Trained in the use of force

By Anne Collins
Trained in the use of force photo by Pixabay

After Ballad of the Civil Guard by Federico Garcia Lorca

                                       An essay




Lorca’s guards

had skulls of lead and souls of patent leather

and they do not weep he said.

Every gypsy, criminal, peasant and anarchist

in Andalucia knew what he meant.

It’s easy to romanticise

los gitanos as free spirits

or the Guardia Civil as la benemérita – reputable men.

Reality is the grit in between.

On the rural highways

the knives of the gypsy banditos

were as sharp as any guard’s sword.

Both groups of men knew the feel of their blades

cutting into the other.


During the Guerra Civil las guardias

fought on both sides.

A century later

they still live in military barracks

and patrol in pairs.

I hope their bodies are by now

flesh and blood.

As for their souls –

is confession enough?

It’s thirty-six years since

the last attempted coup.

The highways are free of thieves

more or less. The petty crooks now nest

in the outer-urban high-rises,

beyond the ruling ambitions of those

who have sent the country broke.





All over the world

the border forces are recruiting

with million-dollar uniforms and guns

there’s always someone who needs a job.

Today they’re on strike for better pay –

what does it cost

to be a guard, police officer, soldier?


We so want them to be

the good guys – truly la benemérita

who rescue us and keep the peace.

Sometimes they do.

Democracy, it is said,

is checks and balances

– the paperwork is as demanding as ever –

but the grit in between ideals and politics

scratches an open wound.





Bored conscripts

defend a Promised Land,

boast of their casual cruelties.

Why not force

three women on their way home

to walk in the heat to the top of the hill

and wait there for hours

just because you can?

Then there’s that special kind of pornographic thrill

in pointing a bayonet

at the pregnant belly of another

as she comes through the checkpoint.

The howls of Rosa de los Cambrios

have turned into bombs.


A 19-year-old conscript

raised on a diet of virtual morality

is given the job considered safer for female soldiers.

On the security screen

she picks out a farmer in the distance

working the little land he has left

– her boss decides he is a terrorist.

She presses a button,

the farmer falls down dead.

This remote-control killing

sends her psychotic. But does she weep?





Guards come in the vulnerable dawn

knocking down doors,

kicking and beating, smashing and trashing

anything that looks self-affirming.

We gather with candles

to light up the dark and mourn

for these are terrible affairs of the state.

And the girls keep running as fast as they can,

into the roses of black gunpowder.





Sixty million people on the move

and not for the love of travel.

The guards guard the lies

of those media millionaires, corporations,

politicians and highly-paid technocrats

who belittle the critics

for calling the detention-centre electric fence, electric.

No, the immigration department head insists,

it’s a courtesy fence, an energised fence –

it’s her profession to strip words of their meaning.

It’s his profession

to strip an asylum seeker

lock him in a room for a month,

with the light on 24/7

because it was alleged

he had a cigarette lighter.

It’s their profession

to joke at the end of the day

about the written requests for toothpaste or sanitary pads,

then throw them in the bin –

the paperwork is as demanding as ever.

When they evacuate their colleagues

and abandon those they know by number

to the encroaching cyclone,

which nightmare takes its toll?





Every day Franco sat diligently at his desk

signing execution papers

over his afternoon coffee.

A century later in Australia

the son of Chilean migrants

boasts of his job: compliance officer –

his thrill in forcing people to submit

chilling, unmistakeable.

He believes

that Pinochet was a good man.

Remarkably he looks like

the aggrieved Ramón Ruiz Alonso

who arrested Lorca.





Sixty million people on the move

and not for the love of travel.

Fleeing from the latest wars

they keep moving

from one country to the next,

squeezing themselves onto trains, boats, trucks, buses

or into the cavities of cars.

The face of a child barely a year old

in the clutch of her father’s arms,

looks on with a steady gaze

at the crush of adults around her,

as if she has seen it all before.

They are building walls again.

Patrolling passports, visas and minds

colonised by fear

where young and naked

the imagination burns

and reality is the grit in between.


Guerra Civil, las guardias – translation: Civil War, the guards. This refers to the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39.
Section III is based on my reading of Dervla Murphy’s book Between River and Sea, Encounters in Israel and Palestine, Eland Publishing Ltd, U.K., 2016.
The events and situations as reported by her are based on her conversations with many notable Israelis and Palestinians who reported them to her as true events. But it is not my intention here to merely mention what goes on in that part of the world. The accounts illustrate the kinds of things that happen in all militarised zones where people are trained to brutalise other human beings. The notion of a Promised Land could easily refer to a number of conflict zones in the world where soldiers are trained to believe they are fighting for some worthy ideal.