June 10, 2009
No Laughing Matter

We’ve invaded a country to rip off its resources, subjected its people to bombardment, kidnappings, rape and torture, and a comedian goes over to yuck it up with the troops. Does that strike you as a tad bit unseemly?

What if Chinese troops occupied San Francisco, turned the Presidio into a torture chamber, looted the de Young museum (or at least allowed it to happen because they were ordered to guard the financial district instead), and were building a gigantic, armed fortress in Golden Gate Park.

Then, after six years of this, they sent a comedian over who subsequently made jokes about all the steep hills and the damp fog, engaged in funny banter with the commanding general, and buttered-up the soldiers by calling them the best looking fighting force the world had ever seen?

What if all this was going on as car bombs were blowing up and killing people at the same time?

I’m a big Stephen Colbert fan, and I appreciate that he’s trying to help the morale of American soldiers. They are, apart from the Iraqis themselves, the biggest victims of the moral catastrophe called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom,’ which at best was naked theft, and at worst was George W. Bush’s wicked attempt to get his face carved on Mt. Rushmore.

But this whole thing feeds into a deep, underlying militarism that pervades our language, outlook, and culture, which in turn enables the U.S. government to persist in vicious and costly imperial follies that will, eventually, bring this country down (if they haven’t already).

Here’s James Madison, writing in 1795:

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few… [There is an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals ... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.

Now look at the effusive praise we’re required to heap on our soldiers. Notice that saying, “Thank you for your service” has become etiquette when speaking to veterans (and which is often uttered with the mechanical emptiness of a Safeway clerk telling you to have a nice day). And consider the endlessly repeated statement that our soldiers are “defending our freedoms” when, at least in the case of Iraq, they most certainly are not.

All of these seemingly benign displays of patriotism effectively place the army above criticism, which also, conveniently, places the Pentagon above criticism, allowing it to indulge its bottomless need for more war, more money, more political power. Our patriotism and good manners are cynically turned against us so the Warfare State can rumble along, unimpeded by any significant opposition. We become damned by our virtues. It’s Madison’s “degeneracy of manners and of morals” in action.

This also serves to relieve us of the guilt we all share for acquiescing in the abuse and maltreatment of our soldiers. Despite all the jingoistic noise to the contrary, this country has a long and shameful history of mistreating its veterans, from Shay’s Rebellion to the suppression of the Bonus Army, right on down to the epidemic rates of alcoholism and suicide among Iraq veterans (which the Pentagon is only belatedly recognizing as a problem).

We know, down inside, that our soldiers are being used as de facto mercenaries for venal contractors or pawns in the service of grubby political aims that have nothing to do with our freedom or security. So we ostentatiously brag about how we support the troops, stick a magnet on the back of our car, and convince ourselves that we really are good patriots. It’s like a man who constantly tells his wife he loves her to conceal the fact the he’s having an affair.

Meanwhile, have you heard about the $100 billion dollar military appropriations bill to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq currently going through Congress? Maybe you have, maybe you haven’t, but I bet you’ve heard about Stephen Colbert getting his head shaved.


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Posted by OHollern at June 10, 2009 04:04 PM
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the problem is not colbert going to iraq to entertain the troopers, the problem is the total lack of intelligent media reporting on what's going on in iraq -- or anywhere. colbert staying home isn't going to change that.

you'd think, given the difficult financial situation of so many media companies, that ONE of them would decide to fill the information void. but, no, instead they're all doubling down on teh stupid.

until the terrorist went nuts at the holocaust museum the best the news programs could do is discuss whether it's appropriate for dave letterman to make rape jokes about a 14-yr-old (which he didn't do) or laugh at sarah palin's wardrobe choices.

Posted by: karen marie on June 10, 2009 6:21 PM

What a load, Ohollern. Let's back up a little. Let's start before those Chinese invaded San Francisco and ask why they did it. To use your own metaphor, it would have been because a bunch of terrorists (led by a beardless millionaire named Pelosi?) kidnapped Chinese airliners and ran them into the Olympic stadium in Beijing. Changes things a little, doesn't it?

Posted by: Phillyboy on June 10, 2009 10:32 PM

Phillyboy, You're either as dumb as a pile of shit sitting on a rock or intentionally making false arguments. Any dimwit in America ought to know by now that Iraq had nothing to do with 911. But maybe you haven't gotten to dimwit level yet. A pile of shit sitting on a rock just festers till it stinks to high heaven and I can smell you all the way from Philly.

Posted by: CentalPADude on June 11, 2009 7:02 AM

My goodness, can't we all be friends here? In the spirit of harmony then, let me point out that Ohollern is right in identifying the underlying problem as our boyish love of war, but there's an upside to that of course, as Phillyboy probably appreciates. Spending all our money blowing shit up keeps us from piddling it away on things like health care, infrastructure, poverty and education.

Posted by: PSymbol on June 11, 2009 8:08 AM

I'm in the deep South (a long way away) and it took the smelling salts to bring me back to consciousness. High heaven is, most assuredly, closing the shudders in the face of such crap slinging.

Posted by: knowdoubt on June 11, 2009 8:08 AM

That was for Will Bunch, who has to put up with dozens of these right wing clowns from Philly on his Attytood blog who don't have a clue and make up stuff all the time or they just repeat the latest thing that the propagandist for rich people, Rush Limbaugh said.

Posted by: CentralPADude on June 11, 2009 5:20 PM

I was referring to the crap that we had any business invading Iraq, at all, I hope you know.

Posted by: knowdoubt on June 12, 2009 7:37 AM

I have to agree with this article. The US military co-opts entertainers who are critical of their activities. This thing with Colbert is kind of an extension of the "embedded reporter" scam that the DOD dreamed up. It's a scam similar to the one where somebody asks you for help, say a ride to the doctor, and before the day is done you've had to drive them all over town and back, and loan them some money to boot.

Posted by: rougy on June 15, 2009 5:43 PM

Awesome post! It rings true for me and I hadn't thought about it but I didn't like the Colbert Report Troop Specials. It seemed genuflecting and a fawning that must've warmed the cockles of many a jingoist.

Posted by: Richie on June 17, 2009 1:19 AM
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