Armistice Veterans Day, America!
After a mind-boggling and borderline miraculous series of false starts and blown deadlines, we are on the road. Again.
After a couple farewell visits with great friends last night, we backed out of our buddy Rick’s driveway in Tumwater a little before 7. Ten minutes later I was easing onto I-5 south, taking care not to get ground up in the wheels of a big rig hauling a double trailer-load of caskets.
So much for auspicious beginnings.
A half hour or so later, the early-morning gloom was broken by the always-inspiring vision presented by Uncle Sam’s billboard outside of Chehalis. The two-sided board is the pestilential brainchild of Alfred Hamilton, a cantankerous turkey farmer who at least could have claimed to be a right-wing nutcase before right-wing nutcases were fashionable.
The billboard, which levels a wide-ranging hatred at gays, immigrants, Democrats, communists (Mr. Hamilton might’ve considered the last two one and the same), public institutions of all kinds (see photo above) and slackers like me.
Mr. Hamilton, who ran an RV park on the site, died in 2004. His reactionary and irrepressible spirit has been carried on by his family. The sheer bewilderment produced by his work saw his fame spread from coast to coast. Even the New York Times took time out from its busy schedule of maintaining the status quo to note his passing.
Anyway, today’s north-facing message:
“If Obama is re-elected, who will he blame for this mess?”
Pretty tame stuff, compared to …
Good old-fashioned, racist-infused xenophobia …
Garden-variety crackpot paranoia …
And a general embrace of democracy and all its trappings …
Well, god bless Uncle Sam. I’m sure Uncle Sam blesses God.
And thank goodness for the First Amendment, without which we might be deprived of the enjoyment, ironical or otherwise, produced by Uncle Sam’s pugnacious billboard.
Today is a perfect day to celebrate the wonder that is Uncle Sam. Though he’s exactly 200 years old in 2012, Uncle Sam first came to broad prominence during the run-up to the United States’ entry into World War I. And Veterans Day began life as Armistice Day, celebrating as it did the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918. Armistice Day remains an official holiday in France and Belgium.
Uncle Sam’s pointing finger and glowering eyes helped deliver my maternal grandfather and thousands of other guileless American boys into Doughboy uniforms. Woodrow Wilson, who had just been reelected behind the campaign slogan “He kept us out of war,” performed a dizzying 180 and dragged us headlong into war.
Having exhausted so much lip service in the cause of neutrality, he had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time to whip us into a belligerent frenzy. His administration created the Committee on Public Information (aka Creel Committee), which produced a propaganda campaign that was nothing short of revolutionary.
Wilson’s born-again zeal for world war knew few bounds. He spared no power to silence war critics. His administration made war on recalcitrant unions, threw dissenters into jail and created the pernicious Espionage Act of 1917 (which the Obama administration has revived to persecute whistleblower Bradley Manning and other inconvenient persons).
And he leaned on Uncle Sam to make sure we became good and embroiled in the absolutely pointless slaughter that was World War I. At least 300,000 American troops were killed, maimed and otherwise scarred, helping lift the global total into the vicinity of 20 million.
And for what? Absolutely nothing, save the investments of powerful bankers, munitions makers and other wealthy interests. The wholesale carnage, which destroyed an entire European generation, didn’t even have a genuine monster like a Hitler or a Mussolini to give the whole defend-our-freedom thing an air of legitimacy.
In honor of Uncle Sam and my grandfather and the millions whose lives were ruined by the war which did absolutely nothing to end all wars, I’ll send you off with a double dose of Veterans Day musical irreverence.
First up is the Pogues’ version of Eric Bogle’s bitterly poignant “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” …
And second comes from the criminally obscure Robert Earl Keen, who delivers an ebullient cover of the good, old Grateful Dead (we were there, and I practically bounced out of my socks at the sound of the intro):