American Samizdat

Wednesday, May 05, 2004. *
I usually link to or excerpt Rafe Colburn's comments because I have little to add to their incisiveness. But in this case, there is more to say:

"I want to talk about Ted Rall's latest effort, not because I want to join the huge chorus of people who love to bash Ted Rall, but rather because I want to bash cynicism.

Rall's cartoon, if you haven't yet seen it, says that Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who joined the Army in 2002, is basically an idiot who made the fatal mistake of choosing to serve in the military because he believed our lying President. In four short panels, he also manages to accuse Tillman of racism as well. Rall's cartoon isn't funny -- Rall is rarely funny -- but it also fails even to serve as pointed commentary.

You don't have to be a very good cynic to come up with ways to disparage Pat Tillman; honestly when I heard that he'd joined the Army a couple of years ago, and again when I heard that he'd died, the bad reasons (he) might have joined came to mind only a few seconds after the good reasons he might have joined. Ultimately, we have no way of knowing what motivated Tillman to enlist. Any of us can imagine impure motives that may have led to him doing so -- it doesn't behoove us to callously point them out.

Sometimes saying things that most people keep to themselves doesn't make you courageous or iconoclastic, it makes you an ass." [paragraph divisions added for readability — emg] rc3

First of all, Rall's cartoon has served an important purpose if it gets thoughtful people like Rafe Colburn to concede and discuss thoughts like that that they usually keep to themselves. Let me go on record; even though I don't have a clue about Tillman's motives for enlisting and hardly knew who he was until he died, the thoughts I kept to myself were about how his death serves as a graphic illustration of the consequences of misguided patriotism. There is a venerable tradition in antiwar literature and film of rendering the tragic, misguided emptiness of the high-minded ideals for which young men are swindled into becoming cannon fodder in old men's wars. I am surprised Colburn doesn't appreciate this.

Tillman's case is useful precisely because most of the other deaths in Bush's misguided lethal adventurism have been anonymous faces, and because the relentless dysadministration spin about the usefulness of these deaths, empty rhetoric that it is, has been so persuasive. Rall is grappling, I think, with the devilish problem opponents of the US invasion have, of how to open the eyes of the American public to the horrors that are being done in their name ... to Afghanis and Iraqis and, yes, to American young men and women as well. The desperation many of us feel at the fact that this nation of sheep stands a good chance of reelecting Bush (oops, I forgot for a moment of course, he wasn't elected the first time) despite (or because of?) all it should by now be clear he has done calls for desperate measures. Rall's is a cry of that despair and outrage. If this be cynicism, then there is probably no higher calling at the moment.

If Rafe accepted that Rall is using Tillman as an icon, because of his name recognition, for all the faceless U.S. GIs, then he wouldn't think Rall is calling him racist per se. The American premise for the war effort is racist, Rall is saying. Debasing American ecumenism by inciting a once-great nation to collective anti-Arab hatred will turn out to be one of Bush's most execrable legacies. If you have any doubts about that, look again at the Abu Ghraib photographs.

Finally, Rall is making the precise point that needs to be made about the degradation of the notion of heroism. It is tragic, not heroic, to die for the neo-conservatives' delusions of grandeur. They have shown in spades that they are willing and eager to sacrifice Americans of all walks of life for their misguided aims — GIs dying in a war based on lies and all the US civilians who are exposed to vastly heightened risk of terrorist attacks because of the rage the US has engendered in the eyes of all the angry dispossessed of the Third World, the monumental squandering of any good will and credibility the US had by one deceitful, intellectually crippled, morally decrepit and grossly incompetent leader. The adulation of every hapless American victim — from 9/11 onward — as a hero is a malignant effort by the leadership of the country to absolve itself of its responsibility for the pointless deaths.

One may think it cruel to Tillman's family and friends to diminish the worship of the fallen hero. But the families who, grieving the loss of their loved ones on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan, increasingly are embracing and proclaiming the pointlessness of it all and the emptiness of George Bush's grand designs are equally heroic.

Agitprop artists like Ted Rall have done their job if they stimulate precisely this sort of troubled and troubling discussion among the rest of us.

posted by Anonymous at 7:06 AM
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