Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Get a Job"

In 1971 I was five years old, yet I was able to experience that tumultuous time from the perspective of an adult just this past weekend during a march on the Pentagon to protest the Iraq war. As I walked from my parking spot in downtown Washington, DC toward the National Mall, it became apparent that the mood of the day would reflect the raw and surly March weather. Instead of fellow peace lovers, I noticed throngs of scowling white men holding placards aggressively touting the benefits of war. Apparently, it had freed the slaves in the 1860's (legally, well into the fighting when the North's hand was forced), saved European Jews in the 1940's (except for six million of them), and even now was sparing Americans the horrors of "Islamic fascism." I looked past these disconcerting advocates of violence to the extent I could as I made my way to the march's starting point.

Then, at the northeast corner of the Lincoln Memorial, my passage was blocked by a mass of heavy-set middle-aged men wearing black leather jackets stitched with patches declaiming their status as Vietnam War veterans. "Where you headed?," the pack leader asked, pointing behind me. "France is that way." Sporting a corporate-style haircut; Ray-Ban sunglasses; a baseball cap; a standard winter parka; and jeans, in my view I hardly fit the stereotype of a left-wing rabble-rouser. As the pack leader jabbed at me with an American flag on a stick, I retreated. These men, their weather-beaten faces turned pink in the winter wind, clearly were itching for a fight. One of them shouted at me, "Get a job!"

I asked myself, What year is this, and who am I? Certainly not a hippie. I cast my first presidential vote for Ronald Reagan. So, a better question is, Who do these men -- these sidewalk intimidators -- think they are? It has been suggested to me that the smart of rejection they felt upon their return from Southeast Asia over thrity years ago, having fought for an unpopular and losing cause, is revived every time they see Americans protesting the current unpopular and losing cause in Iraq. These men have not differentiated between then and now, and feel the old insult afresh every time an internal psycho-dynamic is activated by new simuli. Their reliance on phrases from a bygone era is reflexive. In fact, I have a full-time job -- with benefits!

If not for the practiced ability of the DC police in preventing violence at public demonstrations, the day may have marked the first violent street clash in a contemporary US civil war. Emotions on both sides of the Iraq war issue were at a climax. Ugly verbal taunts were constant, mostly hurled by the pro-war crowd at the peace promoters. While frightening in aspect and attitude, the leather-draped war partisans inspire a certain amount of pity. They caught a bad break by being shipped off to Vietnam as young men; they are probably adepts of a certain domestic political party that in reality cares not a whit about their lot in life; and they are from the precise socioeconomic stratum that gets increasingly buffeted by the forces of economic globalization. Nobody in the national "leadership" looks out for them. And now they rage at another phantom threat -- Muslims -- and have thrown themselves into another doomed and horrifically unjust cause: the war in Iraq. Their collective anger can only increase, especially if they are hit by another potential disaster: a housing market collapse that unleashes a deep recession.

Ultimately, though, the pro-war crowd jeering the peace activists are goons. They are a restive lot, living a hair's breadth from unleashing violence on others. All that was clear from their hateful and/or delusional slogans, their rageful visages. Their politics is amoral: "After all, Hitler was elected," I heard one leather-jacketed veteran say in approving tones to a companion. Frighteningly, these people live among us in the thousands, across the land, and they have access to the ballot box, such as it is. Sadly, their successors already may have been created on the battlefields and in the ruins of Mesopotamia. Someday, my son may be told to "get a job" by someone re-living a trauma that is thirty years old.


Richard Cretan said...

Happily you survived your brush with the Love-It-Or-Leave-It Squad!

No question: out of misery, want and misuse are proto-fascists made. Here as elsewhere.

Great debut for you blog, Blaine. Preach on, brutha.

Bill said...

Wonderful debut! Welcome to the blogosphere, Michael. I know you'll have an impact.

I greatly appreciated your post and the excellence of your writing, though I'm sorry you had to experience the goons of the status quo. Their methods rely on the threat of violence - the ultimate cause that they support.

Simply said...

Great blog! Very interesting.