America’s Arlington

Today is Veterans Day, which of course needed to be a separate holiday than is Memorial Day, because instead of remembering our war dead, we need to be reminded of our war dead-inside.

I am not so much a media victim that I believe everyone who serves in our military does unspeakable things for ulterior motives that leaves them a broken husk back in the apathetic society they just risked life and limb to protect. But neither do I think they are blameless pawns of the Western all-consuming Moloch nor alpha loose cannons a hapless, pencil-pushing bureaucracy is unable to reign in. The truth, as usual, lays somewhere squarely in the three-way Venn diagram of the three faults. Yet who will accept the blame with the honor? Who is that hero? And if they take as much pride in the former as the latter, are they actually a villain?

A common slogan in these regards is “Freedom Isn’t Free.” I’ve seen it more than once today. Except it isn’t true. Freedom is in fact the most free thing on Earth. You have it when you’re born and your choices are all that mitigate it. If you choose to live in a society of certain laws, and you break any of those laws and get caught, you may be imprisoned. But if you did not make an effort in all good conscience to change the laws that had those ramifications or sought to live somewhere that better reflected the nuances of your morality, then felt called to violate those laws anyway, you are nevertheless free of judgment beyond whatever you consider your highest power. Being true to yourself under your given circumstances is as free as it gets. Yes, the mentally ill have the freedom to believe God is on their side, but since the bulk of us in whose midst they act agree what more fundamentally trespasses upon our own freedoms, we are likewise compelled to prevent, mitigate and/or punish any attempt to exercise that confidence. Both can be true and everyone could still look at themselves in the mirror.

Now suppose you are someone with a choice whether or not to serve in the armed forces of a society that was founded on genocide and slavery and whose military adventures are overwhelmingly for the benefit of a few elites. The odds are that any similar effort you might be enlisted into is going to be analogously depraved. All rhetoric you could regurgitate tends to favor a subsection of society at the direct expense of tiers of the remainder. You say “Freedom Isn’t Free,” but the cost is your moral high ground and the welfares of countless innocents who, like even this complicit serviceperson, are at the mercy of the machinations of those they may or may not have had a fractional hand in giving power, or at very least not having deposed with whatever tools they have at their disposal. If militaries were people and nations houses, we would not stand for the manner in which either conduct themselves.

The built-up images of soldiers, like police officers, is a comfortable fiction to spare them and the rest of us from the reality of their work. It is in its essential function a brutal horrorshow, as no doubt almost every one of them would be the first to tell you. The very concept of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a product of the trauma — right there in the name — experienced on the battlefield. But we’ve shut ourselves off from true sympathy by reducing it to the PTSD diagnosis, and instead just try to make troops a just another cog of the war machine that is increasingly mechanized. Rather than truly helping veterans now, we try to make less veterans, not by reducing war but by removing the human element from it. Not, of course, the human element of our targets, for whom we have no sympathy: they are complicit in whatever trumped up crimes we accuse their masters by dint of proximity. No, we want them to feel every single death as acutely as we blunt ourselves to them. But we are the enlightened society. We are The Champions of Freedom.

I do not hate veterans. Each one of them has a certain bravery I may never know. But bravery is not necessarily virtue, and we need to stop conflating the two. How does bravery in war compare to standing up to the seemingly impossible odds the status quo has stacked against being deprived of power? Either may require acts that anyone outside that role might find reprehensible, but at the end of the day, one is usually cowtowing to the will of another, while the other is enacting the will of the many to be free to make their own choices. If a soldier has a cleaner conscience than the rabble-rouser, it is only in the same way as a puppet feels no guilt for what the hand controlling it forces it to do.

The choice is between your life and your soul. In 1984, Big Brother’s final victory over Winston Smith is not merely in brainwashing him but in making him so fearful of his life that he would gladly assign his pain to someone he loves. That is “fearful OF his life”; he would welcome an instant death, but to live in pain and disfigurement is more than he could stand. It is a life we’ve forced upon so much of the world’s people using our brave troops. Patrick Henry, the great patriot, famously told his executioners, “I regret I have but one life to give for my country.” No mention was made of his soul because it was already free. Patrick Henry was not a soldier. He was a school teacher. Why does the imperialist Christopher Columbus get a federal holiday but the defender of liberty Henry does not? Why do we not celebrate the builders as we do the destroyers? Where is their trillion-dollar budget?

Our society decided we’d rather be feared than loved. And faced with the choice between keeping their lives as cattle or dying for something they believed in, both more so than any of our troops will ever know, the world we have exploited is exercising what’s left of their freedom via the few avenues in which we will even acknowledge them. Marshall McLuhan, the great media theorist, said that violence is the media of the disenfranchised; it is the means of expression that proves their existence to an otherwise deaf culture.

It is facile to suggest we could devote the resources we pour into war to affording all of humanity with an equal standard of living instead when we are not just apathetic but outrightly hostile to doing even remotely likewise with those who actually reside within our borders. Our priorities are utterly skewed so our role models are the ridiculously wealthy, today’s versions of royalty; failing to meet those standards, we lionize those who service the unfathomably powerful’s goals and, in turn, those who portray any of the above in a mediaspace that our rulers control. Any “subversion” of that paradigm is directly playing upon the de facto assumption that they would be otherwise, and serves as a placebo for frustrations that might be expressed more palpably.

This essay, if it rates attention at all, will be ignored and reviled by those who ignore and revile any challenge to this condition. They will cloak their fear and hate in God and country, both poorly understood concepts. They will not read this far but interpret what they managed to take in as an attack on all they hold dear. They made their choice of life over their souls. They may have worn a uniform or they may not have, but only those who say NO to the machine of death have a right to call themselves “soldier.”

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Arthur and Merlin, Together Again

Remember, remember the time that Jack “The King” Kirby and “Affable” Alan Moore teamed up on their whizz-bang re-imagining of the history of Guy Fawkes, the subject of a holiday in Jolly Olde England this very day? Waaay back when in CRACKING ANARCHY YARNS #5? Exclusively reprinted here on GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST for the first time in decades, a piece of comic history!

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Okay, you caught me: This is not a real collaboration between Kirby and Moore; sadly, that never happened, although Moore has paid tribute to Kirby on more than one occasion. All dialogue is taken from the pages of Moore’s classic V FOR VENDETTA, whereas the art is Kirby’s, reprinted in The Simon & Kirby Library’s collection CRIME and previewed on Boing Boing two years back. I didn’t do much massaging to put the text into locations it would be suitable; instead, I did a needle drop in several parts of the book & allowed kismet to dictate how it would line up, sort of like playing “Dark Side of the Moon” over THE WIZARD OF OZ. I can’t guess what The King would have made of it, but I like to think that of all the ways his work has escaped his control, be it as the face of hacker collective Anonymous or, more corporately, the film adaptation, an experiment like this might appeal to Moore on an intellectual if not mystical level.

Stop the Presses!

(Not really your editor.)

Your editor.

Kent! Lane! Olsen! My office! NOW!

No, never mind that, I shan’t be assuming a fictitious character’s voice for this. I’ve kept various blogs for years, and I’ve been a writer for print & online for many more before that. While I’ve tried to cater to niche audiences with my last several tries and petered out, I decided that with this blog I would return to a more general audience, albeit general in the realm of the nerdier arts. Let’s face it: In this day, if you don’t groove on some flavor of what was traditionally the nerd-exclusive province, well, you must be some kinda fuckin’ NERD. And I take it back to its original pejorative there. Feel free to imagine it said in Ted McGinley’s inimitable sneer.

The dual purpose of making this more general purpose is to deprive me of any excuse not to keep updating it on a regular basis. This is to feed the bottomless pit of the Internet audience’s appetites, yes, but to also keep myself consistent, therefore competitive with my professional peers’ outputs. I’ll be rather baldfaced in my intentions (no small feat for a bearded man): I want to monetize this blog, be it through advertising or outrightly selling it to some media entity who will gut it of everything that made it appealing and then shrug when their pageviews plummet to nil, while I get hired by some other such entity who will pay me for my sparkling wit. Just remember I said so down the line so we have no screaming matches about selling out; it’s my goal to do so.

That all said, I hope to show you something perhaps a bit different than the quantillion other such sites, in the form of scavenged bits of culture and personal thoughts delivered with the balance of class, hypertextuality and profanity you should grow to love, or at very least be unable to quit without Dr. Drew’s intervention. The first non-introductory post should give you some idea of exactly for what I’m aiming. Let’s make some alchemy with the leaden deposits of popular culture as its been and see if we can’t invent the next Golden Age.

When I say “we” I mean it: you and me. Come at me, bro. I’m open to submissions so long as they transcend the pedantry of PR-regurgitating, fanboy-servicing “journalism.” Approach the familiar from an unfamiliar angle. Think of this more like a science journal than another place for jackasses to bray into the void. Show your work. Why do you build me up, Buttercup? Construct or deconstruct, but don’t destroy. We have more of that bullshit than anyone could begin to give a pair of fetid dingos’ kidneys over. And hey, have some fun doing it, OK? Don’t look like you’re chewing on a turd while you do it.

I’m certain the breadth of what will be here will be too varied to cleanly fit, I will attempt to categorize what goes up under three headings:

Great: Reviews of what we like. Things we don’t like don’t rate mention and aren’t worth our negativity or even our attention once we’ve come to that opinion of them. Only what gives us joy is what we should share with one another.

Caesars: Politics. By its nature it will likely offset the overriding positivity I’m trying to encourage with Great, which is all the more reason why Great should only be positive. There’s a lot to loathe in the political realm right now, perhaps more so than ever. I’d very much like to ignore it, too, but that tendency is exactly what its bestiary relies upon to enact its will. And yes, I think the political system, allowed to go feral as it has, possesses a will, and it is not to anyone’s benefit but its own and that of the lampreys that feed off of it.

Ghost: Matters of the ineffable. I belong to no organized religion, but I am not an atheist. This frustrates people on both ends of the spectrum, which says more about them than me, I reckon. I’ll take the word of science over faith any day, but I won’t assume it’s the last word. Within the context of our shared culture, we can speak to and be spoken to how our new mythologies are deficient, equal or supercede the previous paradigms, and how said myths can be used to help push this breed of ape further out of the primordial ooze and closer to the best of all worlds for everyone.

All in all, a pretty even course, wouldn’t you say? And if you would say that this sounds rather pollyanna, then you, my friend, do not know me or the dark depths to which my mind roams. And if you would say this actually sounds rather cynical, well, I’m trying just a little harder everyday not to be that dark guy, and I hope you are, too. We have this escapist culture for fun but we cram more & more of the real world into it so we don’t seem like children. We are all children, and our real world deserves more of our escapist culture crammed into it. Or maybe not! Make your case, scholars.

Before we get started, just one more thing: Don’t call me “Chief.”