This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 26, 2008.
Two years, Kevin Tillman, brother of the late Pat Tillman - killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan - wrote a blistering op-ed on his brotherís birthday, which he recounted before a Congressional Committee, that immediately was applauded and tucked away as quickly as possible by all addressed. There was an election coming up, and you could understand the Bushies and neo-cons trying to bury it, but even the left and vast middle were circumspect about it. I think I know why.
Tillman castigated the Iraq war and the lies that started it, but he also tore a new one in a treasured American practice: the pretend gesture of concern, support, or approval made in public not for benefit of victims but for the gesture maker. Hereís the paragraph:
ďSomehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartener scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. Itís interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.Ē
These are good questions that do not speak well of us, and deserve continued examination. I was reminded of Tillmanís piece by the usual Thanksgiving Arenít We Just Wonderful People segments on local television. It was a story about how military families are thrilled by some charity that sends Christmas trees to them overseas. Itís a feel good gesture, but shouldnít we be concerned about those in the foxholes of the Himalayas? Rather than sending Christmas Trees to Germany, which originated them.
But Tillmanís remarks about who thought a traumatized soldier was to be ecstatic to receive that which kindergarten students scribble and their mothers or teachers toss at first opportunity is valid. Same with chickenhawk patriotic jewelry and bumper stickers. It isnít at all designed to make soldiers feel better: itís procedure to inoculate us against our deserved guilt for sending them to hell for lies and stupidity. Itís hypocritical as well as a waste of time, effort, and, eh, money.
Itís procedure that America has long followed, and it mostly comes from religion, a bastion of hypocrisy. Faith-based charity rather than the boring, but more constructive, bureaucratic programs that cost no more but are tax derived. On Christmas and Thanksgiving, appeals are made to give the poor, the homeless, a feast, or at least a meal of some sort. Because if theyíre peering in our windows as we sit down to solidify our standing as the most obese society ever, we might feel uncomfortable. Might. And if they go away to have powdered potato and frozen turkey, weíll feel like weíve done something meaningful for them, and can crow about it, and can sometimes write it off our taxes. Our newspapers are full of repetitive stories that do not focus on the recipients but on the heroic givers.
During the rest of the year, these same supposed heroes wonít give to programs to educate, chronically feed, or employ these same people. In effect, the poor are just viewed as walk-ons at need in a life with a Windham Hill soundtrack. That would require thinking about wealth and virtue, which can be such a downer.
And itís easy to send off packages of scribbled drivel to soldiers rather than vote the tax money for their college, or consider our methods of putting them in danger to supposedly protect ourselves from danger merely so the GOPís henna-haired globs of unrisen dough can feel virile.
Many of us, myself foremost, disdain Dubya because he made our policy that which fluffed himself in his own mind. He wanted to be a war president who made instant decisions based upon infallibility and god given gut feelings, and he acted the part based upon nothing more. But heís just one of us, and we as a nation have trained ourselves to do much the same thing by intellectual laziness and grotesque hypocrisy. It feels good in the gut to give a hundred dollars to the shelter on Christmas as a bribe to the deity rather than work to educate and expand their lives the rest of the year that we can benefit from each other.
Have a great Thanksgiving, and in their ministrations before eating, those in Boulder might consider the addendum that even those not friends or often in agreement benefitted greatly from the works of, and from knowing, Dr. Robert McFarland, as of this week late of this city and of KGNU and beloved by many.