[note: The literary conceit that fuels this piece is in no way intended as an insult or belittlement of the experiences being suffered through by all people in the Persian Gulf, troop or not, American or not]
First I have to say that I am aware the generous service the General has offered me by stalling the ground war this whole month and allowing our planet to remain in-attacked. This is not to say that the war has not inflicted a few casualties on me. I was first hit by the war with bombs blowing me apart in what I thought was the relative safety of my evening living room, and I yelled to my wife still safe in our kitchen, "Take Cover!"
But she could not; the blast was too powerful. An instant later, our son was consumed. He came down the stairs from his safe room covered with bioregional maps of America and was caught by the flash that powered its way through our window out to the global village. The night was the 16th. We were at war. Hours before, the final gauntlet had been thrown down and the mad dictator was forced to play his hand and thrust the world into measureless bloodshed: a frontal assault on the presidential bunkers of General George Herbert Himmler Bush by House Resolution #34-- Representative Henry B. Gonzales filed articles of impeachment against the president just after 1pm that 16th1, by 6pm that night the bombs were tearing apart Baghdad. A fresh crusade was launched. Few Americans knew about the impeachment; the first bomb blew it clear off the airwaves.
When those first bombs went off I and my family escaped to a subterranean bunker: the bar of an Italian restaurant and consumed heavily. The General was coy and assuring. He brought in lots of people to agree with him and wear impressive appearing captions. I must admit I read plenty and appreciated not a one. How could I choose to listen to someone who had purposefully studied war, I wondered to my family. What could anyone know in the first few hours of a war, anyway? Unable to answer, my family went home and prayed to sleep in peace through the night. Our prayer was unanswered.
The next morning, the General strut right and righter still as he made a causality report: ""We have been 80% effective in our destruction of Iraq's fighting capabilities. All hail this progress, victory will soon be ours, Saddam is on the ropes."" His reporters all bowed and scraped before him, the mighty American warrior. Then he sent the homefront troops out to do battle throughout the global village. I was a field when a fighter pilot got me in his sights: Steve Tate, the most beautiful warrior I had ever seen. He was flying a CNN 24hour bomber, ack-acking about his, the first, kill of the war. I was with a black guy and we both jerked about as Capt. Tate's shrapnel tore through us with the icy precision of clinical attack and death. I have to admit, with men like Capt. Tate victory for the Bushiters2 seemed assured. I had to take refuge and recover.
When I returned to the battle that afternoon, my fellow troops were praising the American forces potential for quick victory. Everyone was considering whether or not we were going to be able to just go home and watch "US Justified Victory" on the networks, one of my long time favorite shows. I found a sign in recycling that read, "Sorry God, we Tried."
But then that night the enemy launched another attack this time complete with the gas masks on reporters. I had previously considered the masks only an effective symbol of the horror of war. Guess what, they were a real effective symbol all right. That night my family ate a crummy dinner made slap dash between trembles for the future. The enemy won again.
Still, it was until the following week before I, in person, saw the enemy troops. Though, we'd been continually shelling the enemy with don't trade blood for oil signs since before Thanksgiving, we had not met resistance before. Now there were hundreds of them. They were waving AMERICA© flags to distract me, calling how violence was the human purpose of AMERICA©, and AMERICA© meant justification for mass murder or provoking the other guy unto mass murder so long as our interests remained protected. They called for "Democracy!" and insisted we shut up. They claimed to be the chosen because "they support the troops” … obligation to be cannon fodder and maybe get to do a little killing and raping to let off that typical youthful steam. They were pissed because the Bears were out of the Superbowl and rallied behind the other hometeam instead.
The General was leading them. As they came upon our troops, he chanted, "Look at them, longhaired commie-type pinko fags; they are destroying Your AMERICA©. Every anti-war protestor here, including the ones who weren't born yet, were among the greasy morally bankrupt anti-war protestors that lost the last war on you. They spit on your sons and fathers. " He pointed at our quivering collection of signs reading, Thou Shalt Not Kill and Don't Trade Blood for Oil, and bellowed, "Love you father, love your country, kill those war protesters!" They attacked with such fury it was hard not to believe these people thoroughly supported violence. We fled. The enemy won again.
That night On TV I saw the general giving out his latest causality report:” We have been 50% effective in our destruction of Iraq's fighting capabilities. All hail this progress, victory will soon be ours, Saddam is on the ropes."" His reporters all bowed and scraped before him, the mighty American warrior. That weekend our troops movements were restricted to snowbound side streets and unvisited buildings even though we'd scheduled to meet in the capital rotunda and march proudly down the main streets of town, begging for peace. It seemed the pro-war-riors needed the rotunda to place a flag in and we might pain them too badly if they saw us on streets where decent people drove. We would pain them by reminding them that they had a choice: to think or obey. I heard a woman say I wish the leaders of our country cared as much about the rape of their own women as they do about "the rape of Kuwait." I heard a WWII veteran/victim say there would be no war if there wasn't money made on it. Though it took a few years of taunting, by 1950 we got a military industrial complex going. And when we couldn't use anymore of the weapons, despite solid efforts every ten years or so, we started selling them to other dictators to terrorize their people into submission and when they couldn't afford them, we gave them money to buy them even if we had to sell cocaine to our own youth to afford it.
I dragged the General aside and asked, "Is the real reason we're at war with Hussein that he didn't buy American when we gave him money for guns?"
He sniggered, "No, the real reason is that you TV generations are stupid. You can't remember any of the lessons that sneak out through the networks unless they're talking about cool new ways to consume or not consume whichever is the current fashion. You don't even know how to think and don’t have the patience to learn. The war is breaking you into three camps-- those who find war wrong, those who find war right and those who find war boring. Once the majority of a population find mass murder and systematic destruction of a culture too boring to consider and just wish they could find another channel to watch, no one will care if I wage continuous war with one stooge or another for the rest of all time. Of course, even if they figure it out, I can always just stop the current war and start a new one, long as our economy is so based on military issues, it doesn't matter what the people might think, the national budget is going to require wars on a regular basis to keep itself afloat. People are so pissed off with current conditions it isn't hard to make them want to fight somebody. Hey We could try Japan again. They are being decidedly un-American by not paying our Mercenary Forces of America© in the gulf."
Just then a crowd of Pro-war-riors spotted the General and offered to shove my "My Country Right or Wrong" is dead wrong, think peace, THINK! sign up my ass to keep the world safe for democracy.
I cried, "Come on people, where do we set the limit of my country right or wrong? Was the country right, before the Bill of Rights, a major change in its way of doing business, was it right to allow slavery? Just a couple of changes in the status quo over the last couple hundred years. Are you gonna be un-America if you don't vote for the incumbent in the next election?"
One of the more timid pro-war-riors asked, "What is he talking about?"
The General said, "Ignore him, it's drugs making him talk that way."
One of them laughed, "Next war."
"Yes," gleamed the General, "After we've established the line between the worthy AMERICA© worshippers and all the heathen religions, and you all do have your AMERICA© flags right? You know the two cents worth of yellow ribbon we're selling at the supermarket for a dollar forty-nine? Once we've got everybody tagged into an U.S. Or them category, then we can go on and do battle with those who refuse to solely consume authorized major industry products and ethics." And they carried him away on their shoulders. Only a few were trampled while reaching for his hem.
I cried to them as they vanished over a hill, "But I too am a loyal American, loyal enough to know that loyalty to my country specifically does not mean loyalty to whatever the current jerk in power says. In supporting the war you are not supporting the troops; you are sending them to their death and dehumanization by making them become murderers themselves."
"They don't want to hear that, son."
I turned to find a middle-aged world-weary man standing with a encyclopedia volume in his hand. "Who are you?"
"I sell knowledge, will you buy this bible?"
I hung my head, "Sorry sir, like most of my generation, I prefer to squander my money and free time on video games and trashy magazines."
"I knew we should have kept the draft you young Americans do not know the value of your freedom without spending time in the military, at least government service," he said, "You know, I served as a lieutenant in 'Nam."
"Oh," I said, "Another pro-war-rior?"
"Why would you say that? I'm just saying without a structured way of appreciating what good about America, you have no way of understanding what's wrong with America©. I'm clear as to which I resent more: the government that sent me into a war they would not let me win and patted me on the back with hollow praises ten years too late or the protesters who got my ass back in one piece but spat on me for going in the first place. The war in ‘Nam was just an excuse to spend money and waste the last generation before televised thought control. We could have won that one, and I mean, utterly destroyed the country, at any time; just as we could win this one, but then as now we first have to spend up the inventory and create a demand for new weapons production."
"Then it's a phony war?"
"Tell that to the half a million troops over there going through real wartime hardships. The General will keep them miserable and fearing death, until he's ready to end it with some form of remote control mass destruction and then they'll all praise him for not killing them."
"That's the thing," I said, "and through it all the little kids are watching the nightly propaganda and being taught that wars are always right so long as the president sez so."
"Yeah," he gave me a world weary nod, "another generation of pro-violence indoctrination so we won't be too upset when the murder rate climbs in oppressed inner cities and the government has to 'clamp down' on them or when big business gets tired of fooling around with environmental protesters and just starts shooting them. The kids will learn that it's a violent world and the good guys are gooder because their guns are bigger. You see, son, you anti-war protesters keep thinking that the pro-war-riors don't understand the facts and if they did they'd not support a thing as evil as mass murder even if its cloaked in patriotism. The fact is most of them are afraid to try to understand it and the ones that do have already been convinced that violence is the America©-n way. The fact is if you aren't in favor of this senseless mayhem you actually are un- America©-n " He pointed to a collection of encyclopedias and other great books that were worth roughly what I got left to pay on my second car. "If you won't buy the war then buy these bibles instead. They all point out that no matter what reasons you dress it in, war is murder, but there's lots of money to be made. Knowledge isn't power, it's distraction. It always comes down to a choice of peace or prosperity. So give me your prosperity and I will sell you peace, though not piece of mind."
I left him standing there. As the time had been passing since the war begun and my very own state senator wished I would get out of the country if I wouldn't wave a flag with him, I've sincerely missed waving an America©-n flag. I’ve missed being proud of my country.
I've missed working to save as much of America the beautiful as is left because all us recycling activists are now so busy fighting the war, we'll drive one per car on an eighteen hundred mile round trip to be ignored when we rally to say end the fighting. I miss having my money welcome in my favorite places of consumption because I'm not wearing yellow ribbon. I miss not driving for blocks and blocks without being assailed by fervent yellow-ribbon fever and having to wonder whose side who is on: the troops or the war. I miss the freedom to just boycott this beer for supporting the campaign against marijuana production and that cigarette company for supporting Jess Helms. That all seemed so simple next to seeing and hearing all these advertisements from my favorite companies going on with that designer empty slogan, “supports the troops." I can't boycott the whole country!
I miss the innocence I once lived in by not knowing that Rep. Gonzales’ impeachment initiative was probably what pressured Bush into launching the attack before news of legitimate complaints concerning the war could make it to the people. Though since that day all the major news services have done their best to keep me ignorant of that legitimate wars against international violence while they toy with the real important question of how many ways can you say, "US. Forces Pound Iraq" and keep people feeling good about it. I miss being able to believe that Saddam Hussein is the next Hitler and so we should rally in global opposition of him, because I now know that after eight years and global support he couldn't even whip Iran (though of course we were selling them arms too).
This morning, once again Iraq offered a peace we can't condone and so we rejected it. He said if you want Iraq out of Kuwait then get Israel out of Lebanon. If you want to be propagandized as seekers of peace and goodness through superior weaponry why don’t you please stop bombing our children's bunkers. If U.N. sanctions against one country for invading another country really justify this kind of violence then what should we do about the U.N. sanctions America© incurred when you invaded Panama and left thousands in mass graves. I miss not being able to understand what he meant by this.
I've gone and bought myself a America©-n flag. I figure even if people don't know what I mean I can still wave in the memory of the America we could have had without this war. Of course I had to buy it from the authorized Don't you love the smell of America©-n righteousness and them boys battling in the desert storm department of my local supermarket, right beside the new display of pin-ups posters of those dashing reporters who risk their lives by repeating what they are told to say and trying to look good at the same time. The flag is spray- painted plastic on a stick with the price tag stuck right in the middle.
Just now I see the General on my TV again giving the latest causality report: "We been 15% effective in our destruction of Iraq's fighting capabilities. All hail this progress, victory will soon be ours, Saddam is on the ropes." His reporters all bowed and scraped before him, the mighty American warrior. Weakly, I wave my little flag and pray, "God, support the troops, whatever that really means."
1. Read THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD, Jan. 16th, 1991 pages H520-21; tell your friends and wonder why you had to read about it in THE ALTERNATIVE and did not see it on network news
2. A connection between George Bush and bullshit first coined by John Ohliger in a column that was "solicited yet not printed" in ADULT CONTINUING EDUCATION TODAY, the Dec. 31st year in review issue.
Thanks to Jackie Jackson who was not consulted on this article but was an immense help in its conception. Also Cecelia Cornell on the cold war history, Bob Shallenberg for the Vietnam history, the usual Sara and Marc Parker for the "network pin-up" and "us against them" images respectively, the Jan.31 issue of ILLINOIS TIMES for a special war options section, SATYGRAHA magazine Feb issue though I'm not sure why, and Samuel, my son for the "everybody's getting sick from it" image.
[Note: This episode marks the one year anniversary of STOVGEN. THANX TONY!! For those interested, a collection of the series is now available through Cohillican Productions. 535 W. Canedy Spfld, Il. 62704/528-8874]