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the diary thing 
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10.24.01
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 escape
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U.S. CONGRESS IS DRAFTING A BILL proposing the re-introduction of war bonds. "War bonds," says Senator Mitch McConnell (R - Kentucky), "will give voice to countless Americans who are looking to make a difference in this time of need." No details have been given, however, detailing how the new war bonds will differ from already available government savings bonds, T-bills, or a multiplicity of savings certificates. 

It seems like an exercise in nostalgia, more than anything else, and the kind of thing that ambitious politicians like to be seen doing in the absence of any other compelling duty. The fact is that the economic situation today bears no resemblance whatsoever to that of a time when everyone from Frank Sinatra to Bugs Bunny shilled bond drives. There's no "war economy", except for the recession we were heading toward before Sept. 11th, and economic logic dictates that discretionary income would be better spent buying consumer goods than locked up in savings. After all, the last time war bonds were issued, there was nothing to buy while war industries were pumping wages up after a decade of depression. 

Back then, government coffers were empty after years of public works projects under the New Deal. Today, the U.S. has a fiscal surplus, and the current "war on terrorism" can be funded for at least another year, perhaps more, based on current weapons stockpiles and military budgets. It's unlikely that GM will be re-tooling its plants to switch from SUVs to tanks, while last year's gas hog is laid away under a tarp, unable to take to the road thanks to fuel rationing.

I can't help but wonder, though, about what kind of fond wish for a more austere world -- as imagined by those who, for the most part, never lived through it -- lies behind unrealistic notions like the return of war bonds, as voiced by elected representatives who, if quizzed, would never gainsay the wisdom of the market, while acting steadfastly against its obvious logic. I hate conspiracy theory, so I won't spout some dark fantasy about a government preparing us for a world of constant war, made palatable by a sly effort to sell us the nostalgia for a previous, more comprehensible conflict. It's a compelling fantasy, equal parts 1984 and Winds of War, but I'll leave its propogation to those more devoted to victualling their paranoia.

The truth is a bit starker: the new war -- and it is a war, regardless of how lopsided the forces, how indistinct the enemy, how unclear the objective -- is something entirely new, and the newness is terrifying. It didn't start on September 11th, and it won't be over anytime soon. It might go from "surgical strikes" and a crusade for justice to messy, multi-front conflict, hobbled and conditioned by any number of sometimes dismal political alliances. It might, despite our best and wisest efforts to the contrary, turn into a "clash of cultures", and diminish the democracy it so stridently professes to defend. Faced with such vague but awful prospects, the mind turns to nostalgia, to the familiar, to a fond wish for a better world, a comforting past, no matter how bleak that possibility.

Because no one who lived through the Second World War will tell you that it was fun, that it was joyous, that they felt constantly ennobled through their sacrifices, whether it was a lack of nylons or butter, or the possibility of violent death or the loss of loved ones. Living through the war, any sane person wanted nothing more than for it to be over, and dreamed of the world that would follow, one of peace and plenty and security and a blissful escape into the trivial and diverting. That world, once it arrived, was trivial and diverting, to a fault, and perhaps more than a few people looked back on the dark times they'd left behind with some fondness, missing the sense of purpose, but they were a minority, and were no doubt aware of how absurd it would be to leave behind comfort and peace for scarcity, fear and war.

But the human mind, especially the group mind, convulsively demanding satisfaction through the confusing prerogatives of a society, is never neat, or lucid, or logical. In New York, survivors of the World Trade Center attack have been obsessively visiting a makeshift gallery of photos of that day, hundreds of photos taken by professionals and amateurs, attempting to make sense of what happened to them, of what's still happening. We know we can't escape the tragic reality of war, so it's natural that even congressmen are trying to re-imagine it, to mould the grim reality to suit a less unsure vision of the future. 

And so we have war bonds, and "God Bless America", and benefit concerts that we hope, vainly, have less to do with the egos of the performers involved than with some unifying moment where everyone from P. Diddy to Billy Joel to Justin Timberlake is actually part of the same culture, an idea that would seem risible a few months ago. In awhile, we'll be trying to divine just who would be our Vera Lynn, our Frankie, our Glenn Miller Band. Anything to avoid the heartbreak of realizing that we'll never have that moment, that the current war is like our current world: fragmented yet all-encompassing, truly global yet capable of striking at a household, at our workplace, without warning.


 
"The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts, and all that went before belongs with yesterday's seven thousand years."
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- Willa Cather
Not Under Forty

 
While we're at it, let's bring back taxi dances, and cod liver oil, and two-piece collars.

SPEAKING OF RISIBLE, I've had a song stuck in my head for days, a song I can't say I've ever given much thought to in our nearly quarter decade of co-existence: "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate. I can't help it, but it's lodged in my head, running on an endless fragmentary loop, sometimes playing a verse or the chorus endlessly, sometimes just the guitar line and that brilliant, syncopated drum/cowbell lick that holds it together and which, until now, I'd never been able to acknowledge for its obvious genius.

Then there's the vocal, which I'm sure I used to make fun of, years ago, when "You Sexy Thing" seemed like the most mindless disco effluence. "Where did you come from, angel? How did you know I needed you?" It would sound insufferably fey with a slick, mid-seventies folk-rock backing track, but the insistent rhythm of disco makes it -- like it did everything else -- seem both urgent and leering, a come-on line shouted out over the thumping din at the bar. Imagine Barry White moaning the line, then listen to Hot Chocolate's Errol Brown and his horny, pleading yelp -- they're both perfect, but Brown sounds needy where White would sound sated. I can't imagine what inspired his peculiar, unique vocal technique, until I actually get a glimpse at the video for the song: very, very tight pants, of course. 

Perhaps this is my little escape. Far from dancing along to the song in my head, I mostly replay it in discreet chunks, marvelling at the drummer's hidden ingenuity, allowing the singer's lewd joy to infect my own life, just for a minute. On t.v., there's nothing but silly crap and dreary war news; official reports of our military skill, disbelieving reports of enemy losses, and the gnawing specter of plague arriving in the mail, sent by unknown enemies. "I believe in miracles," goes the song. "Since you came along, you sexy thing, sexy thang, yeah." It has nothing to do with anything, and I'm loving every minute of it.

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writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
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