Return to story
Editor's note: The following column is an Opinion column published in the Editorial pages of The Free Lance-Star.
SOMEBODY PLEASE tell me I’m not the only one who saw the coverage of the Boy Scout Jamboree arena show Sunday night and thought: Yikes, that’s a bit too much like some of the scary weirdness that torments me in my sleep.
I mean, isn’t there something nightmarish about our misleader swooping down on a steaming pit of sweat and testosterone and whipping a throng of brown-shirted youths into a nationalistic frenzy?
And what’s not surreal about the author of an unnecessary, costly, and wholly counterproductive war claiming that his policies are “laying the foundations of peace for decades to come”?
But President Bush’s appearance at the jamboree was more than just a bad dream. It was one of those grandiose expressions of state power that, at least briefly, transforms a bumbling and dishonest politician into protector of all that is good and true in the fatherland.
Despite the patriotic fervor, there’s actually little about these kinds of events that marks them as distinctly American. Swap out the little American flags for little Cuban flags, and Bush’s visit with the Scouts would have seemed a lot like one of those government-orchestrated rallies in Havana over which Fidel Castro presides (although if el jefe had been speaking Sunday, he’d have gone on for hours and hours, precipitating another rash of heat-related illnesses at the jamboree).
The extravaganza featuring our commander in chief felt especially creepy coming on the heels of a weeklong effort by the military to turn the jamboree into one big recruitment fair.
But I guess it’s fitting that this president would be flown in to wrap up the recruiting blitz. It’s thanks to him that the military is in such desperate need of warm bodies.
And there’s always more democracy-spreading to be done. It’s no secret that some of the ideologues who whisper in the president’s ear subscribe to the notion that “everyone wants to go to Baghdad—real men want to go to Tehran.”
Not that any of these chickenhawks would be leading the charge into Persia. That task would be left to some hapless schmucks—including those who once upon a time attended a Boy Scout jamboree and decided then and there (after getting the hard sell) that they would serve their country by signing up for the Army.
But these hard facts of life were to be ignored Sunday night. Like all good spectacles glorifying state power, Bush’s performance worked only insofar as reality could be suppressed.
So when the president boasted of “laying the foundations of peace,” no one was supposed to contemplate the horrors of Iraq—a real-life nightmare for sure.
No one was supposed to be aware of new Saudi and Israeli research concluding that the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters in Iraq weren’t terrorists before the war but became radicalized by the war itself.
And no one was supposed to hear the voice of terrorism experts like Peter Bergen telling them: “To say we must fight them in Baghdad so we don’t have to fight them in Boston implies there is a finite number of people, and if you pen them up in Iraq you can kill them all. The truth is we increased the pool by what we did in Iraq.”
Nor would it have been at all patriotic to recall the CIA’s conclusion that Iraq “could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills, and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are ‘professionalized’ and for whom political violence becomes an end in itself.”
Likewise, when Bush said Americans could count on the Eagle Scout who runs the Pentagon to “be prepared,” everyone was obliged to overlook the fact that U.S. forces were anything but prepared as they headed into combat in Iraq. Thanks to the Eagle Scout, there weren’t enough troops, or enough armored vehicles, or enough dependable flak jackets. Thousands of dead and maimed Americans are the result of his preparations.
These truths were too much for some Scouts to suppress. Amid the flag-waving and the “USA! USA!” chants Sunday evening was one young Scout leader who disagreed with Bush’s Iraq policies and had taken off his uniform shirt to protest the president’s appearance.
“I don’t want to show respect by wearing the Scout uniform,” the 19-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., explained to a Free Lance–Star reporter.
But the teen did show respect for the values espoused by the president.
Bush told the Scouts he hoped they’d “always strive to be men of conviction and character.” The kid from Jupiter appears to take such rhetoric seriously, and the thought that there could be others like him might just help me sleep a little better.
RICK MERCIER is a writer and news editor for The Free Lance–Star.