Keeping California safe and strong

Feb. 16, 2010

Been seeing a lot of commercials for the National Guard lately, especially in movie theaters. They’re big ads, too – full of dramatic music and slow-motion shots of helicopters and pugilistic fighting in the mud. In fact, the commercial oozed so much patriotism and military grandeur I thought it was a trailer for a new Michael Bay movie.

“I think it portrays the soldiers and the roles they play very well, whether it be in a civilian disaster capacity, or the training and preparation for actual combat,” said Chief Warrant Officer Richard Earnest in a Nov. 4, 2009 National Guard press release on the new ad campaign.

A lot of people have been getting weepy over the Guard lately, including our own Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. “[M]y proudest role is Commander-in-Chief of the California National Guard,” he told a radio audience on Feb. 5. The occasion for Schwarzenegger’s radio address was the introduction of Brigadier General Mary Kight as new leader of California National Guard, who recently replaced General William Wade.

“So I want to thank General Wade for his service, for his sacrifice and for making California a safer and stronger state,” Schwarzenegger said in the address. “Like General Wade, General Kight will be a war-time leader and will face great challenges. But I have confidence in her ability and in her leadership.”

Schwarzenegger made much of the fact that Kight is the first African-American woman in U.S. history to hold a top National Guard job. But his use of terms like “war-time leader” and “stronger state” should raise eyebrows. I mean, we’re talking about the National Guard, right?

Times have changed. Sometimes, I think I’m the only one who remembers the 1988 presidential race, when it seemed everybody was making fun of vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle for his spending part of the Vietnam War in the Indiana Guard.

It wasn’t that long ago, but as pundits and politicians are fond of saying, the world’s changed since then. Or rather, our perception of the world has changed. Clearly, even though nearly a decade has passed since the 9/11 terrorist acts – and no new major attack has hit American cities since – America is still terrified of the world.

The irony here is that, at least where the last few high-profile attempted terrorist attacks have been concerned, it wasn’t the Guard – or the regular army, for that matter – that protected us. It was the Guy Sitting Next to the Terrorist. It was he who foiled the terrorist and saved the day.

I’m thinking most recently of alleged “Underwear Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It was Dutch passenger Jasper Schuringa who restrained the would-be bomber. Ditto the shoe bomber Richard Reid, whose plan to blow up his bomb-laden sneakers was foiled back in 2001 by passengers and flight attendants. Even United Flight 93, which was supposed to wreck havoc in the nation’s capital, crashed in a Pennsylvania field not by the actions of a hundred-million-dollar fighter jet but by the guys who sat in the aisles with the terrorists in the first place.

Of course, the state can’t trumpet these things because they show how feckless our actual military forces are when confronting non-state terrorists and insurgents. The National Guard is fine for dealing with floods and earthquakes, but foiling a single man or small group armed with small bombs or knives is really out of their mission profile.

So the propaganda advertisements get more heroic, and harsher. The drums beat louder, and the expressions on the soldiers get ever grimmer. The message, that it’s tough work protecting the richest nation – and the richest state in that nation – isn’t particularly subtle.

In truth, it is hard work. The urge to do something “proactive” and with our mighty war machine is overwhelming, so we send them to places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where they fight and die and kill people who may or may not have anything to do with terrorism.

“The defense of privilege, the center of our lives for such a long time, is grim, exhausting,” Wallace Shawn wrote. “We’re exhausted from holding on to things, exhausted from trying not to see those unobtrusive people we’re kicking away, whose suffering is actually unbearable to us.”

Clearly, “safe” and “strong” mean very different things. Meanwhile, the appeal to military might remains a constant theme — even in state politics.

-Anthony Pignataro

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  1. EastBayLarry
    EastBayLarry 17 February, 2010, 09:29

    Tony, you are disgusting.
    You clearly hold considerable animousity towards military service and feel they are worthless, a drain on our economy.
    As a vet myself, I wonder what your service to your country has been?
    Personally, I thank God that their have always been men and women willing to serve our country and our state, putting their lives on the line while also putting their lives on hold, to keep our country free.
    You owe all of the military and all vets an apology.

    Reply this comment

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