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Damon Runyon, in ‘The Idyll of Miss Sarah Browne’ (which became the musical ‘Guys and Dolls’), delivered a cautionary tale through his character Obadiah Masterton, otherwise known on Broadway as The Sky, whose father offered him advice in lieu of more substantial patrimony. “Son”, he said, “No matter how far you travel or how smart you get, always remember this. Someday, somewhere, a guy is going to come to you and show you a brand new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But son, do not bet him, for as sure as you do, you are going to get an earful of cider.”
I was dismayed when the occupying power in Iraq manufactured thousands of decks of playing cards depicting Iraqi leaders and officials, simply because it was a vulgar and amateurish propaganda antic that would achieve little except fawning publicity on Fox News and various rabid talk-in programmes. One wonders if The Sky would have gone the limit if faced by the Pentagon’s deck (in which, incidentally, the jack of spades was General Ibrahim al-Sattar Muhammad, the armed forces chief, who, like other prisoners of war, has been treated with no regard whatever for the Geneva conventions and is held without charge or trial in a place unknown). Those portrayed were supposedly the people “Most Wanted” by US forces, and although it was an immature campaign designed by boobies it provided innocent enjoyment to sophisticated Iraqis who with justification laugh at idiots who try to use western ideas to influence eastern psyches.
In an almost unbelievably moronic advertisement for these silly things the manufacturer in America proudly announces that for nine dollars “You will receive an actual Liberty Brand, casino-quality deck from the company that actually produced cards for the government! Impress your friends and poker buddies with your INSIDERS’ KNOWLEDGE as well as the fact that YOU own a set from the EXACT SAME company that printed the cards for the government.” The mind reels at the rustic vulgarity. (But it plays well in Peoria.)
The US Marine Corps is also marketing a propaganda deck. It is called “America’s Most Unwanted” and is designed, produced and sold by officers of the Corps whose motto is ‘Semper Fidelis’ or ‘Always Faithful’, usually abbreviated to ‘Semper Fi’. But it seems that the Corps is not always faithful to the elected representatives of the United States of America, because some of those depicted on the “America’s Most Unwanted” cards of the US Marine Corps are senators and members of the House of Representatives. Two of the cards show American Presidents Carter and Clinton who are now ridiculed by the Corps of which they were commander-in-chief. (‘Semper Fi’, anyone?)
The reason for production of this deck of spite is that the legislators and Presidents (and actors and others) who appear on the cards are considered by officers of the US Marine Corps to be traitors to America because they opposed the war on Iraq. Marine Major Doug Cody solemnly pronounced that “I don’t begrudge anyone their right to express their opposition to the war, but the people on the cards went above and beyond what I thought was reasoned or principled opposition.” (It should be noted that twenty per cent of Major Cody’s profits from sale of the cards, at 12 dollars a deck, “will be given to U.S. Armed Forces Relief Societies”. How very generous of him.)
I sniff McCarthy, by God, and it’s a bloody awful stink. When I see images of US Senators on a profitable hate pack produced by citizens who swore to abide by (and fight for) the Constitution, I realise that freedom in the United States is under threat. If serving officers of the United States Marine Corps are encouraged to become deeply involved in party politics and openly denigrate members of the US Congress without being called to account, then I fear for the foundations of democracy. Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States (or of any country, indeed) who publicly vilifies an elected representative of the people should be required to get out of uniform instantly. If these people had produced a “Most Unwanted” deck of cards depicting Cheney, DeLay or Wolfowitz their loyalty would have been quickly questioned. The White House and Congress would have gone berserk and by now they would be former Marines. Why has no action been taken by Rumsfeld and Ashcroft in this case of insolent, irresponsible and disloyal defamation?
Responsibilities and loyalties must extend downwards as well as upwards. People at the top and on the higher rungs of ladders have a duty to those below them. (Except in the corporate world, of course, where there is no such thing as loyalty.) And one of the main responsibilities of a military officer is to visit the sick. As an officer you have genuine concern for the well-being of your soldiers (or marines or whoever), and when one of them is wounded or injured or hospitalised for any reason, your first duty is to get there and give comfort. It’s automatic. It’s part of family life in a regiment or squadron or ship, and is nothing out of the ordinary to those of us fortunate enough to have experienced it.
But it seems it isn’t automatic or ordinary at the top of the totem pole. Commander-in-Chief Bush has ended a month-long vacation during which he had money-raising parties and gave electioneering speeches praising US troops in Iraq. But he didn’t visit any of them in hospitals at home.
As of this week there was a total of 1124 US soldiers wounded in action in Iraq, of whom 574 casualties were inflicted after Top Gun dramatically declared an end to major combat on May 1. In addition there were 301 who, according to the Washington Post, “received non-hostile injuries in vehicle accidents [presumably including Private Jessica Lynch] and other mishaps, and thousands who became physically or mentally ill.”
There is a moral in these two seemingly unrelated (if equally sad) manifestations of Bush administration culture which are both redolent of disloyalty : one up, one down. It is that loyalty is a precious commodity. Squander it by failing to give people due attention as required by your rank and position, and you never recover it. Not only that, but you destroy utterly what you are trying to achieve.
US Army morale in Iraq is pretty damn low right now, and even Republican Senator McCain, just returned from a visit to the country, wrote in a Washington Post piece on August 31 that “. . . our military force levels are obviously inadequate. A visitor quickly learns in conversations with US military personnel that we need to deploy at least another division.” That is senate-speak meaning “I talked to all ranks from private to general and they told me they need minimum 20,000 reinforcements NOW.” When that is placed against Rumsfeld’s absurd statement that “the conclusion of the responsible military officials is that the force levels are where they should be,” you have to wonder if he is talking about the same military campaign. And you have to look at the effect of such pronouncements on soldiers protecting palaces in which administrators dwell in air-conditioned comfort.
The Bush administration propaganda battle has not only been lost in Iraq with the Iraqi people; it has been lost in Iraq with US soldiers. Of equal significance, it is about to be lost as regards other very important groups of people : the relatives of exhausted, frightened, over-extended soldiers still in Iraq, and the families of hundreds of wounded soldiers who wonder why their Commander-in-Chief has failed to acknowledge their sacrifice and suffering by just stopping by one day to visit with them in their hospital. It wouldn’t take much time out of his schedule.
Why does the US Commander-in-Chief refuse to visit his wounded soldiers in their hospital beds? I’ll tell you why. It wouldn’t play well on camera. Bush, the great commander-in-chief, he of the aircraft carrier-landing in macho Top Gun kit, is facing election next year, and it wouldn’t look good for him to be photographed alongside American kids who had their legs blown off after he declared the end of major combat operations. He would play the compassion card if he thought it would bring him votes. But the cards he gave soldiers before he sent them to Iraq were out of a stacked deck. One of them will probably squirt cider in his eye.
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, the Nation (Pakistan), the Daily Times of Pakistan and other international publications. His writings are collected on his website: www.briancloughley.com.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org