year of the flag-waving nuts

Recommended reading: a long-ish Mondoweiss interview with Major Tom Pierce, a retired career military man who was one of the JAG Corps officers defending Guantanamo prisoners. Some pretty good thoughts on the US foreign policy nuthouse.

The anecdote below captures some of the loony quality over here right after 9/11. I remember arguments with otherwise reasonable people who thought we needed to "do something" (i.e. bomb the shit out of some hapless country). My response was, yes, "we" need to find the people responsible -- whoever is still alive -- and put them on trial, and not a kangaroo court either. Instead "we" invaded two countries and years later, shot one of the loudmouths who claimed responsibility. Oh, yeah, exceptionalism R US.

Where were you on 9/11?

I was on active duty as a JAG officer. I went into work that morning. And our staff was small, me and a lieutenant colonel, and he routinely would come in late. And that day he didn’t come in till 2 or 3 o’clock, which I won’t say anything more about. It was all happening when I got to work, and the second plane hit and we knew it was terrorism, and so we began wrapping up immediately our command, because we were responsible for all the Reserve units in six states. Also we knew people were being mobilized almost immediately. I was in on all the discussions because the more senior guy hadn’t shown up yet. And you could just see the hysteria taking hold of a lot of people.

Then at the end of the day, late in the day, because we worked late, finally my senior officer arrives, so I can go home, and I picked up my son [from school in Minneapolis] so we could go home, and see my stepson who was back from the Marines on leave. He’d been in a year and a half, and I was anxious to see him. And there was a huge traffic jam. And finally we got north, and we came to an overpass, and there was a guy on the overpass with a kid waving a flag. He backed the traffic up five miles because everyone honked a horn and slowed down a bit. It was something like after Pearl Harbor. But I was ticked off. I wanted to get home and see my stepson.

The next night– the same thing. The guy was out there again with a flag. The third night, I pulled over. I had my uniform on, and I said, Hey you’re backing up traffic for ten miles. You’ve done this now for a couple days, we get it. He said, “I just want to show my support.” I said, I’m in the military, I want to get home, you’re doing a disservice to me.

The guy was out there again the next night. I called the highway patrol. I said, Look, I understand free expression, but backing up traffic? Can you at least suggest that he stop? But they said Oh no, we can’t.

Fortunately, he wasn’t out there after the weekend.

Why wasn’t it freedom of expression?

It was hysteria. Immediately– out came this outpouring. He was patriotic, but again to me, sitting out there—he was backing traffic up for miles. I never criticized anyone’s patriotism, though we could get on to a different topic, of how it’s become hyper militarism.

Where else did you see the hysteria?

Just watching my fellow officers. They were changing before our very eyes. We have to go to war, we have to start killing people. Then it all started. Picking people up with no Geneva conventions.