The Media and War

I recently began rereading McPherson’s book of essays on the Civil War “This Mighty Scourge.” Of interest was a theme I noticed from William Tecumseh Sherman’s memoirs a few months ago. Then, as now, the fourth estate was a tool for both good and ill. While every American soldier dating back to the days of the powdered wig has considered himself to be fighting for the cause of freedom, I wonder how many fail to appreciate the value of the “free press.” Surely the freedom of the press should fit nicely with their image of a free society. Why, then, is the press depicted so negatively in so many war movies.

I recall holding a clear contempt of the press in general the day I saw “Hamburger Hill.” That movie proffered a heroic speech by some low-level non commissioned officer castigating a reporter for his reporting. Included in the tirade (as I recall, to be fair, though, I have not seen this movie in a couple of decades) was the implication that fair reportage was tantamount to treason. Well, McPherson gives a description of the love/hate relationship of the Civil War soldier and his voraciously consumed print media. It would seem that Sherman’s opinions on the subject were quite representative of the opinions of the entire U.S. Army during the same time frame.

It depressed me a bit that the ostensible object of primary importance is very often compromised in favor of security. I am further reminded that, in bullshit stylized retellings of stories such as “Braveheart,” characters like William Wallace probably knew appreciably less about the concept of freedom than his mostly illiterate defenders. Indeed, the statement that “[T]hey will never take our freedom!” is a bit sillier when you realize that it is technically true. Given that that group of people had never possessed freedom certainly precludes freedom being taken. Similarly, in “300,” we see the supposed rush to defend the democratic state (or collection of states). Do the worshipers of such tripe fail to acknowledge that Sparta was about as distant from the Enlightenment values as it was possible to be? Freedom as we now know it is a product of the French Enlightenment (and, the real key event in the earthshaking change that followed, the American Revolution). The grand document in which Enlightenment values are forever carved is, indeed the U.S. Constitution. Even then, it took bloody wars and civil unrest to bring many of the concepts to full fruition.

Is There a Line?

I think we can all agree that the weaponry that should be available to the public is somewhere between a thermonuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile and a BB gun. Since Americans, in general, do not think North Korea or Iran should be allowed to have thes former, I think it is safe to say that they would also avoid allowing their fellow citizens possession of the same. Certainly, many a member of this group claims that anyone that disagrees with his incoherent right wing ideology is a traitor attempting to surrender the United States to the jackbooted thugs of the United Nations. Would the right wing loon (RWL) allow these people that he supposes to be traitors (approximately half the population) possession of weapons of mass destruction?

Of course not. Even the most batshit crazy of these people would not likely allow private possession of nuclear weapons. What about less absurdly dangerous weapons or weapon systems? Should private citizens be able to own attack helicopters? How about tanks? Only the truly certifiable would answer in the affirmative. Yet just below this line, a number of people actively lobby for access to such weapons as the M-2, the M-60, or other such machine guns. Would the RWL allow these people that he supposes to be traitors these sorts of weapons that he wishes for himself? He wants military grade weapons, but would he be happy to see brown people in possession of the same?

Where, then, do we draw the line? Before people (the sort of which often complain of “negroes” and “wetbacks” in an appropriately monochromatic setting*) trot out their pet absurd conspiracy theories in which a Secret Mooooslim Kenyan Socialist (I mean, just look at him) takes away their guns, perhaps they should consider that they are not now allowed possession of many different firearms. As well, most mines, grenade launchers, and cannons are generally unavailable. Perhaps the assiduous RWL should get to work on this.

*Also “filthy sluts what don’t know their place” in an appropriate setting of uniform gender

Responding to Gun Nuttery on Facebook

I was recently having an online discussion (I have no idea what you really call commenting on facebook) with some old Army buddies. One stated that, while she supported the 2nd Amendment, something should be done to limit access to assault weapons. Another responded that a person does not support the 2nd Amendment if he advocates ANY curtailment of ANY access to ANY weaponry.

Having recently returned from an ungulate-killing expedition involving high-power rifles, I though on this for a moment. I made what I consider to be a rather uncontroversial claim:

The only employment of an assault weapon that can’t be accomplished much better by a standard high-power rifle is the indiscriminate murder of a large number of people in a short period of time.

I then updated my status with a holiday greeting:

Let us not forget that this is the time to commemorate the birth of our Lord, the Creator, 370 years ago tomorrow. Creator of calculus, that is. Merry Newtonmas!

Yet, surprisingly, I have not been unfriended by anyone thus far. The day is young.

but I digress…

What I find odd is that, though each massacre is different, the talking points trotted out by defenders of easy access to assault weapons never change. Even as the execrable NRA mouthpiece Wayne LaPierre was recycling his standard stump speech, several people, including police officers were shot. Wayne LaPierre’s call for “good guys with guns” failed the simultaneous reality test. But it really doesn’t matter. Right wing loons enjoy a particularly strong resilience to the influence of reality.

Repost on Charleton Heston

The original Planet of the Apes 5-movie set has recently been released in Blu-ray, so that is how I have spent the weekend so far. I have not yet made any statements on the Newtown event. But these two things converged to remind me of something I wrote four and a half years ago:

When I recently read the news about Charleton Heston, I was a little sad. While I strongly disagreed with the ideals he took up in the last couple of decades, I think he was a respectable and decent person. Yes, he allowed himself to become a tool of Wayne LaPierre’s imbecile empire. Yes, he joined the ranks of militant Jesus freaks that so thoroughly beat down the forces of reason over the past couple of decades. Yes, he exemplified the angry rich white man I have recently described. Nevertheless, I thought he was a very interesting character.

He had many interesting characteristics. Like Ronald Reagan, he was a former liberal transformed into a conservative by a changing society. Unlike Reagan, however, I never got the idea that his transformation was due to overt racism (Reagan’s switching parties seems to have been due entirely to the Democratic party’s embrace of the blacks). His religious epics ranged from the impressively lame The Ten Commandments to the truly great Ben-Hur.

After Ben-Hur, my favorite Heston movie was definitely The Planet of the Apes. Heston’s character, Taylor, spends the entire movie fighting the oppressive system where science is kept under the heel of religious dogma. That may seem ironic, as Heston was one of the most vocal supporters of such a mindset in American politics. But if you look further, the end of the movie washes away that personal irony with a plot irony. Ultimately, the dogmatic policies of the Keeper of the Faith, Dr. Zaius, proved sound.

Dr. Zaius, Keeper of the Faith

Dr. Zaius, Keeper of the Faith

His final advice to the fleeing Taylor was “Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.” proved true. But there is still a nice little sliver of personal irony, in that a reading from the Sacred Scrolls on which the philosophy of Dt. Zaius is based seems to target some of Heston’s future pet topics:

Beware the beast Man, for he is the Devil’s pawn. Alone among God’s primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother’s land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him; drive him back into his jungle lair, for he is the harbinger of death.

Or, more succintly, “Beware the beast Man, he is a Republican.”

Aside: as Taylor was about to enter the barren wasteland know to the apes as The Forbidden Zone and Dr. Zaius warned, “Don’t look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find.” My son responded, “New Mexico?”

Still, I did appreciate the moral courage required of Mr. Heston in his acceptance of an impromptu interview with Michael Moore posed at his residence for the film Bowling for Columbine. While I disagreed with his positions, I thought it took some character to oblige Mr. Moore, despite the invasion of his privacy. As well, he presented a much better image for the NRA than the oily little weasel Wayne LaPierre.
Few gun nuts have ever had consensual sex

Few gun nuts have ever had consensual sex

Anyhoo, I haven’t bothered to look, but I bet if I did, I’d find thousands of webpages making some joke or reference to Heston’s “cold, dead hands” quote. I won’t. I bet he was a decent guy. Deluded and wrong about most things political, sure, but a decent guy nevertheless.

I think the events of the last two weeks have made me think more and more on the degree to which only the most diseased of minds should find themselves capable of arguing for increased availability of assault weapons. But these minds exist, and are possessed of loud voices.

Knee Jerk

The last week’s conversations have been dominated by the Connecticut child massacre. What have I learned from all this? First, I have learned that an unfortunately large percentage of Republicans present the buffoonish right-wing crank reply one would expect to see in a caricature like this unfortunately accurate Tom Tomorrow cartoon:

from This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow

from This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow

That is to say that I know people who have literally never discussed any firearms-related topics with me, who found occasion this week to argue the immediate necessity for assault weapons for home defense. It was slightly shocking and not-so-slightly disturbing. I find it disheartening that these people are so easily led to introducing right-wing talking points into conversations without the slightest hint of pertinence to the original topic. The worst part is that any profession of skepticism of the stated right-wing talking points will result in accusations of being a shill for that “black black blackity black secret Muslim Kenyan negro communist – I mean for God’s sake look at him, can’t you see he’s a neeegro?!?!!” Experience holds that the appropriate response is a mention of someone’s child’s recent sporting match. It was once weather, but any mention of the unusual warmth immediately leads to “God damned liberal Global Warming conspiracy to … -incoherent- … jackbooted United Nations thugs … -incoherent- … take away our … -incoherent- … cold, dead hands. Wolverines!!!!!”