Monday, April 14th, 1986. It was backstage at the Academy Of Country Music Awards that a curious scene burned itself into my memory. I was working in the security department at Knott’s Berry Farm, and had lucked into a week-long detail clearing access for crew and performers. While munching on a blueberry muffin shortly before showtime, I watched hosts Mac Davis, Reba McIntire, and John Schneider go over notes with five minutes till curtain rise. Assistant director Rac Clark (son of the never-aging Dick) suddenly blazed through the wings and out to the auditorium where he announced that the President of the United States would be appearing shortly in a live televised broadcast.
There was a stir amongst the celebs in the theater and Davis exclaimed, “Holy Shit — the show’s gonna go long.” I found myself watching uneasily as the giant screen slid into place and the house lights darkened. Ronald Reagan’s face appeared huge, like the Wizard of Oz. I took another bite of muffin and listened intently.
He announced that we had just bombed Tripoli.
There was a feeling in my chest akin to the sudden materialization of an ice cube, slowly sliding down into the pit of my stomach. They have nukes, I thought. We can’t go to war — my tux is rented.
A scene surreal, yet as real as the stabbing emptiness in my gut. We could go to war any day now. Qadhafi could stage a nuclear retaliation and that would be it. We’d go to full-scale, DEF-CON 4, all-day-long CNN updates, flesh-melting war. Thoughts of innocent bystanders crept into my mind and the ice cube was gone, replaced by a burning indignance. Reagan assured his fellow Americans that “the attacks were concentrated and carefully targeted to minimize casualties among the Libyan people, with whom we have no quarrel.”
“Minimal,” as opposed to “zero.” There shouldn’t have been any casualties. Innocent Libyans had died.
“Fuck ’em! Bastard camel jockies!” was the general timbre of response sounded by many folks that I talked with during the following weeks of tension. Indeed, the majority of people were furious at Col. Muammar Qadhafi and his terrorist antics. So was I, but that didn’t justify the killing of civilians. Surely the good ol’ U.S.A. could have acted without stooping to Qadhafi’s level. It was during this time that Johnny Quest was performing shows in Los Angeles, and I purposely saved our anti-war rant “Libya” as a closing number, because it would ultimately piss the crowd off into a state of non-receptiveness. It wasn’t cool to portray Uncle Sam as a white- bearded terrorist.
War is “gimme.” War is “I’ll show you.” War is the result of not enough interest in good books. My dad was always attempting to turn me onto the grand campaigns of countless power-mad generals. While most of my friends got cool board games like Life and Monopoly, I got the General Patton Allied Adventures set, which enabled me to play either the axis or the allied in recreations of The Battle Of The Bulge and Normandy Beach. There was no accessing the television on Sunday mornings either, not with endless reruns of Victory At Sea scheduled. My father would sit through day-long marathons of war footage and newsreels on weekends. His eyes would light up when discussing the cunning military strategies of MacArthur, Eisenhower, and the aforementioned Patton — whose cinematic tribute with George C. Scott was required viewing in the household. But the romance was lost on me, a kid who preferred playing stunt-man instead of war games because you could “come back” and be other characters instead of laying in a corner as a casualty. Death is boring.
By design, the human race is driven to obtain and compete. Babies grasp and seek things to hold, toddlers reach for whatever comes into view — though it’s learned at some later stage in life that not everything in range is worth having. Cro-Magnon tribes warred over land, possessions and their women. Around 488 B.C., the Greeks repelled Persian invaders who sought their good spoils. History is rife with struggles fueled by the desire to have “something.” That “something” happened to be “freedom” when the New World colonists fought against British rule and declared themselves a democracy. These were extremely formative years in the evolution of society and such battles were necessary, crucial, and in the case of those who rallied together to fight greed and tyranny — noble.
If only we had celebrated our independence by farming the land and focusing on self-sufficiency, America might have fulfilled its promises as a land of milk and honey. But the need to acquire still more real estate begat wild expansionism in the new territory. Soon, trade routes had opened with Europe and the Philippines, while government land agents began strong-arming locals in Asia-Minor for a piece of their world-pie. How ironic that we foreigners from an overseas land came seeking freedom in America. Yet, when the other foreigners — French, Spanish, and Italian — began to arrive on shores further south, we shot lots of metal balls at them in attempts to shoo them away. Freedom for all — to a point — we began to preach. The youngest nation on the planet was also the most impudent.
Battles over property ensued with the Indians, deemed “savages” by the army. A diplomatic representative of the United States was responsible for leading an armed raid against the monarchy of Hawaii on January 17, 1893. The military had been eyeing the island for some time as a base and source of agriculture. With one of the American visitors commenting on how “completely ignorant of expansion concepts” the island natives were, Queen Liliuokalani, in her somberly read statement, surrendered to “the superior force of the United States of America.”
There were instances where our military forces sat back and let other small nations pound each other into black pudding, while waiting to supply muscle to the victor in exchange for first-shot deals. The Spanish-American war was largely a tussle between Cuban rebels and the Spanish colonial government. However, when the warship U.S.S. Maine was fire bombed in Havana Harbor, the jingoistic American press screamed for retaliation against the Spaniards, though no-one could confirm the source of the attack. Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst dispatched a reporter to Havana for a scoop on the war. When the man called and stated that all was quiet, Hearst allegedly replied “you supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war.” Sure enough, the papers told of hideous torture acts and Cuban concentration camps, none of which were discovered later to be true. Yet, our naval forces sought out the Spanish fleet and blew the living crap out of them.
War is violent bureaucracy.
Much later, we’d get involved in World Wars I, II, Korea and Vietnam out of a need to act as Big Brother to less fortunate countries that the U.S. had a stake in. It was Der Teddy Bear who most likely began a tradition of poking our noses into the squabbles of others, with his addendum to the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt Corollary. It was specifically composed to address the countries’ increasingly foreign interventions. Here, he establishes the United States’ status as a “civilized nation,” and proclaims that “any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship.”
Jesus Chrysler, Teddy-O, why not just ask them for their lunch money?
He then goes on to say that “chronic wrongdoing, however, may force the United States to exercise an international police power.” Did Roosevelt have the right as President of one nation to proclaim such exclusive governorship? As proud possessor of the biggest military balls on the planet, he assured himself and the world that he most certainly did.
So why doesn’t the military involve itself with wars of a distinctly religious nature? Aye, there’re troubles in Belfast, and the Irish Republican Army is raising a body count in the name of a God that, as far as I can tell, responds in kind to both Protestants and Catholics. But it seems we’re uncomfortable with siding in such matters.
There will always be the noble battles of passion and dedication. War as a rather romantic concept will prevail, and our own slow dance of destruction is probably just a major case of instant karma. Who’s to say that what we’ve doled out as a nation can’t come back to us as a nation? After all, we’re just a bunch of “pig Americans” to those who have been struck by the mighty U.S. forces. Just flag-waving fascists, ignorant Westerners. Right? Who’s to say that we don’t get what we deserve?
War. Hyunh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, say it again.
War. Hyunh. What is it good for? Gimme two beats, gut Gott.