This past Fourth, I was probably as caught up in the spectacle of the synchronized mesh of daunting fireworks and rousing music as anyone. It was as my gaze ran from earth to the heavens a notion, seemingly incongruent to the pervasive symphony of the confected patriotism on display, interjected itself for a brief moment.
As I was growing up in the 50s and early 60s in suburban Detroit, the John Wayne caricature of manliness was dominant. Every guy you encountered was either a competitor, or a potential competitor, for the girl, and the question was there: Can I take him?
Whether it was to the maintained façade of tough, of being good enough, or to some measure of it, being up to the task was important; so important that one’s self image depended to a degree on it. Not being good enough would have been such an incredible disgrace that it was just unthinkable. Also, in the 60s, the standards for service in the Army or the Marines was so pitifully low that one had to be a truly pitiful specimen to be graded “unfit.”
I suppose it’s not especially pertinent now. My feelings have softened, mellowed. But for years I wondered, of those who did not serve their country, especially after President Kennedy challenged all of us — and what even modestly capable and patriotic American would ever deign eschew a challenge? — to “ask what [we] could do for [our] country,” how certifiably low must they have been on the fitness and patriotism scales to not serve their country?
For a few years in the 80s, I possessed a professional designation from the American Society of Appraisers. Every month the chapter meeting commenced with the Pledge of Allegiance. Of the 30 or so members in the chapter, I and only one other had served in America’s armed forces. From June of ’64 to mid-June of ’67, I was in the army infantry and was one who volunteered to go to Vietnam. However I do remember it wasn’t in either the Army or the Marines, I cannot now recall in which of the non-combat branches — the Navy or Air Force — the other member served.
I can tell you how a “stand-up” guy is defined. He’s someone you can count on when being counted on counts. Regardless of the ‘why’ motivation, he’ll be there for you, come hell, high water, and much worse. And he’ll be there for YOU, not for his country, not for the United States of America. Because, when it’s needed most, the USA ain’t anywhere near the discussion. That’s all for back home, which getting there in as much of one piece as possible isn’t just the prime objective, it’s the only objective.
It’s here that some effort is advanced to explain what motivates a member of the combat arm to do what he does. It is not bravery, or at least not in any but the most extreme and extremely rare instances. Most of the time, it’s out of dedication to the men in front or behind or to either side. And even that is not so easily explained. There’s the fear of military justice discipline; the Article 15 or a courts martial. Even more than that, much more, is the peer group pressure that’s at work. More than perhaps anything else, you do NOT want to be the one who wasn’t a “stand-up” soldier or marine, the one who ran and left everyone else in the lurch, the one who could — and absolutely would — be forevermore branded “COWARD!”
(By the way, although not much in favor of armchair psychoanalysis, I’m going to posit that that was the reason John McCain, while a POW, did not accept the proffered release by the North Vietnamese, electing instead to remain a captive. I don’t think that heroism or bravery had much at all to do with it. Nope, my bet is that it was what I said above that made his decision to remain with his fellow prisoners the only one that was really available to him.)
I left the American Society of Appraisers for some highly defined reasons, all of which I feel define my moral code, and my enduring sincere love of my country, this country, the United States of America, and how much contempt I hold in my heart for phonies.
I don’t like going to events where standing for the National Anthem is de rigueur. Standing up when it’s easy and meaningless, when standing up is under the coercion of the group, when to not stand up marks you as somehow unpatriotic, unloving of the country . . . Just damnably, despicably tawdry: phony as phony can become. I have known “stand-up” guys, and that’s not the how or the why a true “stand-up” person behaves. The “stand-up” person stands when doing so can cost him or her everything he or she has, or will ever have.
And as to reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, my mind cannot conceive a more thoroughly detestable or un-American behavior. Does anyone really feel that those souls who faced the hangman’s noose when they signed that most treasonous Declaration, who confronted the most powerful nation on earth, or those who weathered battle upon never ceasing battle during our Civil War, or those who endured the trenches of World War I, or who hit the beaches of Normandy, or who island-hopped across the Pacific did not adequately love this country, who were inadequately patriotic, or who would have been eve more patriotic had they had an upbringing that included as a mindless mantra the Pledge of Allegiance?
To borrow from Lloyd Benson’s retort to a smarmy Dan Quayle, “I knew ‘stand-up’ guys, ‘stand-up guys were some of my friends, and you’re no ‘stand-up’ guy . . . just because you’re standing up and covering your heart with your hand during the National Anthem, or reciting a pledge.”
All of which brings me to what Gold Hat exclaimed to Humphrey Bogart’s Dobbs in John Huston’s 1948 classic Treasure of Sierra Madre: “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. I don’t have to show you no stinkin’ badges.”
And you know what? The true stand-up guys don’t got to show you they’re standin’ up, or sayin’ no stinkin’ pledge. Statistically, the odds say “You ain’t earned the right to ask to see or hear no stinkin’ patriotic sign or hear no stinkin’ pledge.” That is most particularly so for the Republican far Right, those in the Bush administration, and the cowardly unfit squawkers of blaring cacophony; Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity . . .
I’m wide open and ready for any and all legitimate criticism of Senator Obama. He is a Christian, though what that has to do with governing well and wisely is beyond me. He did take the Oath of Office with his hand on the Bible, though I don’t see how that’s the least relevant. And he does say and occasionally lead the Senate in the Pledge of Allegiance, though I wish all honorable Americans would refuse participation in that most dishonorable exercise. Just, whatever and however you scheme to raise defects, of which he has many, do not use a lapel pin or some other figment that is intended to demonstrate adequate patriotism as part of your evidence. By the numbers, as with those agog during the fireworks on the Fourth, it’s unlikely that you’ve earned the right.
— Ed Tubbs