Perspectives: A Review of 2014
by Peter Byrne
(Swans - December 31, 2014) The first thing I read on Christmas morning spoke of a movie called American Sniper. With Baby Jesus neatly tucked into his crib and the Christian era launched, I watched the video attached. Chris Kyle, the hero, is the emblematic American of the third millennium. He has the highest kill record (160) ever recorded. We enter, guns blazing, the era of the body count.
Fourteen years into the century, I caught on why it's unique. I should have understood in the 1990s when Madeleine Albright asked, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" Our Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of State continued, "But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us."
I learned in 2014 that it was I who had become that danger. American born but living abroad, I'd reentered the U.S. at many different points over the years. This time, for the first time, I was interrogated like a criminal. Officials grappling with their new database looked into the future for a good hour. What havoc might not this octogenarian cause riding a bus in from Montreal with his bag of books?
Questions scurried up and down the chain of command. Electronics tinkled. There were moments of silence, maybe of thought, as the men asking questions stood tall, dreaming "bad guys." The officials had shaved heads and potbellies, sure signs of pensioned-off soldiery. At length, digging deep in my bag, I fished out my birth certificate. It was as if I was playing dirty and using some dastardly foreign trick on "our boys." It was as if I was one of the evil others who squealed like a baby when water-boarded or dared to return fire on our kill champion, Kyle.
I had plenty to think about on the bumpy trip past the shopping malls to Manhattan. In this year 2014 the United States found itself thoroughly militarized. How did it happen? I grew up on WWII movies and newsreels. We weren't scared by the Prussian officers played by Erich von Stroheim. Hitler and Himmler reviewing SS troops in 1938 was weird because of the rigid solemnity, but we laughed along with the voiceover. The Japanese ("Japs") were something else, crazy in their suicidal leader worship but just as ridiculous in their military locked step. Our citizen army, regular guys taking a break from the farm or factory, could more than handle them. The French playing soldiers in effeminate uniforms were worth a sigh, but they were just losers after all. Italian militarism was something Charlie Chaplin could roll over all by himself. We had the Brits on our side, no great shakes under arms, but touching in their quaintness and incompetent bravery. There were the Red Ants in China where life was cheap. They had numbers but we had brains -- we were creative in our wars, which were always defensive, and we were fair too. Fairness always won in the end, before the second feature started. Nothing was more un-American than the filmed May Days in Red Square. All that clanging hardware paraded as if in a Miss America contest -- it looked deadly but we would beat them by cleaning out the subversives at home and being, well, just us, the best.
And here we are with 2014 over. Our police, as righteously quick on the draw as their buddies in the over-armed forces, now share their equipment. And who says our president doesn't have the muscle to confront the naysayers? Look how he slapped that movie into North Korea's face. What's more, "his" war in Afghanistan isn't lost yet. We've put a man in power there who is inviting us back for more. The year's most thunderous news, however, is that the prez has started a brand new war in what's left of Iraq. Albright's danger of the future? Look in the mirror.
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