A Heroic Struggle
by Jerry Gilio
May 8, 2004

Some of the cynicism I feel is showing up in other, unexpected places. One such place is comic books.

I know why I feel the way I do. And I actually owe George W. Bush debt of gratitude for it. As his lies and manipulation of the American people became more obvious, I felt a growing need to try and uncover the truth. After all, if you're going to call someone a lying sack of shit on a regular basis, you should have some proof to back it up. It's only polite. It's also, oddly enough, exactly what was wrong with Bush's policy toward Iraq.

You have to follow the headlines to be able to counter Bush's lies. For example, his claim that it was important to topple Saddam Hussein's regime so we could bring Democracy to the Iraqi people sounds almost noble on the surface. But anyone who read about the fun and games in Haiti might find themselves scratching their head. Wasn't their leader democratically elected? Yet, when the armed thugs rose up against him, did Dubya rush in to defend Democracy? Nope. He sent in his lap dog, Colin Powell, to help run the poor bastard out of town on a rail.

This was one more reason to pity Powell. He may be Bush's lap dog, but it's a weird relationship where the dog is smarter than the master. Every time Bush throws a stick in some ill-advised direction and Powell is forced to fetch, it must kill him. You can see it in his face. He and Condi Rice are the only ones anywhere near the White House that seem burdened by intelligence, morals or competence. But, especially in Powell's case, when he tries to display these traits, his boss snaps back on the leash and screams "Heel!"

People get indignant when you suggest that we had no business interfering in Iraq. Saddam was a brutal dictator who tortured his own people and kept them in poverty.

"Are you saying that's right?" they cry. "Do you support that kind of despicable behavior?"

Over time I've developed two responses to these knee-jerk, party line questions. I've found them fairly effective and, barring that, entertaining.

The response to the "how can you say it's okay to leave a monster like Saddam in power" can be summed up in two words: Pol Pot.

The fun part of this is to watch the blank stare you receive in return. You can follow it up with, "No? How about Khmer Rouge?" This being America, the Etch-A-Sketch of your companion's face will probably still look freshly shaken. Now you can take pity and make a movie reference. "The Killing Fields?" you ask.

Not being a Farrelly Brothers comedy, you may still come up empty even though Academy Awards were involved.

The sad fact is that Pol Pot killed enough people in post-Vietnam Cambodia that even Saddam Hussein would whistle quietly and whisper "That crazy bastard is out of control" when confronted with the numbers. He killed MILLIONS of his own people. But they all deserved it. They had become educated freethinkers. Such people are walking Weapons of Mass Destruction to any totalitarian regime and must be dealt with.

So why didn't the U.S. rise up and smite Pol Pot? Well, probably because we were still smarting from our paddling in Vietnam. Also, as a nation, we couldn't find an answer to the all-important question, "How will you show your gratitude for the precious gift of Freedom?" Since few people relate Cambodia to oil or anything else America might want, there was no satisfactory answer.

And Pol Pot isn't alone. He simply comes to my mind first because of a Dead Kennedys song, "Holiday in Cambodia". But there is no shortage of murderous waterheads that have climbed to power on the bodies of those who opposed them. So it seems hypocritical to single out one who happens to control some resource you depend on and say that he must be eliminated while allowing the others to continue their sadistic dance. It seems doubly self-serving when the monster in question once plotted to kill your leader's daddy.

Well, if we don't help these oppressed people, who will?

This leads to the response to the second, totally true accusation that Hussein kept his people in poverty. Who could and should help them?

How about the Iraqi people?

This answer came to me on a viscously hot July afternoon in Paris. I stood, drenched in sweat from heat that would claim thousands of French lives, and contemplated the majesty of The Louvre. As I looked at this magnificent building I considered a fact that our tour guide had shared. This palace, one quarter of a mile long, had been abandoned by King Louis because it was too small. He has moved to more suitable accommodations at Versille.

Standing there, in a near swoon from dehydration, I imagined the effect on me if the queen had mocked my empty belly with her "Let them eat cake" quip. And then I finally understood how the Iraq situation should have been handled. The French had figured it out long before I was born.

The oppressed need to scream, "Fuck this shit!" with one voice, storm the castle and start chopping heads. Anything else leads to the attitude we saw in Vietnam and that seems to be shaping up in Iraq.

"Freedom? Right. Whatever."

The only time Freedom seems to stick is when the oppressed get so sick and tired of having a jackboot on their collective neck that they rush the canons, lunge over the dismembered bodies of the first few waves of their brothers and choke the life out of their oppressors with their bare hands.

Fuckin' A, Bubba.

Anything you have handed to you too easily ends up not meaning much. The kid who works all summer to save up for a rust bucket with 70,000 miles will probably treat it better than the kid who drives the new Mercedes off the showroom floor as his daddy finalizes the paperwork.

Our forefathers were willing to die to be free. The French were willing to die to overthrow their monarch. Both were willing to kill to be free. If they weren't, the movement would probably have run out of steam short of the finish line.

The Iraqis are already grumbling about compensation. Yeah. You're welcome. Selah.

But I probably wouldn't have given nearly as much thought to this if Bush hadn't slapped me out of complacency. So thanks, you degenerate, lying sack of pig shit. Your soiling of the office of President and America's reputation and credibility around the world has made me a more responsible American.

"So," you ask, "what's this got to do with comics?"

Well, unlike the days when comics presented epic battles of Good vs. Evil, and Good was defined as "Truth, Justice and The American Way", now they contain more subtle and jaded plots.

For example, consider Captain America. He, more than any other hero, is meant to be the Living Embodiment of American Ideals. So what does it say that in 2004 Steve Rogers finds himself at odds with the American government?

To me it says that, for many, America no longer reflects the American Ideal. The concept of Justice for All has become the punch line to countless jokes. The door swings both ways. OJ literally got away with murder, while Martha Stewart, who was probably guilty of little more than being an overachieving bitch, is staring down the barrel of hard time. And charges haven't even been brought against Ken "Kenny Boy" Ley, who ruined more lives than a drunken radio psychiatrist.

So naturally, when a man who stands for everything good in the American Dream meets the reality of contemporary America, nostrils will flair and punches may be thrown.

It's no wonder that when I wanted to wear a Captain America jersey in London on July 4, 2003, my wife talked me out of it. She argued that it would be a rude gesture toward our hosts. And there was the implicit danger in being obviously American on foreign soil in the earl 21st century.

But in the end, nothing she said convinced me to leave the Red, White and Blue in the closet. It was George W. Bush and his arrogance. It occurred to me that most Brits have probably never heard of Captain America. They wouldn't see my display as one of love for what America can and should be. They would see someone proudly displaying symbols of America as it is, as Dubya has made it. And among his many accomplishments, Dubya has made me into someone who feels a need to apologize for the ham-fisted juggernaut my homeland has become.

So instead of Steve Rogers and me proudly posing for photos in front of the Houses of Parliament, we hunkered down in the back of a dark pub in civilian garb and downed pints of brown ale. It helped wash the bitter taste of shame out of our mouths. It also loosened our thinking enough to start considering how to win back our country. The Red Skull may be dead, but the Red Neck is riding high.

So in November 2004, when Captain America cries "Avengers Assemble", I'm showing up. It will be for the Final Battle of a domestic war that will rage all summer, with casualties like truth and dignity strewn dead or dying across the countryside. But I don't plan on being among them. And when the smoke clears, you can count on two things: I'll have voted against the man who made me feel ashamed of America and I'll do it while wearing my Captain America jersey.

For Truth, Justice and The American Way.

Copyright © 2004