Sunday, June 17, 2007

In a new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, President Bush's approvalnumbers have finally broken through to a lvel beneath 30 %. In Salon, Sidney Blumenthal writes that, in the wake of the president's European tour, foreign cabinet leaders are united in believing that "the chief issue in transatlantic relations is somehow making it through the last 18 months of the Bush administration without further major disaster," which is something that, as he wryly puts it, "None of the nonpartisan think tanks in Washington can organize seminars on." A sideshow designed to cheer people up and make them feel protected after 9/11, the Iraq War never had anything to do with national security; now that it is recognized by all undeluded observers as a failed and misbegotten policy, a machine for chewing up money and lives, it is set to grind on for another year and a half so that Bush can spend his retirement insisting that it was just about to start working when his predecessor turned off the tap. No one else will make a real move to stop it because we're heading into an election year and no one of either party wants his fingerprints on it in case it takes a turn for the even more horrible. Eager to whore themselves out to a base that really wants God knows what, Republican candidates like Rudy Giuliani have decided they're running against a move to bring back the '90s, a time when we were on the verge of ceasing to be a debtor nation and when people who blew up Americans were simply arrested and put on trial without anyone screaming that the world was ending unless we shredded the Constitution and declared basic decency "quaint". I didn't realize that Giuliani thought the '90s wereso godawful when he was living through them. I thought he looked as if he was having a fine time strutting around New York City and bragging of having cleaned the place up single-handedly. He claims to be aghast at the possibility that we might ever return to peace and properity, though, just as Trent Lott, reeling in dismay from the attempt to hold a vote of no confidence over Alberto Gonzalez's hollow head, rewarded the British for their role in the coalition of the willing by assuring Americans that we would never sink to the level of those Limey fancy pants and their weird ways. Lott seemed to think that if the vote passed, the next move would be holding Question Time in the U.S. Congress. Asking for competence from department heads, expecting the president to actually drop by and explain what the hell he's doing to a bunch of elected representatives of the loser American public: why not just send sky writing planes over Osama bin Laden's camp to spell out the message "YOU'VE WON!!" in the clouds? And then, in the midst of all this, the following story by Ted Gregory appeared in Chicago Tribune on Thursday, June 14:

About two years ago, Villa Park patriots came up with a noble plan to create a veterans memorial in Cortesi Veterans Memorial Park, a patch of tranquility that measures three-tenths of an acre in the center of town.

Led by Village President Joyce Stupegia and Trustee Richard Illian, the advocates collected about $2,000 from businesses, then designed and ordered a plaque.

But now, instead of celebrating community reverence for those who served in the military, Stupegia and the group find they have offended vets. Plans for a dedication ceremony have been scrapped, and Stupegia must return to donors with unfortunate news: The plaque will continue gathering dust.

The rub is, the plaque lists not a single local veteran, only business sponsors and local elected officials.

"It isn't a memorial plaque to our veterans," said Sid Bergh, a member of the local VFW who served as a Navy aerial gunner in World War II. "It's just an advertising plaque."

Bergh, 80, a former village trustee, was among three vets who voiced their opposition to the plaque at a Village Board meeting Monday, catching Stupegia by "complete surprise," she said. She had been searching for a date when VFW members, sponsors and veterans' families could attend a dedication ceremony.

"Obviously, they don't want it there," Stupegia said. "So, I wouldn't put it there. I'm not going to fight the military. That was not my objective."

The plaque measures about 18 inches tall by 14 inches wide. The top third of it contains the words "Veteran's Memorial of Villa Park," followed by the dedication: "To all the men and women of our village who have served in the military and to their families for their sacrifices."

The lower two-thirds of the plaque extends gratitude and lists seven businesses and the village for contributing to the project. Stupegia's and Illian's names are at the bottom.

"I looked at it and I said, `Oh my God,'" village trustee and Army vet Thomas Cullerton said Wednesday. "This is not a selfless act of dedication to our veterans."

A selfless act does not include the names of contributors, Cullerton said, adding that Stupegia and Illian proceeded without approval from the Village Board or local veterans.

"There are many different ways you can do this," Cullerton said. "The key is learning how to partner with other people instead of figuring out a way to get your name on a plaque on display in the village forever."

Stupegia contends that she referred to the plan two years ago in a talk to the local VFW and asked for the organization's help in obtaining funding. In the weeks after, Stupegia said, she sought support from businesses throughout town.

"Our letters went out and those that responded are those that are thanked with a name on the plaque," Stupegia said. "The business people came forward. They wanted to be involved."

Bergh said he did not recall Stupegia's request at the VFW. Cullerton said he first heard of the plaque in January, when, he said, Stupegia announced it at a Village Board meeting. He hadn't heard anything more about it until he saw the plaque in a municipal building about two months ago.

He showed a rendering to veterans a few weeks ago. All of them objected to it, he said.

"Anything you want to do is fine," Bergh said Wednesday, "but I just don't want to make a joke out of it by turning it into an advertisement."

Bergh and Cullerton suggested that veterans' names be listed on the plaque. But Stupegia said naming all veterans from Villa Park would be impossible, a realization that prompted her to direct that the plaque be "a little more generic."

Stupegia said that her plans are up in the air, and that she would consult with donors.

"I'm disappointed," she said. "I believe this is somewhat of a slap in the face to the business community who contributes so much to so many projects in town."

I'm disappointed, too. I think the plaque sounds perfect. Writing the names of fallen soldiers that they might be remembered is so Vietnam! Sid Bergh and Thomas Cullerton need to get with the program. Repeat after me: you don't show support for troops by respecting their lives and giving them body armor, you respect the troops by cooking up unnecessary situations in which they can get killed, making sure they're underfunded and overextended, and then keeping things dragged out for as long as possible--not because dragging things out does any good or serves some point, but because you can always tell people that things might be even worse if you stopped dragging them out. As for this business of listing the names of the fallen, where were these guys when the White House was explaining that the news media shouldn't show pictures of soldiers' coffins, and reporters shouldn't read the names of dead soldiers, and the president certainly can't be going to any funerals, because all these things wouls make it seem that actual human beings are losing their lives over this stupid, needless operation, and that would eat into public support and make it harder to keep it going so that others can have the honor of not having their deaths reported or their funerals attended by the president?

By contrast, Ms. Stupegia understands what it means to pay tribute to war veterans in the modern Republican age. She understands this as well as President Bush and Vice-President Cheney and any of the Republican presidential candidates. One pays tribute to those who have died defending our country by inviting others to applaud your show of patriotism in claiming to care about the veterans. You wouldn't want to actually cite any veterans by name or see their faces or even pictures of their coffins; that would be a bringdown. It might even discourage war, and then what would you support to show your patriotism, especially at a time when the president himself and his abettors have declared their own contempt for the outdated principles our country stands for? If the Vietnam War Memorial had been designed in the age of Bush, it would have been decorated with the names of the companies that manufactured defolient and Agent Orange, and indeed, what could be more patriotic at a time when average Americans are called upon to show their defiance against terrorism by shopping till they drop? The fact that there were protests against Ms. Stupegia's effort to demonstrate her and her friends' nobility by giving people a chance to appreciate how much more patriotic they are than business owners who don't have a plaque testifying to how doggedly, come hell or high water, they support the troops--this is evidence that there are still traces in our culture of a sentimentality that associates real heroism with action and sacrifice, something that you can't pay to have printed on something you special-ordered at the gift and trophy shop. But even if the Ms. Stupegias of this world have to bide their time, they will ultimately prevail. They are on the cutting edge.

[x-posted at The Phil Nugent Experience]

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