The 6 Most Cynical Exploitations of Romantic Love in History

Every year, we hear too-cool cynics deride Valentine's Day as a holiday invented by greeting card companies that cynically exploit romantic love for profit.

But we say, so what? Society has been exploiting romantic love since the day it was invented. Particularly crass examples include ...

#6. The Invention of the Diamond Ring as a Requirement for Marriage

Imagine you're a woman, if you're not already one, and let's imagine you're out for dinner with your boyfriend at the hottest restaurant in town. Right after the meal, he steps away from the table and gets down on one knee. He pulls out a ring big enough to choke a ferret.

Hey, it's a standard jeweler's unit of measurement.

For millions of lady Americans, this is pretty close to the perfect proposal. Nothing symbolizes romantic love quite as well as the precious, everlasting diamond ring. You'd never guess that it originated from a diamond company's attempt to put a price on a woman's virginity.

Until the 1930s, there were actual laws on the books guaranteeing a woman's right to sue her fiance if he jilted her before the wedding day. The reason for these "Breach of Promise to Marry" laws was that even back in the day, most girls gave up their virginity during their engagements, and if they were dumped, their hoo-hahs were clearly damaged goods. The law sort of acted as a warning to cads considering seducing virgins and bailing before making honest women of them. And once those laws were abolished, women found themselves without financial protection from horny con men.

Is there any other kind?

Enter the diamond ring and diamond syndicate De Beers. Huge, expensive diamond rings offered women an expensive symbol that the man wasn't just proposing marriage to get his willy wet. The more expensive the ring, the more your gal's virginity was worth. Which worked out pretty well for De Beers, which went balls-out manipulating the shit out of public opinion:

"We are dealing with a problem in mass psychology. We seek to ... strengthen the tradition of the diamond engagement ring -- to make it a psychological necessity capable of competing successfully at the retail level with utility goods and services ..."

We're not ad men, but we're pretty sure this translates to: "Nothing in your marriage has substance but these diamonds."

By the time De Beers was done, actresses were persuaded to wear rings in public, lecturers talked to high school girls about the importance of an expensive ring, and Japanese women abandoned ancient marriage ceremonies in favor of getting their diamond on. All of which was horrifying once we found out that a nice chunk of the labor force mining those diamonds were child slaves. And a larger chunk of diamond industry profit was supporting machete-wielding warlords.

So yeah, in conclusion, buy some sapphires. Or wedding guns. Nothing holds value like a nice gun.

Just try and fight off post-apocalyptic commie bike gangsters with some shiny stones.

But this is hardly the first time in human history that romantic love and warfare have been horribly, horribly linked. Just ask ...

#5. Homosexual Soldiers Forced to Fight to Protect Their Lovers

It's a known fact that soldiers can't fight very well when they're running away in terror. A huge amount of military training and conditioning exists for the sole purpose of getting men to stand and fight when all they really want to do is run very fast in the opposite direction. That's why military leaders spend so much time worrying about esprit de corps -- "band of brothers" will fight a lot harder than a "band of guys who sort of know each other but don't really hang out that often outside of work."

"We tried having a poker night once, but it didn't really pan out."

Back around 380 B.C., Plato started to wonder if maybe there was an even stronger bond than brotherhood, one the generals of his day could use to create an ultimate warrior who wasn't a giant douchebag. Let's see if you can guess where Plato was going with this:

"And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their loves ... Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?"

A Theban general named Gorgidas thought Plato was onto something. He used the power of love to turn 150 gay couples into the deadliest orgy in all of human history. The Sacred Band of Thebes proved that people will fight like goddamn he-men to avoid sleeping alone at night.

The Sacred Band once wiped the floor with an entire army of Spartans who had them outnumbered 3-to-1. And they did it again a second time at the battle of Leuctra, which pretty much ends the whole "Can gays fight?"debate. For 40 years, the Sacred Band of Thebes out-armied every army around, and it took no less than Alexander the Great to bring them down. All because somebody decided to exploit their love to turn them into killing machines.

Which is pretty much what happened with Alexander, too, if Oliver Stone can be trusted.

#4. Strangers Required to Marry to Keep Up a Cover

How cool would it be to grow up with parents who were spies? Movies such as True Lies and Spy Kids imagine benefits galore to having secret-agent parents. You get cool gadgets, thrilling adventures, quality time with terrorist leaders, kickass nicknames -- everything a kid could want. It's enough to make your comfy suburban childhood look perilously lame.

The only time we fought as a family was the night Dad tried PCP.

But it turns out real-life spy kids are less likely to get jet packs and more likely to end up deported with their parents. Or living the glamorous life of orphaned spy babies. Recently, 10 sleeper agents were arrested in the U.S. for being a part of a deep-cover program to spy on America. The operation was a multidecade, international insane-a-thon that assigned Russian spy couples to live in suburban America completely undercover. Sounds pretty badass, right? Sure, they were dirty commies, but you can't help but root for the plucky couple givin' democracy the old one-two.

Also, some of them were hot.

It sounds less awesome when you realize that these people weren't actually living with their secret spy soul mates. They were ordered into fake marriages by the Russian spy service. And to have hot, state-mandated spy-sex. Without the use of contraceptives.

And quite possibly without the use of eye contact.

Which led to state-sponsored spy tykes. Mom and Dad got better cover, Mother Russia got better info and the kids ... didn't know jack shit about any of this until people started talking about throwing their parents out of the country for international secret-swapping. Hey, but it was all worth it to give their cover that extra layer of authenticity, right?

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