Quote of the Day 3-18-14 (George Turner)

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Politics, Psychology, Quotations, Science Fiction
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Yesterday's Men

“What has slum discomfort to do with organized murder?”

“Everything.” [Dunbar] held a piece of abominable bacon on his fork and said, “The authorities think as you probably think, that the psychology of the soldier pivots on a terrorist instinct. The army knows better.” He put the bacon in his mouth while his eyes mocked Corrigan’s revulsion.

“What does it pivot on?”

“Degradation … From the moment of enlistment, personal degradation began in simple separation from his womenfolk and the conventions of civilization. You’ll never have seen a group of young males forced to live together, all strangers and all released from the restraints of women and family and friends. The skin peels back from their minds; cultural safety is dissolved; they’re out of the burrow with no way back. The sense of territoriality, of the group, is destroyed, each must assert himself or go under–and both things happen. Braggart alliances assert themselves in aggression and numbers,the weak take on passive protective color. The male animal thrashes about in proof of his maleness, in noisy language and physical provocation and aimless quarrelling. Sexual repression exhibits its brassy stridency or goes silently underground to break out in squalls of violence and stupidity. The observers says, so that’s what they’re really like, but it isn’t so; it’s what they’re like under disorienting conditions. As simply as that, men in the mass are laid open to manipulation, and manipulation is what the army supplies. It’s called discipline–twenty-four hours a day discipline, remorseless and nakedly oppressive, with even the so-called off-duty time supervised and open to cancellation without warning or explanation. That’s where the degradation grips. The army takes away the tetherstones and signposts of normal life, turns a man into a creature of confusion and then imposes its own version of order upon him. Civilized man is born to order; disordered, he takes to discipline like a saint to to salvation. He hates it but he clings to it, lost without it.

“In the name of holy discipline he become a machine. He lives on food fit for scavengers because he’ll eat it or starve; he lives cold and sodden because he’s taught it’s no hardship to a proud soldier; he crawls on his guts in mud, takes pride in senseless ceremonial drills, jumps at the command of brainless nits, takes public cursing from foul-mouthed instructors; works till he’s ready to drop and then carries on working–why? Because from the moment the barrier drops between him and his culture he becomes less than a man and knows it and has no self-respect other than as the thing he is told to be. That there may be killing at the end of the road, or being killed, is neither here nor there; obedience and discipline alone can carry him through to the blessed goal of discharge. That’s the soldier, the final product of a deliberate process of degradation: a Pavlovian dog. He can be shocked out of it–he sometimes is when the killing starts–but in general he behaves as a faithful hound. The joke–if there is a joke–is that the masters are as response-conditioned as the dogs. It’s a vicious circle of command and react. Only a powerful mind can remain his own man in the army.”

Corrigan pushed his mess tin away, his stomach sickened by grease as surely as his mind by [Dunbar’s] explanation. He ate the bread; it was stale. “A calculated process of debasement.”

“In the strictest sense, no. It evolved across millennia of warfare, refining itself with use and habit. … They often called it, Making A Man Of Him.”

George Turner, Yesterday’s Men

* * *

Thanks to Zeke Teflon, author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia, for this quote. Zeke is currently re-reading nearly all of the late Australian science fiction writer (and World War II vet) George Turner’s sci-fi novels, and we’ll post Zeke’s analysis and review of Turner’s works later this month.

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