Don't They Mean "Wear Something Brown?"
by Paul Street
May 6, 2003
A distant right-wing relative recently sent me an e-mail that became popular among her tribe of evangelical Midwestern American Bush enthusiasts during the middle of April. "It has come to my attention," the e-mail's anonymous author writes, "that quite a few Americans support our troops, but as usual, we are the silent majority." "I," the author proposes, "would like to start a grass roots movement using the membership of the Special Operations Association and the Special Forces Association to recognize Americans who support our troops." This movement will advance the idea that "every red-blooded American who supports our young men and women WEAR SOMETHING RED" every Friday.
"If everyone of our memberships share this with other acquaintances, fellow workers, drinking buddies, and country club friends," the writer continues," "it will not be long before the USA will be covered in RED - much to the disdain of the un-American ralliers." Soon, America on Fridays will be "a sea of red much like a home football game at the University of Nebraska."
There are at least five difficulties with this proposal and the thinking behind it. The first and most obvious issue has to do with what is meant by "support our troops." For the e-mailer and her ilk, the phrase means total loyalty to White House directives, regardless of huge problems involved in the mission George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld had ordered the troops to conduct.
Peace protesters ("un-American ralliers" in the e-mailer's language) have never come out against America's troops. They have, rather, embraced a different idea of how to best support the very predominantly working-class members of America's armed forces, most of who have joined the military because they lacked access to standard American middle-class pathways. The peace movement rejects policies that put US soldiers in harm's way by ordering them to conduct illegal, toxic (including exposure to cancer-causing Depleted Uranium, for example), immoral and unnecessary operations that create civilian casualties and increase the likelihood of future terrorist attacks on Americans at home and abroad. It is concerned about the lives of innocent Iraqis but also about the physical, spiritual and emotional health of US soldiers. Many of those soldiers, peace activists know, will return with significant problems resulting from their enlistment in an attack they were not permitted to understand.
A second problem emerges from the notion of a "grass roots movement" being organized by the Special Operations and Special Forces Associations. These are fraternal organizations composed of American and (interestingly enough) foreign participants of actions conducted by self-designated "elite" military units (Army Special Forces, Air Commandos, Navy SEALS, Force Recon Marines "and veterans of others elite military and civilian operations") in foreign "theaters." The Special Operations Forces web site displays a Badge with a Green Beret atop an almost grinning Skull and tells us that "You have never lived until you have almost died. For those who have fought for it, life has a special flavor the protected" - that's the rest of the American population - " will never know." There's something more than a little disturbing in the notion that fraternal associations of "elite" commandos - convinced that most of us "protected" American serfs owe our relatively shriveled lives to their Knightly martial magnificence - should be the core of a grassroots citizen's movement. And then there's the curious inclusion of both "fellow workers" and "country club friends" under the same "grassroots" label, consistent with modern fascism's curious capacity to mix quasi-populist, even socialist-sounding rhetoric with authoritarian glorification of class division.
A third problem relates to the "Wear Red" e-mailer's curious sense that supporters of Bush's attack on and occupation of Iraq are somehow hidden in the shadows of America. This does note square very well with the onslaught of jingoistic American television news programming that has masqueraded as independent journalism during "Operation Iraqi Freedom." This coverage has come with American flags behind the anchors of most of the cable news stations (a symptom of what media analysts now call "The Fox News Effect") and captive, "embedded" (in-bedded) reporters who have regularly treated transparently absurd statements from the White House and Pentagon with idiotic respect. It includes a roster of experts dominated by war enthusiasts and ex-generals, remarkable concern and personalized treatment for American casualties and POW's and equally notable disinterest in the many, countless, faceless Iraqi victims. We won't even bother to mention American talk radio.
A fourth problem relates to the e-mailer's characterization of the many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of US citizens who marched against what they saw as Bush's illegal, immoral and unnecessary invasion and occupation of Iraq as "un-Americans." These are dangerous times in America, when the dominant notion of democratic community is taking the form of what left scholar Henry A. Giroux calls "a debased patriotism that is outraged by dissent in the streets. "What notion of community," asks Giroux, "allows Peter Beinhart, editor of the New Republic, to wrap himself in the flag of patriotism...while excoriating those who are critical of Bush's policies?" "This nation," Beinhart wrote last year, "is at now at war. And in such an environment, domestic political dissent is immoral without a prior statement of national solidarity." Some of the worst authoritarian personalities are found in the corridors of media power. "'Community,' in the version of acceptable "public discourse" favored by likes of Beinhart and the anonymous e-mailer, "demands," in Giroux's words, "not courage, dialogue, and responsibility, but silence and complicity." In the dominant public rhetoric of the post-9-11 era, Giroux observes, dissent is confused with treason. (Henry A. Giroux, The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear, 3 and 25).
I see the results of this debasement and confusion in my own direct incoming mail. Most of the many notes and letters I receive in response to articles criticizing Bush policy come from well to the left side of the political spectrum, making a statement of solidarity and adding a welcome observation or question. Some criticisms come from irritated liberals, but they are delivered as respectful messages meant to elicit discussion.
Not so the brief messages that come from people on the right, which always come down to two simple points: (1) "Shut Up" and (2) "If you don't support our President, you should leave the country." Case closed: shut up or get out. The writers of these chilling messages have no interest in the dialogue and debate that lay at the heart of the "freedom" and "democracy" they claim to support and which Rumsfeld and Bush are claiming to export to Iraq.
Which brings me to the fifth problem - color choice. The Special Operations Red Friday advocate is unaware, perhaps, that red is a leading historical color of radical movements. It has long been associated as a political hue with labor and the left, united in struggle against "the country club friends" - including the CEO-laden White House, the richest Executive Branch in history by far. The more appropriate color for the specific sort of "support our troops" activities supported by the Red Friday e-mailer is brown - as in the brown shirts worn by the fascists of Nazi Germany. The Third Reich, after all, was known to elevate warrior over citizenship virtues, to counsel blind obedience to the Commander in Chief, to confuse dissent with treason, and to advance their own Chosen "homeland" nation's special, unquestionable right to wage supposedly "preventive" wars against defenseless nations.
Paul Street is an urban social policy and civil rights researcher in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of "'How You Gonna Export Something You Ain't Even Got At Home?' How Lady Liberty Looks From Chicago," April 26, 2003 at The Black Commentator at www.blackcommentator.com and "The Rape of Mesopotamia: Museums v. Oil Wells at the End of History," April 15th, 2003 at www.zmag.org. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org