million workers in the same period." The economic elites of the time, like Gould, had two choices in addressing this unrest: (1) share a bigger piece of the pie with their workers, or (2) use force to beat workers into obedience. They chose the latter, taking Gould's words to heart, and proceeded to hire much of the working class to beat and kill the remainder into submission. Police forces and Pinkertons were amassed by the thousands to break strikes throughout the country. As consistent with history, Gould and his counterparts found plenty of workers willing to "serve" them in this role.

On a global scale, international warfare reflects this same dynamic. Throughout history, the ruling classes of each nation have utilized their working-class masses as tools of war, sending them off to fight and kill other workers in remote parts of the world. The willingness of workers to follow these orders is preconditioned through various means, all of which stem from the need to maintain systems of hierarchy. The desperation that comes with being a worker in a coercive system creates immense pressure to merely survive. Today, workers who find themselves choosing between minimum-wage jobs or unfathomable student loan debt are left with very little options in supporting themselves and their families. Material conditions force many into increasingly subservient positions. The mythological construction of boogeymen - savages, radicals, extremists, and terrorists - is all that is needed to create the illusion of an imminent threat. And grand tales of patriotism and "freedom" are all that is needed to persuade many to "volunteer" as tools of war.

So, we volunteer en masse. We literally hand over our bodies to powerful people whom we've never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose authority over us is to be accepted as the natural order of things. We travel across the world, put our bodies in big metal machines, and take the lives of masses of workers whom we've never met, whose intentions and interests are not to be questioned, and whose perceived threat to us is to be accepted as the natural order of things.

Much like the Scythian archer in ancient Athens, the house slave on a colonial Kentucky plantation, and the worker-turned-Pinkerton in Jay Gould's private army, we become willing tools of powerful interests. We choose to "serve" our masters. Many of us do this because we have no other options. Many of us do this because we are promised glory. Many of us do this because we hear the boogeyman coming. And many of us do this to simply "get in the masters' good graces." Whatever the reason, our unquestioned participation makes us complicit in maintaining the coercive systems of hierarchy that continue to dominate our world. And, despite the pats on our backs and choruses of "thank you" directed at us one day a year, we remain collectively buried in this system, no different than our working-class counterparts throughout the world who we've been ordered to extinguish for the past two centuries.

The best way to honor Veterans is to question the system that creates us, uses us, and discards us. And the best way to honor our service is to ask ourselves who we really served and for what purpose.

0.0 ·
0
What's Next
Trending Today
The Myth of Positivity: Why Your Pain Holds a Mighty Purpose
umair haque · 15,768 views today · Of all the great myths of contemporary life, one of the most toxic is positivity. It says: there are negative and positive emotions, and only the positive ones are worth...
Stunning Summary of US Imperialism and Native Resistance... on MSNBC!
4 min · 11,959 views today · On The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC, Lawrence explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget.
Standing Rock Wisdom: How Sacred, Nonviolent Activism Has the Power to Succeed
Charles Eisenstein · 6,654 views today · I am told by Native American friends active at Standing Rock that the elders are counseling the Water Protectors to undertake each action prayerfully and to stay off the...
Seven Must-Have Skills for the 21st Century
Tommy Lehe · 4,899 views today · We live in a world that moves faster than we do. Trying to keep up can be an overwhelming task that at times feels hopeless, like we are falling further and further behind—but...
Veterans at Standing Rock Ask Forgiveness for War Crimes Against Tribal Nations
Jen Hayden · 4,392 views today · Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The...
Why People Cling to Old Beliefs
1 min · 4,038 views today · Cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist at McGill University, Daniel Levitin, explains why people can be so stubborn when it comes to false beliefs. This behavior is...
The Other Way of Knowing
Lilian Na’ia Alessa · 3,477 views today · Western science and Indigenous worldviews are often seen as incompatible, with the Indigenous view usually being far less valued by society at large. But an inside look at...
DREAM: A Spoken Word Meditation For When Life Is Kicking Your Ass
4 min · 3,129 views today · If life is kicking your ass and the general un-coolness of everybody on planet erf is making you want to off yourself, TALK to someone: 800-273-8255 (national suicide...
Forget Air Force One, Pentagon Wastes Billions and Billions Every Month
Nadia Prupis · 3,115 views today · President-elect Donald Trump's focus on single Boeing contract ignores enormous waste of bloated Pentagon budget
Solar is Already Producing More Energy Than Oil, Says Major Scientific Review
Nafeez Ahmed · 2,996 views today · And is twice as powerful than previously thought
13 Crises That We All Must Face
George Monbiot · 2,515 views today · We face (at least) 13 major crises, some of which are immediate. It’s time for some hard thinking about how we confront them.
Dear Activists, Maybe It's Time to Admit That We've Got It All Wrong
Mickey Z. · 2,322 views today · “The first step in the revolution is eye contact.” - Alicen Grey
A Hauntingly Beautiful Short Film About Life and Death
5 min · 2,232 views today · The Life of Death is a touching handdrawn animation about the day Death fell in love with Life.
How a White Supremacist Became a Civil Rights Activist
Araz Hachadourian · 2,141 views today · The story of a KKK leader’s transformation shows us that we need not live forever with the kind of violence we saw in Charleston this month.
Andy Goes In - Working Undercover in a Factory Farm
10 min · 2,066 views today · He's a $10/hr farmhand, and his name isn't Andy. Andy Goes In is a compelling 10-minute documentary short about a Mercy For Animals undercover investigator. The vast majority...
15 Films Inspiring and Illuminating the 'New Story' Revolution
Tim Hjersted · 1,531 views today · Charles Eisenstein is one of the first people I heard talk about the "new story," synthesizing a diverse movement that has been emerging for the last several decades. When I go...
Sean Carroll - The Meaning of Life
7 min · 1,459 views today · The world keeps happening in accordance with its rules; it's up to us to make sense of it and give it value. Sean Carroll Music: Moby - God Moving Over the Face of the Waters
Satish Kumar on "What Is a Sacred Place?"
3 min · 1,372 views today · Satish Kumar brings a Hindu, Buddhist and Jain perspective to the definition of "sacred place." We found his explanation so compelling that we edited a three-minute piece...
Amanda Abbington Introduces iAnimal - 42 Days in the Life of Chickens
4 min · 1,319 views today · Shot undercover in British factory farms and slaughterhouses, this immersive 360° video gives you a birds-eye view of what happens to chicken from farm to plate.
Sky Roosevelt-Morris: The Secret of Indigenous Resiliency
2 min · 1,235 views today · Activist Sky Roosevelt-Morris is of the Shawnee and White Mountain Apache Nations. She is a member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado. In...
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
A Bayonet Is a Weapon With a Worker on Each End: Rethinking Veterans Day