George Walford: Dragooned Dragoons

The intellectuals of the left commonly take it for granted that an authoritarian social system must have been established against the will of the general body of the people. The overwhelming evidence, that the general body of the people (which includes most of the poor) find such systems to be well within their range of ideological acceptance and comply with them readily, that it is only a minority who resist or resent, is commonly overlooked.

The picture usually presented is of a tyrannical group (or perhaps an individual tyrant) in control of the armed forces and using these to enforce obedience, and in that form the argument does possess a specious plausibility. But George Gook has drawn my attention to an instance in which the underlying absurdity comes to the surface. In Japan’s Last War (1968) Saburo Ienaga writes that during Japan’s militaristic period the ordinary Japanese soldiers were “dragooned into a cruel, demeaning labour service.”

How could this have been? Soldiers cannot be forced into service; they themselves are the ultimate wielders of force. Who can “dragoon” soldiers? They are themselves the dragoons.

For the same point from another angle, consider this; it is from Collins and Lapierre, Freedom at Midnight:

[…] responsibility was exercised at any given time by a little band of brothers, 2,000 members of the Indian Civil Service, the ICS, and 10,000 British officers of the Indian Army. Their authority over 300 million people was sustained by 60,000 British soldiers and 200,000 men of the Indian Army. No statistics could measure better than those the nature of British rule in India after 1857 or the manner in which the Indian masses were long prepared to accept it. (Emphasis added)

We may add that when the India masses, or a large part of them, refused to accept British rule any longer the British were not able to enforce it. There was no question of “dragooning” the Indian people into submission. The British in India knew better than to attempt this, but other powers in other countries did attempt it. None of them succeeded. When the general body of the people refuse to accept a government, or even a system of government, there is nothing the would-be governors can do but retire. Their only choice is whether to do so with good or bad grace. “Power belongs to the people” is not an aspiration, it is a simple statement of fact.

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Tell Us a Story, Professor: In folk tales it is commonly an old man or an old woman who is presented as the source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. Elaborate explanations of this have been offered, some Jungian, some Freudian, some even more esoteric. One writer has suggested a simpler explanation. He points out that folk tales are usually told by old men or old women.

This is amusing but it also has its serious side; it serves to draw our attention to a parallel closer to home. In many of our books today it is the academics who are presented as the source of knowledge, wisdom and understanding. And it is the academics who write most of those books.

from Ideological Commentary 11, March 1982.