The hoodlums of Cedar Rapids, Iowa have painted patriotic graffiti on the side of the highway. As we were driving past this on the way home from my grandparents (food, super-warm wood heated house, babies, more food) we were passed by a tailgating moustached man, whose white two-door coupe was smothered in American flag decals. I was prepared for the red, white and blue decor – stories of empty discount stores and ironic flag thievery are good fodder for even the European news media – but not for the sucking mindless void that seems to be behind it all.
What really got me were the stories in the tiny local paper. It seems that people are trying to refocus their Christmas celebrations, discarding some of the commercial fluff. This is all well and good, but what it really means is that they’ve discarded their clumps of red and green Christmas things in favor of all-new, all-ugly red, white and blue Christmas things. The advice columnist writes that a sensitive holiday party will make good use of patriotic napkins; childrens’ printed letters to Santa Claus include requests for turtles, Nintendo products and United States flags in the same endearingly greedy sentence; my neighbor has a fairie-light flag as part of his outdoor display. What the elvis are these people trying to accomplish? Do they think their shoddy gestures of patriotism will be enough to scare off resident terrorists, or maybe sway the minds of the corn fields?
I can understand such displays during, say, World War Two, when American citizens at home were actually sacrificing something for their country – after all, it’s good to be reminded that your privation is for a purpose. Today there are no ration books, no scrap metal drives, and gas is barely more than a dollar a gallon. So the only thing we’re suffering from is fear – are we really displaying flags to remind us of why we’re scared? I think Franklin Roosevelt had something to say about that once.
The whole thing is almost enough to make me question the selfless motives and worldly perspective of us Americans, who generally have enough to eat every day and whose president has promised to make the bad men go away by the magic power of bombs and guns. Almost enough, but not quite – some of those “God bless America” window decals were pretty damned persuasive. I think there’s a squirrel in our backyard who’s not quite convinced that the United States is the greatest country ever, so I’m going to go build a snowman and dress him in an Air Force uniform made of twigs. There’s not much snow on the ground, so it’ll be tricky, but by golly I’ll do anything to teach those terrorists a lesson.