Having about fifteen minutes between buses, I briefly went into a downtown sporting goods/army surplus store to browse.
What I found there was deeply disturbing.
A young, very callow appearing man -- certainly under 20 years old -- was purchasing various items to take along on his “trip overseas.”
It quickly became apparent the youth was in the military and was being dispatched to Iraq. He was buying things he felt he needed. Things he thought his unit might not provide.
Apparently he’d heard the
widespread accounts of equipment shortages and deficiencies
I secretly admired his prudent foresight, thinking here was a lad who knew the score. That notion was quickly dispelled.
As he discussed the nature of his mission with the sales person, he revealed complete propaganda gullibility about his purpose: “I just want to help the Iraqi people.”
Not help subjugate them to Yankee imperialism and blatant resource theft, mind you, but help them almost in the paternalistic sense of aiding an elderly person across the street!
It was astonishing to see someone so blind to the criminal reality of what he’d soon be doing.
He undoubtedly imagined he’d be gladly welcomed as a “liberator”, and not as a despised conqueror who’d likely become a target for improvised explosive devices.
Even the fellow behind the counter, an older guy with life experience extending back to the Vietnam era, was incredulous.
“It’s cool that you have such high ideals...” he remarked, letting his thoughts and words trail off. It was plain he had something more to say -- probably unpleasant -- but discretion held it in check.
As for me, I had to fight a strong urge to grab the kid by the collar and shake him.
I wanted to say: “You damned fool! You’re nothing but rocket propelled grenade fodder in a rich man’s aggressive war to try to bring back colonialism in a world that thankfully saw its demise half a century ago. In Vietnam, kids like you believed they’d be welcomed by a grateful populace. Instead, the locals rolled hand grenades into barracks tents and GI bars. You’re leaving with a mind full of myths, but you could return in pieces inside an aluminum casket!
Instead I glanced at my watch and noticed I had to leave. No time for any instruction on the true nature of Bush’s foreign policy. I hurried past him toward the door. I didn’t even call out a “Good luck!”
That’s because doing so would imply a mission carried out successfully, in accordance with Pentagon objectives.
Which would be diametrically opposed to the Iraqi peoples’ right to sovereign self-determination, completely free of rapacious Wall Street (oil) pipe dreams.
I burned his almost childlike face into my memory, though, and I’ll be watching our town’s papers and TV for any sad news about his fate.
I hope he makes it back safe and sound -- whole and sane.
But I’ve got a bad feeling . . .
* * * *
Director Ang Lee’s movie about two cowboys with romantic feelings for each other, Brokeback Mountain, was the big winner at the annual Critics’ Choice Awards.
I haven’t seen it yet, but from everything I’ve heard and read, it’s an extremely well done, emotionally impactive, honest film.
In other words -- good. And anything good in this world, predictably, will be deemed “bad” by right-wing extremists.
Thus it came as no surprise to see a couple of fringe-dwellers picketing the awards presentation with placards, one of which read, “No homos on the range.”
There are countless, genuinely terrible things that conscientious souls should get indignantly worked up about -- certainly including every aspect of George Bush’s broad, relentless assault on peace, law, truth and freedom itself. A frank portrayal of sexual diversity doesn’t qualify and ought not even be considered.
How does someone get so self-righteously intolerant -- and completely convoluted regarding moral priorities -- that they’d weep and gnash their teeth over, say, Elton John marrying his male companion of many years standing, but refuse to stand up against an illegal, unprovoked war of greedy choice in which over 100,000 innocent civilians have perished?
What sick, twisted people these ultraconservatives are to justify a decidedly Hitlerian invasion/occupation by saying it’s all for freedom’s cause -- even as they wickedly work overtime to deny our homosexual citizens basic rights referenced in the last six words of the Pledge of Allegiance: “with liberty and justice for all.”
I’m “straight” myself.
But, by God, it’s far better to be gay than grumpy.
Or totally hypocritical, absolutely bigoted, and perilously close to being certifiably insane.
* * * *
As shameful, right-wing outlooks and attitudes sully this nation, it’s therapeutic to remember the powerful words that emanated from our country’s heartland during another wretched war.
A young man from Kentucky had risen from humble beginnings to attain success as a world champion.
“Different” in several respects, he did not hesitate to speak out against what far too many of his fellow citizens were meekly supporting.
“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years.”
To this day, Muhammad Ali remains the best-known, most-loved American on the face of the earth. He will live through history as “The Greatest”.
Take a few seconds to ponder -- with immense feeling in your heart and moisture in your eyes -- that true giants take the progressive side.
And that our side, consequently, can’t help but ultimately triumph.
Dennis Rahkonen, from Superior, Wisconsin has been writing progressive commentary for various outlets since the Sixties. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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