Put the Bill of Rights on a Box of Milk

When I was a small lad wearing the uniform of the Cub Scouts, around 1966, I won a lottery that awarded me the privilege to march at the front of the Cub Scout pack carrying the American flag during the annual hometown 4th of July parade. The experience instilled in me happiness and joy that at the time was indescribable except in some probable Rockwellian way in which I must have sounded like the Beaver from the TV show Leave it to Beaver, and yelled with my protruding freckles, “Oh Boy”!

What an honor it was. I assumed the position and in my mind I was equal to those old guys wearing the funny shaped pointed hats of the American Legion as they hopped and skipped down main street trying to keep themselves in step with each drunken other. It wasn’t until later in life I got to know them personally and while sipping beers with them at the American Legion bar and ball field I realized that their marching skill didn’t matter a damn bit compared to the meaning of our friendships.

But with them, being friends didn’t mean I had to kiss their asses just because they were combat veterans of different wars and I wasn’t – thankfully – because for some reason my government decided that enough was enough in Vietnam and South East Asia.

As genocide loomed in Cambodia our national attentions began shifting to Central America where Oliver North and his Mafia Don, Ronald Reagan, found it okay to smuggle tons of cocaine into America to pollute black people (but wound up addicting nearly everyone including future presidents to be George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama) in order to subvert democracy in tiny Latin countries while trading arms for hostages with Iran. All this to benefit the Corporations who profited from exploitation of tiny little countries who foolishly believed the State Department bullshit about human rights and the gamut of propaganda they espoused while reaming real Democracy in every way possible.

In those days everyone knew Ronald Reagan was as full of shit as every president has ever been. The only difference with him is that he wore some kind of psychologically developed “Depends” for the human mind to keep the stink away from infecting the American people with the Nixon-Kissinger smell. By then Americans began to not give a damn that their president was as evil and corrupt as Nixon was because he was simply much more likeable. Plus, we kicked the holy crap out of Grenada and even though we got dealt a nasty lesson in Lebanon where the soldiers had no ammo in their guns, Reagan went down in (on) history as the person responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. Of course, that’s as big a Fairytale as Custer being a victim of Native American savagery.

No, those old guys at the Legion were pretty cool. The oldest ones would sell the little paper poppies in town once a year and the middle aged ones were the fathers and grandfathers of my friends. They always seemed to know what we kids were up to, and didn’t even care when they caught us engaged in lazy summer evenings of reefer madness of the sort that would give us ten-year sentences complete with a diet of rape in today’s industrial prison complex. They marched in their parades, smoked, fed the poor, helped the elderly, drank beer, played cards and softball and lived as just people. They didn’t go around acting special or hyped up on steroids relishing in the American version of knighthood – that being, or seeking to be, lauded with the moniker of “Hero”.

I must admit, today’s generations of people, much younger than myself, who love the military quarter-inch haircut, with the authoritarian act and aggressive zero-tolerance attitude, women included but with longer hair, strike me as more like what I thought a Nazi SS soldier in early Hitlerian Germany would be like. They are the assholes in animal house from the rich-boy fraternity but they aren’t even rich. They’ve been conditioned and subjected to propaganda and mind control, taught to believe that being and acting like a fascist is good – is patriotism. They’ve been conditioned to accept endless war and to love hate of Islam and people unlike the ones they know.

Even the non-military acting youngsters, the ones with Abercrombie/Apple/Uran Outfitters long hair who subscribed to hipness and coolness taught to them by Madison Avenue branding and that Apple guy, the one in the commercial, who’s nothing more than a shill for a company with a really good product made in factories where employees commit suicide during work hours on a daily basis, are, when push comes to shove, full of hate and anti-Islam. It’s become very okay –normal – tolerable – in America these days to simply hate. That scares me. Hate has always been a part of the American experience and no doubt, it always will be. But plainly, hate is as big a part of the 4th of July in 2012 as any feeling of pride or genuine love of country is.

The militaristic T.V. shows portraying smugness and surety while solving simplistic problems with quippy confident lines, the knowing tough look in the eyes that seem to threaten any question of authority really pisses me off. Real patriotism, the sort that no one talks about, that goes unseen, that is something that benefits the community and human dignity for all people, IS supportive of questioning authority. I know, because there used to be a bumper sticker on millions of automobiles in the U.S. that said exactly that – QUESTION AUTHORITY. Is it not our jobs as Americans to do so?

Patriotism is not killing, fighting, blowing things to smithereens, murdering and raping, in looking the other way while soldiers piss on corpses. Patriotism is not drones watching us and living under surveillance every second of the day, being watched and asked by the government to report on your neighbors and friends. That kind of government intrusion into daily lives of citizens is tyranny. It’s what the communists did in the Soviet Union and what was done in Communist China.

The America of my youth never called itself the Homeland. When I carried that flag down Main Street as a tot not bigger than an old snapping turtle, holding it upright with all my might against the attacking wind trying to make me drop it, endlessly gripping with white knuckled pain that very heavy wooden pole atop which the giant banner resisted the onslaught of air – it wasn’t for the homeland or for me to be seen as a hero. I did it for the people who were watching the parade. For the pride of my sacrifice as a child who got to hold that flag during that parade was in being seen as a dependable part of my community. Nothing more.

To me the flag had nothing to do with war – it was about the commonality we in our town shared in loving the symbol that represents an ideal that the people of the United States live in a country free from tyranny and oppression. I truly fear that that country in which I lived in so long ago doesn’t exist anymore. I fear that real evil is lurking within our borders; fascism, racism, tyranny, militarism, and oppression, are winning over what was once a dream. The guy on the one hundred dollar bill is often quoted for having answered a question, (paraphrasing) “What have we got, a Monarchy or a Republic”? His reply, “A Republic, if you can keep it”.

We the people have not kept it. It’s been taken from us by faceless unaccountable people called corporations. We the people, no longer have a democracy, for better or for worse. Should we fight or just go like fish in a net to our demise as our dignity is stripped from us, as we get tossed into some container called a free speech zone?

Ko Tha Dja has worked for over five years in both Thailand and Burma on issues of education and refugee resettlement. Read other articles by Ko Tha Dja.