French Fancies

Is the Navy really open to all?

Everyday Lies

This article is taken from the November 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

It is not only in English-speaking countries that small lies are told, but given our penchant for hypocrisy we are perhaps leaders of the civilised world in this respect.

I was stuck behind a bus in a French traffic jam recently. There was an advertisement on its rear: the Navy, it said, is recruiting. It promised recruits an unusual career. Then I noticed, in comparatively small print, a little lie: Open to all.

A totally inclusive navy would probably sink even before it engaged in action

All? Did you say all? Surely there must be some exclusions. War, after all, is not an equal opportunity employer, or at any rate not for long. The aged, the seriously infirm, the mad, the grossly obese must surely be excluded. A totally inclusive navy would probably sink even before it engaged in action. It would never even put to sea.

A couple of hundred yards from where I was staying in Paris there was a slogan painted on the road, I must say in rather elegant handwriting. “Our bodies,” it said, “our choice.”

Well, as far as my own body is concerned, there was quite a lot I did not choose: my height for example, or the number of my legs. I might have liked three, but I was stuck with two. If I decided that henceforth I would prefer one, I doubt (and hope) that I could not find a surgeon to oblige. We are often stuck with what we have. Of course, I know what the slogan was really driving at: but why not say it, instead of indulging in an obvious falsehood?

The enunciation of high-sounding but impossible principles disguises from us something that we would rather not know, though in fact we do know it and cannot but know it: namely that the world and life are often intractable and unfair. Not everything can be bent to our wishes, a fact which we find an assault on our self-regard. Better to hide the truth, in the process making ourselves sound liberal and generous.

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