[excerpt from The Blasphemy Tour, Jass Richards. Reprinted with permission.]
“We hope you’re enjoying Texas?” the show’s host said, after he introduced Dylan and Rev as his first guests of the day.
“Well, we’re a little puzzled by all the American flags. Outside on people’s houses and their lawns—we’ve even been seeing them sticking up in the middle of the forest, at people’s cabins presumably. What an eyesore.”
She didn’t notice the intake of breath.
“Well,” the host replied, “many people fly the flag because they have a son or daughter serving overseas.”
Rev hadn’t thought about that. She did now. Then said, “And why would they want to advertise such stupidity?”
“Well, it’s not stupid,” the host was trying to be calm. “Wanting to serve your country—”
“Oh please. Most of the people who enlist wouldn’t give their fellow Americans the time of day. I’ll bet they never volunteered at a soup kitchen or even gave up their seat on the subway. Suddenly they’re willing to—”
“They’re fighting for our freedom,” the host interjected.
“Yeah? How? How exactly does killing someone in Afghanistan or wherever make that guy—” Rev pointed at random to the one of the techies, of which there were suddenly several, all paying rather close attention to what was going on—“free? He looks pretty free to me already.”
The host tried again. “They’re bringing democracy to a country—”
“—they know nothing about. Most of them couldn’t even point to it on a map. Every time I see coverage of American soldiers overseas, they’re shouting at its residents in English. And then they’re angry when the people they’re shouting at don’t do what they’re told. Apparently it doesn’t even occur to the soldiers that they speak a different language. What, they think the world speaks their language? How arrogant. Or just stupid.
“Which explains why they really go,” she continued. “They get suckered in by the ads, about courage, honor, glory. ‘I’ll do what my country asks me to do,’ they say with such self-righteousness. Oh please. Who asked? Name one person who came to you and said, ‘Hey, John, could you please go kill that person for me.’
“And then they come back all distraught and messed up because they did just that. Like it’s such a horrible surprise. The six weeks of being taught how to load and shoot a gun should’ve been a clue.”
“Well, they thought they’d just be killing—”
“The bad guys? What are they, twelve?”
“I get, and admire, the desire to be a hero. It’s just that in the context of war, heroism is—” she paused, trying to find the right word, “—manufactured.”
No one seemed to understand what she was getting at, so she turned back.
“Look, you sign up to be a soldier, you kill people. At the very least, you hurt them. And they scream, and bleed, when their arms and legs are blown off. Especially the kids. Go figure. Did you think they’d get up and walk away after they’d been shot?” She spoke into the camera. As she’d been instructed.
“And now you want to kill yourself because you can’t live with what you did. Or, worse, because you can. You didn’t anticipate that? Why the hell not!”
Dylan noticed that a few people in suits had moved in among the growing crowd of techies. As had Tucker.
“How is it you have no idea what happens in war? Wilfrid Owen. 1916. All Quiet on the Western Front. 1929. M.A.S.H. 1970. Coming Home, Apocalypse Now. Late 70s. Born on the Fourth of July, Casualties of War. 80s. In the Valley of Elah! Every generation comes back and tells us. This is nothing new. Where have you been?
“I’ll tell you. With your head in the sand and your hands on your video games, dreaming little boy dreams of being a hero.
“Did you think it wouldn’t actually be you to pull the trigger? Zimbardo! Milgram! We have done the studies. We know what happens when people are put in that situation. And it’s not like these studies are hidden or censored. Anyone can go to a library and sign out a book on psychology, a book on group influence, peer pressure, indoctrination, brainwashing, there are lots of them. You can even get one on eBay. For ninety-nine cents.”
One of the suited men had started making throat-slitting gestures to the host, who was trying, unsuccessfully of course, to stop Rev. Tucker quietly moved to stand behind the man, ready in case—well, ready.
“And it’s not like you had to sign up. If you’d been forced to do it, that would be different. If someone had held a gun to your own kids’ heads, that would be different. But you chose to go. You chose to subject yourself to military conditioning and now you’re crying because it worked.
“So if you ask me,” she said, fully aware that no one had asked her, “you deserve every sleepless night, every nightmare, every flashback you’re now getting. You should have known. That you didn’t is your own fault.
No one jumped into the silence that followed.
“And you should have thought about it. Before you did it. But you didn’t, and now you’re a mess. Well good. You should be. That’s the price of being a philosophically irresponsible idiot. Not to have thought through the ethics of it—it’s a failure of personal responsibility.” She looked squarely into the camera again. “Again, what are you, twelve?”
“But if you question the morality,” the host pointed out, “you’re labelled a bleeding heart. A boyscout. A pussy.”
She looked at him. “Since when did ethics become a girl thing? And besides, so what? You ignore right and wrong just to avoid being called a pussy? When your loved ones tell you they’re enlisting, you don’t try to stop them? Because you don’t want to appear weak? You should tell them what fools they’re being! Tell them it’s a suicide mission no matter how it turns out!”
Dylan noticed then that many of the people, actually all of them except the one still slitting his throat, were nodding, silently applauding, or giving a thumbs up.
“And please, enough with the talk about ‘psychological injury’ and trouble ‘transitioning’. Since when is ‘transition’ a verb?
“And ‘post-traumatic-stress-disorder’—give me a break. It’s guilt. Nothing more, nothing less. Guilt for having done something monstrously wrong, something cruel, something barely justifiable. And since when is guilt a disorder?”
“So,” Dylan said in the heavy silence that followed, “You wanted to ask us something about our tour—of enlightenment?”