“America does not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” — John Quincy Adams (1767-1848)
There has always been a strong strain of paranoia in American political life, and it erupts occasionally in official policy, from the Alien and Sedition Acts signed into law in 1798 by John Quincy Adams’s father, President John Adams, to the Patriot Act of 2001, signed by George H.W. Bush’s son, President George W. Bush. In the early days of the republic, when the Adams family was prominent in national politics, there was of course no social media or Fox News to whip up hysteria about The Other, though there were plenty of locally circulated broadsheets that made little effort at objectivity.
Now the media landscape is far different than it was in 1798, and people who feel threatened by cultural changes which erode the power and influence of white conservatives have platforms like Fox News, Twitter, and Facebook that reach far and wide. As the self-styled Silent Majority slips to Ranting Minority status, their paranoid hysteria ratchets up in intensity to the point that Fox News is not a strong enough salve for their imagined wounds, and they turn to fear mongering websites like InfoWars. The information available in the bubble in which angry, old white conservatives live can’t exactly be called news, but more a drug that reinforces feelings, thoughts, and ideas they already dwell on resentfully, nursing their grievances like mean drunks wallowing in self-pity.
Here Comes the Bogey-Man, an aquatint print from the 1799 set of 80 known as Los Caprichos, by Francisco Goya (1746-1828).
Pooh Bear has a bad dream.
They tend to lash out angrily, these constant consumers of spoon-fed rage, and because they tend to be more conscientious about voting than other groups in American society, their views make it into government policy more than the views of less paranoid people, at least when they coincide with the interests of corporate and political leaders. And then support for those policies among the general populace becomes tied to patriotism in the minds of these people, because they have bestowed on themselves the mantle of True Americanism. True Americans want to build a wall along the Mexican border. True Americans don’t want gays marrying each other. True Americans believe climate change is a liberal hoax, and therefore no steps need be taken to restrain the fossil fuel industry. That particular list goes on and on. There is another list about what True Americans believe and want, and it starts with changing the definition of who they are to include everyone who lives here, not just one group raging and warring against all The Others.
The word “natural” on packaged foods does not mean much anymore since there are no standards to uphold it, unlike the case with “organic” on a label, but one area where consumers have been paying attention and making their preference known over the past 20 years is in the labeling of vanilla extract. A significant enough number of consumers have come to prefer vanilla extracted from real, natural vanilla pods that agribusinesses like Nestlé have switched from synthetic to natural vanilla. Synthetic vanilla is a chemistry laboratory product isolated from compounds in wood pulp or petroleum, and for decades in the latter half of the twentieth century it was the preferred choice of most consumers because it was cheap relative to natural vanilla extract, it’s flavor was at least acceptable, and for the most part consumers were not paying attention and didn’t make a distinction between the synthetically derived product and the natural one.
Food ingredient and nutrition labels provide more information to the consumer now, and more people are becoming label readers. Not all of them may know the provenance of synthetic vanilla extract, but a large segment decided they would prefer the natural stuff, and they voted with their dollars. The result was an increase in demand, something growers, the majority of them in Madagascar, were not prepared for since demand for their product had steadily dwindled for decades and they had cut back production or gotten out of the business altogether. Natural vanilla had always been an expensive spice, typically second only to saffron in price on the world market. Competition from synthetic vanilla producers had depressed prices, however, and combined with the drop in demand many farmers saw little profit in the lean decades.
Vanilla planifolia flowers. Photo by Michael Doss.
Vanilla planifolia vine growing up a tree on a plantation on the island of Réunion,which is east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean, and is a major producer of natural vanilla. Photo by David Monniaux.
The rather sudden spike in demand for natural vanilla in the past 20 years caused a scramble to reinvest in production, a process which lagged behind demand by as much as five years because of the the time and labor involved in growing and processing marketable vanilla pods. The type of vanilla most popular around the world is Vanilla planifolia, a climbing vine orchid native to Mexico and Central America. Oddly, even though the plant is native to Mexico, and Mexico continues as a big producer of natural vanilla, the place that grows the vanilla most people prefer is Madagascar, an island off the southeast coast of Africa. Soil and other environmental factors must play a role in the end result, because while the type of vanilla orchid is the same in both parts of the world, consumers express a definite preference based on variations they can detect in taste. At any rate, Madagascar currently produces up to 80% of the world’s natural vanilla.
Vanilla planifolia needs to growthree or more years before it will flower, and then each flower remains open for only one day, at which time in Madagascar it must be hand pollinated because of the lack of resident animal or insect pollinators. In Mexico, there is a species of bee that tends to the vanilla flowers. After pollination, nearly a year passes before the pods containing the seeds develop, and after that there is washing, sun curing, sorting, and other handling that goes into producing the dried black pods which have the tiny, flavorful seeds that are the ultimate object of all this careful tending. The labor intensiveness of producing natural vanilla, added to the time involved, drives its price up. It would be a mistake, though, to think individual laborers are well-paid for their work on such an expensive agricultural product; as always, it is typically the people in the middle, the traders, who reap the greatest rewards.
Dried, cured vanilla pods in a basket on the island of Réunion. Photo by tirados joselito.
A year ago in March,a cyclone made landfall on Madagascar with the force of a category four hurricane. Dozens of people were killed, and it was feared damage to the vanilla crop would worsen the worldwide shortage which had driven prices up to a record $600 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) in 2017. The most recent low point in the price was 2002, when dried vanilla pods sold for $20 per kilogram. That’s the price for the agricultural product, of course, not the price after it has been further processed into the vanilla extract available to consumers at supermarkets. It turned out damage to the vanilla crop in Madagascar was not as bad as commodity brokers originally expected.
The opening of the 1984 David Lynch film Dune, with Virginia Madsen as Princess Irulan.
Still, for individual consumers living in cool climates outside the natural growing range of Vanilla planifolia, hedging against a volatile, expensive world market for natural vanilla, with too many of its bets placed on the crop in one place, Madagascar, hedging against all that by growing this orchid in a pot by a windowsill may be a bit of a stretch, considering the advice of some growers who say the plant needs to grow more than ten feet before it will produce flowers, and even then there’s no guarantee of getting pods that will yield recognizably tasty vanilla seeds. It might be a better bet to buy a lot when the market is low, or in other words, hoard it. Vanilla extract always contains a hefty percentage of alcohol, after all, as people who are apt to sneak a drink now and then have always known, and the alcohol is an excellent, natural preservative.
The palm fronds used for the procession of Jesus into Jerusalem on the original Palm Sunday would most likely have come from the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). There were and are other types of palm trees in the Near East, but the date palm had the most day to day significance for the people of the area because it provided a staple food in their diet, and largely because of that the date palm also acquired symbolic significance for them. Date palm fronds were associated with peace and victory, and when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey – the mount of a king on a mission of peace – the symbolism of the moment for was complete.
Since the first Palm Sunday, Christians around the world have celebrated with whatever plant branches were available locally without getting hung up on absolutely having to use palm fronds, which in any event were not be had in cold climates in the days before large scale international trade. It is only relatively recently that palm fronds harvested in southern Mexico and Guatemala from the parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans) have been shipped great distances for Palm Sunday celebrations in areas where palms do not grow.
A date palm in Jerusalem, with the al-Aqsa Mosque in the background. Photo by Meg Stewart.
A parlor palm at the Berlin-Dahlem Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Bachelot Pierre J-P.
Some Christians have struggled with whether harvesting fronds from wild plants in the rainforest and shipping them halfway around the world for a once a year celebration makes sense environmentally and economically. There is irony, too, in that the common name – parlor palm – for the type of plant growing in the understory of the Guatemalan rainforest tips off its other use, which is as a quite popular houseplant. People in colder climates who are determined to use palm fronds to commemorate Palm Sunday rather than any locally grown foliage could very easily grow the plant they are used to in their own parlors. Since parlor palms usually grow to four to six feet, and eight to ten feet at most, they would be much easier to accommodate in the average living room than a date palm at 75 feet, nice as it would be to have the dates at other times of year.
It’s not easy leaving one home for another one far off, as anyone who has ever done it can attest. If moving thousands of miles away from family and friends is difficult now, when electronic communication allows people to keep in touch, it was even more difficult in past centuries, when leaving behind familiars often meant permanent dislocation without any further contact. The emigrants, particularly if they were poor, had to be brave to make the momentous decision to leave, and then again to establish a new home.
Economics and politics are the biggest drivers of emigration, even for those leaving the United States. American government agencies don’t keep exact numbers on the amount of people leaving the country, but estimates over the past twenty years are that the number of Americans living abroad either on a temporary or permanent basis have more than doubled, from four million to nine million. People who live abroad temporarily, but longer term than tourists, are considered expatriates. The status of expatriates is usually fluid, with some eventually becoming citizens in their adopted country, and some returning to the United States.
The Emigrants’ Last Sight of Home, an 1858 painting by Richard Redgrave (1804-1888).
As hard as it is to pin down statistics on American expatriates, it seems a reasonable inference from the increasing number of articles published online and elsewhere touting overseas retirement destinations that more Americans than ever are deciding to live abroad when they have a fixed, mostly predictable income. For some of these people, the political situation in the United States may play a role in their decision, as this country more and more resembles the banana republics derided in the past, with obscene income inequality, police state tactics employed by the governing class, and the mass of people working in a condition of debt peonage. Many of the countries listed as desirable retirement destinations are in Latin America, and the reasoning among retirees may be that since the United States has come to resemble those countries politically, at least the change for them won’t be that great on that account, and their money will go further.
It’s more complicated than that, of course, because for centuries the United States interfered in the politics and economics of Latin America, which it regarded patronizingly as its back yard. Latin American countries have lately been working to disengage themselves from the most sordid aspects of American interference, with the most extreme example being Venezuela. At any rate, Latin America is popular amongst expatriate American retirees looking to get the most out of their pension dollars. Europe is generally more expensive, with the more dysfunctional economies of southern Europe offering better deals. Southern Europe also offers warmer weather and high quality health care that is on a par with the rest of Europe. American retirees are more likely, therefore, to emigrate to the sunny beaches of Spain than the frigid fjords of Norway.
Director John Huston, an American expatriate for much of his life, in a cameo appearance early in his 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Humphrey Bogart. The film was about a trio of down on their luck American expatriates in Mexico. Poverty is a miserable existence anywhere, but it causes even more anxiety among those who are adrift from the support of friends, family, and familiar surroundings. The magazine articles for retirees typically mention a few destinations in southeast Asia, and hardly any spots in Africa or the rest of Asia. Presumably the heavy slant toward Latin America and Europe is because those places offer less of a culture shock to most Americans along with the aforementioned economic advantages and similar political climate. That slant also assumes the major part of the readers are of Caucasian European descent, which is not unreasonable considering American demographics, particularly of the middle class that can afford a comfortable retirement, or at least expects to do so if they can stretch their dollars overseas. Their numbers are increasing.
The propaganda in this country has long been that everyone in the world wanted to come here, and that we could pick and choose who got in. With some quibbles, that was mostly true for a long time. Now that may no longer be the case; now not as many people elsewhere may be attracted to these shores, while more people here may be looking elsewhere. For now, it is the people with dependable income, retirees among them, who are leaving. They are the brave ones, and as the political and economic situation in America swirls down a dark hole, and despite the ever more shrill propaganda about how everything is great, just great, more will surely follow to make their home elsewhere.
The Monarch butterfly,Danaus plexippus, may not seem to have any connection to Halloween other than its orange and black coloration, but in Mexico, where they overwinter, the butterflies are hailed as the spirits of friends and relatives who have died in the past year and are returning at the time of Halloween for one last visit with the living. The important dates for Mexicans, and indeed for many Hispanic peoples, are October 31st, and November 1st and 2nd, known as The Days of the Dead, or Los Dias de los Muertos in Spanish.
From the 1955 film The Night of the Hunter, Robert Mitchum as a murderous and greedy self-anointed preacher sings “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, while Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper protects the children inside her house from harm.
Before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, the Aztecs and other indigenous peoples believed Monarch butterflies were returning human spirits. After the Spaniards imposed Catholicism throughout the region, the Native Americans transposed some of their ancient beliefs onto the new religion. In the case of the Monarch butterflies, since their annual migration brought them to their winter home in the mountains of Mexico more or less at the end of October and the beginning of November, it was a simple matter for Native Americans to meld their traditional celebration of the dead and honoring of the return of the butterflies at that time of year with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Eve (Hallow e’en, or evening) on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and All Souls’ Day on November 2nd.
This mixing of indigenous traditions with Christian beliefs and holidays follows a pattern seen in Christian communities throughout the world. In Ireland, for instance, where the version of Halloween celebrations started in a way that most Americans would recognize, the Christian holidays were overlaid on existing Celtic harvest festivals and honoring of the dead. It seems in the northern hemisphere at least, where the harvest occurs approximately in September, October, and November, that honoring the dead at the same time was commonplace. People prayed to their honored dead for a good harvest, and when the work was done they often symbolically shared the bounty with their dear departed at altars in the home. It was a short step for the Church to substitute, or merely add, saints and martyrs to the list of honored dead.
Overwintering Monarch butterflies in November 2005. Photo by Samuel from Toluca, Mexico.
Monarch butterflies, meanwhile, have troubles beyond being Halloween symbols for human beings. Habitat loss, pesticides, and destruction of food sources have all led to a general decline in their numbers over the last few decades. They are not yet under the protection of the Endangered Species List, and they may not be anytime soon given the hostility toward environmental protection of the current presidential administration.
It is more important than ever, therefore, for individuals to do everything they can to assure the continued survival of Monarch butterflies, rather than relying on governmental entities to take the lead. It’s not hard; the butterflies don’t ask for much. Leave some tall weeds standing at the edge of a property rather than mowing absolutely everything down to half inch high grass. Among those tall weeds, plant or encourage some milkweeds as fodder for the caterpillars, and some wildflowers as nectar sources for the adult butterflies. Stop using pesticides and herbicides, at least the general purpose ones that kill all insects or all vegetation. Pay attention, be observant and respectful, and in the end enjoy what you have helped along in a way you could not possibly enjoy yet more grass or asphalt. The spirits are watching.
The craft beer industry has expanded since the 1980s from a handful of breweries to thousands, increasing consumer choices along the way and boosting local economies over the profits of huge corporations. In the 1970s, the brewery industry in the United States was diminishing to fewer choices for consumers as small, local breweries went out of business or were bought out by larger competitors, and their distinctive brands of beer disappeared.
The effect could be seen in national television advertising of the time, where only a few big brands could afford to compete. Even the beers on sale that did not appear to be sub-brands of the major players were not much different than them in flavor and makeup, only in price, usually being cheaper knock offs. To get a taste of something different and a little better in the late 1970s, American beer drinkers turned to European imports. The beer market had become like the wine market, where American brands were viewed as okay for everyday drinking, while the European product was considered superior in quality.
That started to change in the early 1980s with the startup of some local craft breweries that eventually gained national prominence, notably Anchor Steam and Sierra Nevada in northern California. American beer drinkers once again had a choice among domestic varieties, even as the biggest national brands became more than that, expanding into multinational corporations. The return of local and regional breweries, and in a few cases breweries that reached a national market, added consumer options because the new breweries were not interested in competing with the multinational outfits in producing the same old watery lagers.
A figure decorated in representations of hops at a festival in Germany in 2006. Photo by Andreas Praefcke.
A funny thing happened, however, on the way to a new land of craft breweries specially tended by artisans who labored as much for their own enjoyment as that of their appreciative customers. For one thing, the big multinationals took note of the new phenomenon, also known as competition, and decided that unlike how they had bought up small competitors in the decades before the 1980s and subsumed the competitors’ operations within their own, they would now ride the craft brewery wave by retaining all the packaging, logos, and lingo of the smaller outfits when buying them out. Consumers would be none the wiser as they made their selection in the store, and when they got home and cracked open one of their favorite “craft” beers they still might not notice the difference, despite changes in brewing and bottling facility practices, particularly if the consumer’s taste buds were swayed more by psychological factors than by honest opinion.
The other thing that has skewed the craft beer movement is the tendency for snobs and macho men to take over and ruin the fun for some of us. The same culture that has made spicy food its domain seems to appeal to a minority of brewers and beer drinkers who always want to competitively up the ante on the hoppy bitterness of craft beers. That wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t for the unfortunate side effect that these people tend to be snobs with undue influence on some consumers. “It’s so bitterly hoppy that it’s undrinkable,” the brow-beaten craft beer supporter complains. “Drink it and enjoy it, or you’re a philistine,” exclaims the snobby beer person, a category that didn’t exist until twenty years ago.
Beer Wars, a 2009 documentary by Anat Baron that examines how the big breweries have co-opted the market share of many smaller breweries.
Such people have been around for ages, trying to belittle others who are susceptible to their nonsense, all so that they can then feel more exalted in their self-proclaimed expertise. They’re usually men, and they have haunted wine circles in this country long before beer became a drink of anyone other than the common people. You can find them in restaurants which specialize in spicy foods, such as Thai, Indian, or Mexican, always advocating for heat regardless of flavor, because that’s the manly thing, you sissy. In a somewhat different way, they are also familiars of the online gaming community, and of computers in general, and long before that, when know-it-all males were still accustomed to getting their knuckles dirty with grease, the world of automobiles and mechanical contrivances.
Never mind them. The great thing about the craft beer movement of the last thirty years is that there are brewers now producing beers for every taste. If you still can’t find what you like, then the staple lagers of the big multinationals will always be available. Drink those if that’s your thing. If you do like the beers of the craft breweries, though, and you like the idea of supporting smaller businesses, please do read the fine print around the back of that cardboard six-pack package to make sure your dollars are going where you intend, and not into the coffers of the big watery lager breweries, pretending to be what they’re not.
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” ― Jesus Christ, quoted in Matthew 22:21 (King James Version).
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “
― excerpt from the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The two quotes above seem straightforward in their meaning, even if some people with self-serving agendas insist there is room for interpretation in both. Some religious groups, but by no means the majority, chafe at the straightforward interpretations and would rather see the federal government allow them to get involved in partisan politics while maintaining their tax exempt status. They applaud any effort to roll back enforcement of the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code, which forbids charitable or non-profit organizations with tax exemptions from directly endorsing political candidates. In May, the current president signed an executive order relaxing those restrictions, essentially directing the IRS to use discretion in enforcing the Johnson Amendment. Since the law would have to be changed by Congress, court challenges to the executive order will probably crop up, though none have as of yet.
The simple solution for religious groups who want to submerge themselves in the American political process is to forgo tax exempt status. That appears not to be an option they care to consider. They want their cake, and to eat it, too. The Johnson Amendment, added to the IRS code in 1954 by Lyndon Johnson, at the time a Democratic senator from Texas, has always been laxly enforced by the IRS, revoking the tax exemptions of only the most egregious violators. That’s not good enough for some people. They want the wall separating church and state torn down.
President Lyndon B. Johnson hosts the President of Mexico, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, at his Texas Ranch in 1964; photo by Yoichi Okamoto.
But not necessarily torn down completely. Muslims, in the view of the Christian Right, should probably not be included in a law respecting an establishment of religion by allowing them to funnel their congregants’ money to chosen political leaders, just like their Christian counterparts. Not so sure about the Jews, either. Catholics? We’ll have to think about that one. Once we start making exemptions for the exemption, we have to decide who gets it and who doesn’t. What would Jerry Falwell do? His son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Liberty University President and leader of the evangelical Christian Right, believes the Johnson Amendment has to go because it infringes on the free speech rights of religious leaders.
In this scene from the 1980 film Caddyshack, Bishop Pickerling, played by Henry Wilcoxon, plays golf during a thunderstorm, with groundskeeper Carl Spackler, played by Bill Murray, serving as his caddy. The Bishop exercises his free speech rights at the end, with consequences. Note that the music quotes the score from the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.
That argument ignores the reality of religious leaders already expressing themselves freely, just not being allowed to funnel money to candidates while maintaining their own tax exempt status. What religious leaders like Jerry Falwell, Jr., really appear to mean is that the Johnson Amendment is an infringement on their free speech rights in the sense that was addressed by the Supreme Court in the 2010 Citizens United decision, which found that the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) was violating the free speech rights of corporations, both for profit and non-profit, when they limited campaign contributions. Money talks. Now some religious groups, such as Mr. Falwell’s, want the same kind of special dispensation, while also maintaining their exemption from paying taxes. That’s called the Sweet Deal!
George Carlin, a man who really did “tell it like it is”, in a bit from his 1988 performance What Am I Doing in New Jersey? Warning: foul language.
For the week beginning August 21, Americans United for Separation of Church and State is organizing what they call Hometown Congressional Visits to express support for the Johnson Amendment. This is a country of many faiths and to allow one vocal minority – regardless of it’s billing of itself as “The Moral Majority” – to usurp the voices of the many would be not only wrong now, but unconstitutional from the founding of the republic.
In Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 movie Full Metal Jacket, two marines engage in an ironic “John Wayne” face-off. Wayne’s chickenhawkish stances werewell-known and widely held in contempt by combat veterans fromWorld War II to Vietnam. Warning: foul language.
America’s wars continue with no end in sight, from one presidential administration to the next. One proposal to curtail the corporate oligarchy’s military adventurism is to bring back the military draft or to institute Universal National Service, the idea being that if a greater percentage of the population has a personal stake in foreign policy then they will be more likely to make their preferences known to their leaders, and people with a personal stake are less likely to want more war. The oligarchy knows this, too, as it’s a lesson they learned from an aroused public during the Vietnam War and are unlikely to want repeated if the public reawakens.
Since the draft ended in 1973, the per capita percentage of the population serving in the military has steadily declined, while the number of American military interventions overseas has drastically increased. Linking the two trends could be coincidental, but it’s worth considering that in the 40 years from 1933 to 1973, in most of which there was a draft, the US sent the military abroad on 27 occasions, and in the 40 years from 1974 to 2014 the US sent the military on 175 different foreign interventions. Has the world really become 6.5 times more dangerous since 1973? Or is it that the US has taken on in earnest the burden and profits of empire and the role of world policeman, putting out small fires everywhere, many times at the behest of corporate interests?
I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.
― Marine Major General (Retired) Smedley Butler, writing in the
Socialist newspaper Common Sense in 1935.
The 1994 Robert Zemeckis movie Forrest Gump is an excellent portrayal of the diversity of experience awaiting Vietnam era draftees, though of course most of them did not want to be there. Warning: foul language.
The majority of Americans catch the news about these numerous foreign conflicts as they go about their daily business, and because they don’t know anyone in the military and didn’t serve themselves, the news pretty much goes in one ear and out the other. Who can get agitated or even interested about what’s happening in Kosovo or Libya or Yemen or the Horn of Africa, wherever that is? Afghanistan and Iraq, oh yeah, are those still dragging on? Are we going into Syria now, too? And so these busy Americans go on with their lives, paying their taxes and going shopping, surprised to learn that when the US deploys Predator drones to these foreign hot spots, the controllers of the deadly drones sit in air-conditioned trailers halfway around the world in Nevada or Germany. It’s the New Age, alright, a deadly video game.
Or so we might choose to believe. As technocratic and bloodless as the military brass and the politicians may try to make modern war seem in order to make it more palatable for the general public, it will always nevertheless be a nasty mess both physically and morally. They don’t want to show that part, though; they learned that lesson from Vietnam as well. Rah-rah Hollywood movies are not the answer to getting Americans to come to terms with their current situation in world politics. Far from it. There are far too many chickenhawks making movies in Hollywood and making policy in Washington to serve anything but the basest emotions of too many Americans, the “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” among them, who are stirred to cheer movies glorifying war and the macho posturing of Supreme Leader. As long as they reflexively say “Thank you for your service” to a service member or veteran when they encounter one, they’re covered. Aren’t they?
An early scene in Full Metal Jacket depicts Marine boot camp in a less lighthearted vein than the boot camp of Forrest Gump. Some of that canbe attributed to the differences between the Marines and the Army, and some to the aims of the two films. Nonetheless, some of the drill sergeant’s insults will ring bells in the dark sense of humor shared by many veterans, an emotion Kubrick effectively turns inside out at the end of the scene. Warning: foul language, of course.
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, left, President Barack Obama and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, render honors during the playing the National Anthem during a ceremony commemorating the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon.
The recent flap over U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas not placing her hand over her heart during the playing of the “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Rio Summer Olympics medal ceremony prompts this week’s post. Etiquette for citizens during the national anthem is spelled out in U.S. Code, but that’s the extent of it. Civilians should place their hands over their hearts, and military personnel in uniform should salute. Veterans can place their hands over their hearts or salute, as they wish. There are no legal prohibitions for civilians who do not observe etiquette, whether knowingly or out of ignorance. Any deviation from etiquette by civilians is protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Military personnel who do not salute may be prosecuted non-judicially by their command under Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The upshot of all this is that for most Americans their behavior during the national anthem is guided by custom, though in this case custom has been explicitly codified by Congress, as questionable as that practice may be. As with all matters of custom, those who deviate from the norm open themselves to criticism and opprobrium from the community at large. In the case of Gabby Douglas, public censure goes too far, and certainly legal sanctions are inapplicable, no matter how much people may howl on Twitter about what they perceive as her inappropriate lapse. The rush to judgment is just that, a hasty reaching for the first stone.
American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, along with Australian Peter Norman, during the award ceremony of the 200 m race at the Mexican Olympic games. During the awards ceremony, Smith (center) and Carlos protested against racial discrimination: they went barefoot on the podium and listened to their anthem bowing their heads and raising a fist with a black glove. Mexico City, Mexico, 1968.