Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Somebody please stop that war now

I've had one of those days where emotional truths suddenly take form out of nothing and overwhelm all of your normal barricades and other defenses. Which is pretty much where we all are in the early 21st century.

I was walking into work from the metro, listening to my iPod, listening to a playlist of 1960s/70s pop. Jimmy Cliff's song "Vietnam" came on--for those of you who don't know him, he's a reggae star of the anti-war period, with a movie and an album called The Harder They Fall, and another album, Wonderful World, Beautiful People. "Vietnam" has a very routine, rolling reggae beat, so it's almost cheerful, and the words tell your basic story, sentimental even--this is a pop song, right?:

"Yesterday I got a letter friend
fighting in Vietnam,
and this is what he had to say:
'Tell all my friends that I'll be coming home soon,
my time will be up sometime in June
Don't forget,' he said, 'to tell my sweet Mary
her golden lips are sweet as cherries.'

And it came from Vietnam, Vietnam . . .

It was just the next day
his mother got a telegram
it was addressed from Vietnam
Now Mistress Brown, she lives in the USA
and this is what she wrote and said:
'Don't be alarmed,' she told me
the telegram said, 'but Mistress Brown,
your son is dead.'

And it came from Vietnam, Vietnam . . .

Somebody please stop that war now--"

And that's exactly when I had my hand on the door of the federal office building in which I work. And this is when the emotional truth just hit--as though it's something I don't know intellectually--but there's a big difference between coming to know an intellectual truth and being sucked into an emotional truth. You don't know anything until you've been devoured by emotional truth--at least, that's my opinion.

So, suddenly, the whole day crumpled up from the sky on down and was in my hand resting on the door to the federal office building. And even though I started to cry, I went in anyway. I thought about my cousin who did a tour in Iraq with the Airforce, and how she's willing to go back. I thought about my dad in late 1967 or early 1968 getting his orders to transfer from Germany, where he was stationed with the Army and where we were all living to leave us and go to Vietnam. He called his CO to ask if he could stay with my mom until my brother was born--his third child. And the CO looked up his record and told him, in one of those deus ex machina moments, and said, 'oh, your tour is almost up, you don't have to go.' And my dad feels guilty about that, about not going. But what are the odds that my dad would be alive today if he went to Nam in 1968?

Or, since my only experience with war is through the movies, the scene in Apocalypse Now where the private played by Laurence Fishburne is killed in the attack on the swift boat, his cassette tape letter from his mother still playing after the noise from the guns dies out.

What's my point? That the War is wrong? That it's wasteful? Sure. But how many of us feel that, rather than just know it? How many of us keep justifying it because the situation has created the problem it was said to be the solution to, the original situation that didn't exist?

Maybe my point is more that my generation is the last one to have both actual memories of Viet Nam as well memories of 9/11? I don't remember protests--I was 4 in 1968, but I was 11 on April 30, 1975, and we were state-side. And I remember watching some of the footage, watching us leave. It's hard to imagine those years--in fact, almost all of my life at that point, since the conflict started roughly in 1965 and I was born in 1964--Kennedy's assistance to the South Vietnamese beginning even earlier--but watching the national event that's taken center stage all of your life--all of it, the big bloody mess, the bodies, the guns, the fucked-up civilian leadership, the crazed generals, the sane generals, the skulls, the missing limbs, the diplomats who were probably still wearing their pencil ties--all of that funneled up the stairs of an embassy in a foreign climate, up the stairs to the roof, up the steps of a platform to a helicopter pad loading in the lucky few and ferrying them out to aircraft carriers in the South China Sea. What I can't really forget were people clinging to the landing gear as each one took off. That's desperation.

But, as an adult, what I think of are the absolute waste of willing lives. My whole life, I've felt a sense of pride at seeing men in military uniforms. I played with their kids growing up on military bases in Germany and in the summers when my dad's commitment to the service continued through the Army Reserve and we spent time at Forts Belvoir and Lee. I remember driving through the armed gates of the forts in the family station and sensing how seriously the sentries took their jobs, although this was well before the current era when it might be a life or death proposition. I don't know if I articulated it this way or not then, but to think that any of them would pick up their gun and lay down their lives for me, no matter what I thought or said, is a thought that still fills me with admiration and awe.

Which is why I can't bear the thought anymore of these soldiers, like Great Mothers of Us All, being cut down anymore. Says the girl with her hand on the door to the federal office building. Who do I tell to please stop this war? Who's actually listening?

Not that stupid prick Richard Cohen, columnist for the Wash Post, which is about the most polite epithet I can think to call him. So I go into my office building and flip through the online opinion section at the Post, and there's Mr. Cohen, gutless wonder, firebreathing war monger, defender of sports star rapists, who sold his soul or god knows what to get out of going to Vietnam, and still doesn't get the fact that he's no longer on the outside of things, he's One of Them, the boys of the establishment--but to get back to it, there's that stupid prick Richard Cohen, calling his column today something like Digital Lynch Mob (High-Tech Lynching was already taken). Mr. Cohen is aggrieved because people are rude to him in emails when he says things like, 'Stephen Colbert just isn't funny.'

This is what Mr. Cohen has to say at the end of his column:

"But the message in this case truly is the medium. The e-mails pulse in my queue, emanating raw hatred. This spells trouble -- not for Bush or, in 2008, the next GOP presidential candidate, but for Democrats. The anger festering on the Democratic left will be taken out on the Democratic middle. (Watch out, Hillary!) I have seen this anger before -- back in the Vietnam War era. That's when the antiwar wing of the Democratic Party helped elect Richard Nixon. In this way, they managed to prolong the very war they so hated.

The hatred is back. I know it's only words now appearing on my computer screen, but the words are so angry, so roiled with rage, that they are the functional equivalent of rocks once so furiously hurled during antiwar demonstrations. I can appreciate some of it. Institution after institution failed America -- the presidency, Congress and the press. [jes: um, and you, too, Mr. Cohen, you failed us, too with your drooling appreciation for the coming war] They all endorsed a war to rid Iraq of what it did not have. [yup, that would be you, too, dickless wonder] Now, though, that gullibility is being matched by war critics who are so hyped on their own sanctimony [let's try to go back and look at some of your sanctimonious bullshit about the Iraq War early on--I think you actually talked with pride about your own sanctimony in endorsing this vast mess--have you forgotten? conveniently, I guess] that they will obliterate distinctions, punishing their friends for apostasy and, by so doing, aiding their enemies. If that's going to be the case, then Iraq is a war its critics will lose twice -- once because they couldn't stop it and once more at the polls.
cohenr@washpost.com"

1. I'm really tired of being told by the likes of people like Richard Cohen that I shouldn't be angry, that I should just sit on my ass and lick the Republicans' balls like he does. "Aiding their enemies"?, who are you? Ari Fleischer? What this country needs is a little anger, and a little less of sunshine patriots like Dickie Cohen telling us we've got a problem.

2. Have you looked in a mirror lately, Richard? Noticed that you're white? I don't think you get to use the word "lynch mob."

3. I actually sent Mr. Cohen a very polite note this morning explaining to him that perhaps he should listen to Jimmy Cliff and maybe he should consider the fact that the media is getting beaten up over the Colbert story because, one, that was by any objective standard, the story coming out of that dinner, and the media just ignored it until the blog world pointed out what had happened, and, two, that the mainstream media had then tried to play bait and switch by suggesting that the real story was that Colbert just wasn't funny. I tried, politely (honestly), to explain to Mr. Cohen that political satire doesn't need to be 'funny'. Good political satire is about making people feel uncomfortable; it has nothing to do with humor, really. I reminded him of Jonathan Swift's essay on the Irish "problem" in which he advocated eating babies. That's not funny, but it sure as hell is effective. So the real question is, was Colbert effective in making people feel uncomfortable? Judging from the footage I've seen of that dance hall, yeah, he sure was. Too bad the mainstream media is so thin-skinned.

Well, that's a hell of a 100th post. I got in a number of interesting curse words. That's gotta count for something.

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