Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Standup Comedy

Some things never change, do they? Another right-wing acquaintance of mine passed along this cartoon on Facebook. He commented, "Because freedom isn't free."

What, I wonder, is the point? It seems to be that because our freedom to dissent was bought by the blood of patriots, we should never actually use it. I've heard that one since the Vietnam era, and I'm sure it was old then. It's especially humorous coming from a right-winger, since they feel quite free to dissent (against Democratic Presidents, anyway) whether they've shed blood for America or not, and usually they haven't. Our wars aren't sacrosanct either, as long as they are the work of Democratic politicians -- Republicans objected vociferously to Bill Clinton's war in the Balkans, for example -- but no one had better object to Republican wars.

I've written before -- here, for example -- about the inconvenient reality that the US has not fought a defensive war in my lifetime; certainly the Iraq War, probably the one in which the class's visiting Marine lost the ability to stand, had nothing to do with defending Americans' rights not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance (an act of idolatry which this country managed to survive without for its first century and more). And it's often been noticed that wars tend to be associated with the suppression of freedom at home.

The deepest irony about this cartoon, though, is that the biggest threat to freedom in the US comes not from outside our borders, but from inside them: from people who try to impose conformity either gently, as in this cartoon, or violently, as seen in many assaults on protesters and dissenters. (I've been looking online for a copy of the photograph of an American veteran, Howard Gottesman, being hit by eggs thrown by pro-war goons during a protest against the Vietnam War in 1966. No luck; it can be seen on the first page of the photo section of Jerry Lembcke's The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam [NYU Press, 1998]. As Lembcke writes, it was opponents of the war who were spat on, not returning veterans, and they were spat on by those who supported the war.)

Notice, too, that there is no context in the cartoon for Kevin's refusal to stand. I think his posture is meant to indicate insolence and even laziness, as though he's refusing to join in the Pledge simply to be different, or cool. But compare a real American kid who refused on principle to recite the Pledge of Allegiance: Will Phillips. His teacher was angry and some of his all-American classmates called him a gaywad, but he stuck by his decision. Here's a nice piece from an Arkansas newspaper in Phillips's support; the writer even questions the validity of the Pledge, though finally he says it's "harmless" while supporting the boy's refusal to go along with the practice. Much better, and more thoughtful, than the cartoon above.