War and team sport are parallel activities, but in today’s America, the coupling of guns and group balling has become increasingly explicit. Before a game, there’s the national anthem, which is reasonable enough, but after the last note has been butchered, jets often thunder overhead. On the field, uniformed troops march and salute. Gigantic flags undulate. In San Diego, five soldiers planted Old Glory on the pitching mound, evoking Iwojima. The Padres also dress in camouflaged outfits for some of their games.
During telecasts, cameras will zoom in on uniformed soldiers, special guests at the game, with commentators reminding us how lucky we are to be protected by such brave heroes. During the seventh inning stretch, we don’t get to sing goofily along to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” as was customary, but must now stand stiffly for “God Bless America,” a second national anthem, so to speak, with the announcer intoning our collective gratitude to the troops.
Participation in this additional patriotic ritual is not optional, apparently. In 2008, Bradford Campeau-Laurion was physically expelled from Yankees Stadium when he left his seat during “God Bless.” The man wasn’t protesting, he just needed to urinate. For this, Campeau-Laurion had his arms twisted by two security guards, then escorted, if that’s the word, from his cheapest, sky-scraping seat to ground level, then shoved through the turnstile, with this sent off from one of the goons, “Get the hell out of my country if you don’t like it.” Yes, citizens, you should emigrate immediately if you have a full bladder during one of our mass jingoistic hypnotizing sessions. A lust for mass murders is not love of country, and coerced love is no love at all. Love me, or I will shoot you. Has the United States become a universal psycho stalker? You’re either with us, or you’re against us. That’s the logics of a narcissistic bully. Since we have troops in just about every country, or just outside it, indifference is not a choice. You can’t ignore me. Love me, or I’ll shoot you!
In 2009, three teens were also kicked out of a minor league stadium for refusing to stand during “God Bless.” Rather surprisingly, 52% of respondents to an American Online poll applauded this ejection. Have we gone mad? Of course. In contemporary America, going to a baseball game means that you must erect yourself for “God Bless,” to show support for our door-kicking, civilian-harassing, finger-chopping, trigger happy, confused, cynical or sadistic troops. So what if you’re a pacifist or an atheist. So what if you have to piss.
Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, where art thou? For those who don’t remember, this NBA player caused an uproar in 1996 by refusing to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner. A compromise was reached when he finally agreed to stand, but with his eyes closed. In our culture, athletes, particularly those participating in team sports, are not expected to voice political opinions, especially rebellious ones. Still, we want them to talk all the time. These jocks are interviewed constantly, whereas our wordsmiths and thinkers are almost never placed in front of a camera. Jocks babble so much, they’ve become even more facile with language than our politicians.
Even our foreign, just imported muscle packages can regurgitate clichés and trite observations without the slightest of efforts.
Before game 4 of this year’s World Series, two war criminals, Bush father and son, threw out the first pitch. They entered the stadium to a tremendous roar, these two who have wasted so many lives, including American ones, with the son presiding over our financial collapse. We don’t just lack a historical memory, many of us can’t even remember what happened a mere two years ago. How else to explain the affection shown to this very corrupt man who’s bankrupted us?
Wreck the economy, send troops on repeated tours so they come back insane, truncated or dead, so their children grow up without a father or mother, so their spouses divorce them, but wave the flag, pin one on your lapel, dish up jive turkey, talk nonsense in a fake drawl, and all will be forgiven. Boy, did you see that ass kicking flag? It was something North Korea would be proud of…
Ceremony done, the Bushes were seated just behind the Rangers’ dugout, at a convenient angle to the on deck circle, so we could admire them over and over again. As expected, Fox Television swooned over their presence. The commentators even noted that Barbara Bush was marking her score card. How delightful. Each strike and ball must be recorded. It’s very important. This, from a lady who couldn’t be bothered with human beings about to be slaughtered by the action of her smirking, shoe dodging son. On the eve of our 2003 invasion of Iraq, this dainty monster fretted, “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? Oh, I mean, it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”
Yes, with a nightly circus of camouflaged god bless, of balls and strikes shutting out the endless carnage and shame unleashed in our name, with each botched bunt more parsed and considered than the trillions looted from our treasury, who has time to think about body bags, even if they contain your last ounce of flesh?
So much froth over a baseball game. What’s wrong with me? So who’s on First?
Who’s on Third but thinking he’s on First?
Who’s down to his last strike?
Who’s voguing on the on deck circle, although he’s just been laid off?
Who thinks he’s on TV even as he stands in a darkened and unheated apartment?
Who’s lying right there, half dead, on cardboard and not even trashed, just outside the oh-so-new, state of the art stadium?
LINH DINH is the author of two books of stories and five of poems, and the recently published novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.