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The Universal Trader

by Zettel 

Posted: 13 November 2011
Word Count: 287
Summary: To the tune of Buffy Sainte Marie's Universal Soldier

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All week I have been hearing the heart-rending stories of brave young men and women whose lives have been lost or ruined. And as each year, when I watch the pomp and ceremony and marching military bands at the Cenotaph - I feel angry. So with no less respect for extraordinary young people who have given their lives:

The Universal Trader

He wears pinstripe suits and shiny shiny shoes
He deals in death for all and every cause
He sells to everyone, there’s no one cannot buy
He’s supplier to a thousand wars

He sells to Muslims and to Jews, to tyrants and to kings
To Catholics and Protestants the same
He knows he shouldn’t sell
Yes he knows it very well
Killing you for me and me for you

And he’s selling to Bosnia
He’s selling to the Serbs
He’s selling for the USA
And he’s selling for Great Britain
And he’s selling arms for France
And he knows that he will profit just the same

And he’s selling for democracies
He’s selling death for gain
He says it’s for the good of all
He’s the one whose trade decides
Who will live and who will die
And he never sees his deadly profits fall

But without him
How would Saddam have tyrannised Iraq
Without him dictators could not rule
He’s the one who launders money
From profits made from war
And without him all this killing can’t go on

He’s the Universal Trader and he really is to blame
The only one who thinks he knows the score
He doesn’t care who’s right or wrong, whose children he will maim
And we know this lethal game
Is why we’ll never put an end to war.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 20:35 on 13 November 2011  Report this post
I can feel your anger in this poem, Zettel, and it packs quite a powerful punch.

I think, perhaps, stanzas 3 and, particularly, 5 are a bit 'on the nose'. If the message here could be more abstracted, I think they would be more effective.

I don't know the tune you mention but I don't think it matters for the poem to work.


James Graham at 21:26 on 14 November 2011  Report this post
I suppose we have to remember that the arms trader’s responsibility is shared, with politicians who make war and also with ‘black market’ arms dealers and smugglers who get hold of the products of Boeing or Lockheed Martin and sell them on. All the same, I share the feelings you express in this song.

I’m reminded of the story told by Robert Fisk, who as a journalist witnessed the aftermath of an Israeli Hellfire missile attack on a Lebanese ambulance. Several children as well as adults were killed, and video evidence showed that the ambulance was deliberately targeted. Fisk found fragments of the missile from which it could be identified as having been made by Boeing and sold, not to Israel but to the US government. It was one of many that had been ‘diverted’ to Israel from Iraq - smuggled into Israel.

Fisk managed to have the fragments air-freighted to Washington, where he picked them up, took them to Boeing’s plant in Florida, and presented them - along with photos of the dismembered bodies of the victims - to three top executives. He asked them if they thought they were in any way responsible for this. It seems that at least one of them expressed genuine horror and regret, but all agreed that as employees of Boeing they were not responsible. Fisk, of course, doesn’t accept this and asserts categorically that they are responsible - even if the responsibility is shared. The Boeing executives were clearly very uncomfortable with the whole affair.

At the beginning of his chapter on the arms trade, Fisk quotes from Shaw’s Major Barbara, where Lady Britomart says to the arms manufacturer Undershaft that she supposes he has an ethical policy and sells ‘weapons to people whose cause is right and just’ but not ‘to foreigners and criminals’. Not at all, replies Undershaft; he sells ‘to all men who offer an honest price for them...to aristocrat and republican, to Nihilist and Tsar, to Capitalist and Socialist, to Protestant and Catholic, to burglar and policeman...all faiths, all follies, all causes and all crimes.’

‘He doesn’t care who’s right or wrong, whose children he will maim’. As a private individual he may have some qualms, but with his arms trader’s hat on he defends himself with refined casuistry.

I hope this song will be performed!


Robert Fisk: The Great War for Civilisation (Harper Perennial 2006) Chapter 19.

Zettel at 17:53 on 15 November 2011  Report this post
Thanks James and Ian - Fisk is at times almost a lone voice - but an eloquent one. It is the perversion of man's ingenuity and inventiveness that makes weapons research so unsettling. The salesman is a different kind of moral blindness - their usual refrain is "if we don't someone else will" just as true of drugs of course but I guess this is not so much an ethcially inconsistent area as an ethically empty area.



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