Sunday, February 5, 2006

"Fishin'?" Or the Pleasures of Loutdom

You know the old one about the good ole boy who takes the city slicker out fishing for catfish one hot afternoon. The slicker's one of these sticklers, and has noticed that the boy has an inspection sticker from 1999 and don't bother with his seat belt even when he's hitting 50 on a gravel road. There's no shoulder, and the dust is chasing them down the road, and the green green leaves are whizzing past and it's about then that the boy passes over a fruit jar and sort of orders stickler to "look at the bead on that, and then giver a swash."

When they get to a clearing beside the sleepy river, there's a few other trucks already parked there, and they haul the skiff out of the back of the truck and clamber in. And there ain't no life vests, and the boy's got a greasy brown paper bag with him, which the slicker figures is some kind of pork sandwiches Daisy Mae whipped up for them back at the double wide, before she went off to her swing shift at the rubber thread plant. So the slicker's surprised yet again when the boy pulls out a stick of dynamite.

"What the hell? You can't do that, that's illegal."

The boy lights the fuse and passes the stick over. "You talkin' or fishin'?"

He might have continued along the lines of "if you're talking, talk civil now." I guess the slicker would say "yes sir, sir."

There are times in history when people feel nearly omnipotent. It may be that in 1930 the generals who ran Japan felt that way. Japan at that time had by far the best military in Asia, which was pretty much the world as far as Japan saw it. China was a broken country, a true pitiful helpless giant. India was still a colonial conquest of the British, who were nearly bled white from World War I and were being hectored by Gandhi’s independence movement. On the far far side of the Pacific was a United States deep in depression, with only an outpost here and there, a few soldiers in spats enjoying life in the tropics. Europe had its own issues, and Japan had defeated Russia in 1905. It was, to the Japanese leaders, an historic moment. If they waited, things might change in ways that would enhance the inherent weaknesses of their position--they were what they were, an island nation with no oil. But they were a disciplined people. It was the moment to use their strengths, the moment to act.

an original kamikaze headband, pic from

The lessons of World War II were once written across the sky, so large that everyone agreed with them: we cannot go there again. There was opportunity aplenty for new paths. These brilliant lessons have sadly faded, melted away as clouds will. Now it is the United States who is lead by people who believe we are at the historic moment. They have struck, and striking have a new argument: "you fishin' or talking?" We have, supposedly, a military power sufficient to "take out" any threat at its inception. This is the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive war, enunciated in the moment after 9/11, when the world supposedly changed, when a frightened Congress allowed this Administration to declare a permanent state of war, which now grounds its argument that it can pretty much abide by or ignore whatever laws it wants to.

It will only be with a change in the party that controls Congress that there comes a possibility of change in this amazing state of affairs, assuming that it is even possible to make such a change in Congress. It is quite possible that no change is even possible, and that even in 2008 we will be offered a choice which does not include change. Consider that in 1968 America could choose between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. The real embodiment of choice with which 1968 started so grandly--Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, even Eugene McCarthy--mysteriously evaporated by convention time. Richard Nixon, let us recall, was the "peace candidate."

Our world contains, and will always contain, the Existential Problem. It is the problem of "Are you talkin' or fishin'?" World War II did end. The Japanese discovered that the world had a bigger stick of dynamite. They suffered an ocean of misery bigger than the blue Pacific, and their grandchildren play video games in Tokyo. We only ask whether these tidal waves of misery are historical necessities, or whether we might avoid the next one, the one that seems poised to crash over our own heads and the heads of our children. To put it in a "civil" fashion. I mean, I'm not wearing a tee shirt at the dance or nothing.

--Bill Hicks

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