Generals gathered in their masses...
October 1, 2012 6:55 AM   Subscribe

"Rich man's war, poor man's fight" goes back to the US Civil War and illustrates how it's the poor who do most of the actual fighting in any conflict. What other catchy or classic phrases illustrate how careers involving legalized violence (military, police) frequently draw in the economically disadvantaged?

I'm looking less for generalized objections to war or violence and more for things that hit the economic oppressiveness of it all, particularly as it impacts the people who do the actual fighting. I've read "War Is a Racket" (everyone should, really), and I may have to go back over it to look for any such phrase, but I'm hoping the hivemind here will have something else for me by way of catchy soundbites. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's not a phrase as such, but I've always been a fan of this poster put out by the Australian IWW during World War I:
To Arms!

Capitalists, Parsons, Politicians, Landlords, Newspaper Editors and Other Stay-At-Home Patriots.
your country needs YOU in the trenches!!

Follow your Masters
This was also a theme in Phil Ochs's songwriting. Particularly, from "I Ain't Marching Anymore":
it's always the old to lead us to the war
it's always the young to fall
posted by enn at 7:07 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tommy by Rudyard Kipling probably qualifies a little.
posted by jquinby at 7:09 AM on October 1, 2012

An English saying about WW1, which touches upon this, is:

"Lions led by donkeys."

Although it doesn't directly touch on economics of the situation, through the class system is criticizes there is a strong economic angle.
posted by Jehan at 7:11 AM on October 1, 2012

If songs are OK, you should really listen to The Workers' Song by Dropkick Murphys, particularly this verse:

And when the sky darkens and the prospect is war
Who's given a gun and then pushed to the fore
And expected to die for the land of our birth
Though we've never owned one lousy handful of earth?

posted by Rock Steady at 7:20 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

'Old men do the lying, young men do the dying' is one I've heard - I think from Korea-era onward.
posted by Happy Dave at 7:24 AM on October 1, 2012

How about Bob Dylan's song, "Masters of War"?
posted by colfax at 7:29 AM on October 1, 2012

This doesn't help you in your search for quips and quotes, but you might want to take a look at the data about our soliders. A lot of the old sayings aren't true anymore. Today, our enlistees tend to be better educated than their civilian peers, and enlistment is up among upper and middle class, and down significantly among the poor. A larger percentage of the military is white than the general population, too.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:33 AM on October 1, 2012

Response by poster: NotMyself: I served in the Coast Guard from 1994-1998. I'm well aware. :)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 7:37 AM on October 1, 2012

Dylan and and Phil Ochs are only working in a tradition that is centuries old, at the least, the labor song. The Dropkick Murphy's Workers' Song was actually written by folkie Ed Pickford. Here's the Dick Gaughan version the Dropkicks picked it up from (much rawer, IMO).

Anyway, these expressions are as old as labor.
posted by Miko at 7:42 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

One famous slogan in the run-up to WWI was "A bayonet is a weapon with a worker at each end."
posted by Abiezer at 7:43 AM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I forget which war it was, or what nation's army did this, but apparently in some war there was a marching song some soldiers came up with, set to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," that went like this:

"We're here because
We're here because
We're here because
We're here,

We're here because
We're here because
We're here because
We're here...."

Repeat ad infinitum. Sadly.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

AaAAAAAnd that answer didn't quite fit....

You may want to listen to Tom Waits' latest song "Hell Broke Luce". The lyrics seem to be exactly what you're looking for (although they may not be "familiar" to most), and it was inspired by a soldier who killed himself after he got home from Afghanistan.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:48 AM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think there is a chinese proverb saying that criminals and police are from the same tribe.
posted by shothotbot at 7:59 AM on October 1, 2012

First thing that comes to mind is lines from the song Fortunate Son

I ain't no senator's son...I ain't no fortunate one.

My understanding is the song is about the Vietnam war. In response to the general public outcry against the war, they limited tours to one year. This turned it into a meat grinder for America's youth, especially its poor youth since being in college was one means to avoid the draft. In WW2, average age of a soldier was around 25 or 26. In Vietnam, it was 19. Generally speaking, if you survive your first battle, the odds of surviving the war are not too bad. (Something like half of death's are first timers.) The meat grinder policies meant there were far too many "first battles".
posted by Michele in California at 8:03 AM on October 1, 2012

Muhammad Ali on the Vietnam war:

"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... they never called me nigger."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:17 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's funny how you never knew what my name was,
Our only contact was a form for the election...
These days I find that I can't be bothered,
To argue with them well, what's the point?
Better to take your shots and drop down dead,
Then they send you home in a pine overcoat
With a letter to your mum
Saying "Find enclosed one son, one medal, and a note
to say he won."

posted by scody at 8:36 AM on October 1, 2012

Here are a couple:

you can always hire half the poor to kill the other half - Boss Tweed

"Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship." "There is one difference," I pointed out. "In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars." "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

- Herman Goering at the Nuremberg Trials
posted by any major dude at 8:37 AM on October 1, 2012 [6 favorites]

Muhammed Ali also famously described the Vietnam War as "white men sending black men to kill yellow men". (Phrasings of the quote seem to vary.)
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:51 AM on October 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Pardon my spelling: should be "Muhammad Ali".
posted by McCoy Pauley at 8:52 AM on October 1, 2012

"Rich Man", by Climax Blues Band:

O-o-oh I am a rich man
And I drive a Cadillac
I buy every thing I want
I sell bullets to the soldiers

O-o-oh I am a poor man
I don't drive a Cadillac
Can't buy every thing I want
They want me to be a soldier

Rich man wins
Poor man pays

O-o-oh I am a rich man's son
I don't need a Cadillac
I was standing watching soldiers
I was murdered by ricochet
posted by Herodios at 9:15 AM on October 1, 2012

You might want to look into Kurt Vonnegut's God Bless You Mr. Rosewater.

In the unlikely event you're not familiar . . .

At the center of the plot is an inheritance dispute between two sides of a family divided by the American Civil War -- not between North and South, but between those who heeded the call and fought (and their descendents) and those who stayed home to profit from the war (and their descendents). The fact that one could pay another to fight in your place if drafted plays a part.

I don't have any relevant quotes for you ex crania, but there may well be something there of use to you.
posted by Herodios at 9:38 AM on October 1, 2012

Best answer: The Canton Speech by Eugene V. Debs
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and all to lose—especially their lives."
For this speech, Debs was charged with sedition 2 weeks later.
posted by LonnieK at 12:39 PM on October 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Not particularly well known, but the Minutemen have a song "The Only Minority" which includes the lines, "They own the land / We work the land / We fight their wars /They think we're whores
posted by radiomayonnaise at 1:24 PM on October 1, 2012

See Vietnam War Zippos.
posted by palbo at 4:26 PM on October 1, 2012

"Quand les riches se font la guerre, ce sont les pauvres qui meurent." --Jean-Paul Sartre, The Devil and the Good Lord (1951)

Translation: "When the rich wage war, it is the poor that die."
posted by dephlogisticated at 9:11 PM on October 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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