It was a Saturday afternoon in November. My wife, Rosemary, and I were with a four or five dozen other people in front of a county courthouse to protest what all of us knew would be the upcoming war in Iraq.
It wasn’t the first time we were protesting; it certainly wouldn’t be the last. But this time, our bodies were a lot colder than comfortable; our tempers were a bit shorter than civil.
Many persons driving past honked their car horns in support. But, in this rural county in Pennsylvania there were also dozens who drove past and gave us the finger or shouted obscenities.
We were called many names for having the audacity to exercise our First Amendment rights to protest the Bush–Cheney rush to war in Iraq. “Hippie Communists” was just one of the comments directed at us, apparently by people who never met a Hippie or a Communist.
Several called us “unchristian.” I guess they thought the Quakers, Brethren, and Church of Christ members, among others in the protest were part of some alien religious sect. I, of course, didn’t mind being called “unChristian”—I’m a Jew.
Many, with bumper stickers and flag decals pasted onto their car bumpers or trunks, a couple of whom also had Confederate flag decals, and never saw the irony, called us unpatriotic, that we were traitors. Apparently, if you don’t agree with certain pretend-patriots you must be a traitor. In our small group were war veterans; no one was anti-American. Rosemary and I during the first Gulf War in 1990-1991, were editors of Oasis, a newsletter sponsored by the Red Cross for families of combat troops. Now, as the nation again prepared for war, we resurrected the newspaper as Oasis II. Rosemary, had been a secretary many years and after earning her M.S. in labor studies continued as a strong supporter of labor; maybe someone thought working with the working class was unpatriotic. She was also a family services specialist for national disasters for the Red Cross; helping those still in shock from the disaster and who may have lost their houses may have also been unpatriotic. I was active in emergency management, and even on a Governor’s task force against counter-terrorism. But I guess protesting the government was somehow unAmerican, somehow unpatriotic. Our son, now on 80 percent disability, was a Marine who served during the first Gulf War. I guess since we didn’t want to see any more sons die or become disabled by what we thought was a senseless war, we were unAmerican.
The response by the mainstream media to protests throughout the country was as expected; they largely ignored the protests, no matter how large; when they did cover the them, it was more like tabloid coverage of any curiosity, expanded when a celebrity was involved. What they did do was to channel whatever lies were spewed by the Bush–Cheney administration. As a journalist, I was appalled but not surprised by the “super patriotism” of the media, nor the fact that many newspapers were killing my columns about the impending war.
The New York Times and Washington Post, both believed to be liberal newspapers, eventually apologized for their jingoistic coverage, for how they took the Administration’s handouts, with not much more than a superficial question or two.
Years after the U.S. invaded Iraq, and it was proven how many lies the nation was told by politicians and pretend-patriots, Rosemary and I still haven’t heard one apology from anyone in any of dozens of rallies who called us unAmerican, unpatriotic, traitors and Communists. Not one reader who wrote scathing replies to some of my columns that did get published, some in print, many on the Internet, ever apologized. We don’t expect any apologies. But we do expect that at the very least people who proudly wave flags, declare they are patriots, support Tea Party and ultra-right calls to “take back our country” (apparently from that foreign-born half-Black Muslim who somehow got the most popular votes of anyone in history), might at least see a connection between unqualified support of a government that sends young men and women into battle and then has a 3-day weekend of picnics and politically-correct patriotic speeches to honor those who died in battle.
John Prine (1946 - ), born in Chicago, is an Army veteran who became a letter carrier after his discharge. He, like many on the ’60s went into the Greenwich Village part of New York City to develop his music skills. He was influenced by the music of Hank Williams; Johnny Cash was one of Prine’s fans. He had millions of others.
Among Prine’s songs was a country classic, “You Never Even Called by Name,” co-written with Steve Goodman and recorded by David Alan Coe; and antiwar songs, “The Great Compromise” and “Saigon,” about a soldier with PTSD.
John Prine wrote “The Flag Decal” in 1971, an upbeat song about phony patriotism during the Viet Nam War. Like all good music, it didn’t die that first year. It has been brought out again and again to counter the Super-Patriots who absolutely positively know that anyone who disagrees with a conservative government (apparently it’s acceptable to disagree with liberals) must be unpatriotic traitors.
Please take a few moments on this, the seventh day of Memorial Day Week, to hear a song that exposes the phony patriotism of some Americans.
Coming Monday, Memorial Day, the conclusion of Memorial Day Week, two powerful songs that will linger in your memory for a long LONG time.