Issue #12/67, June 17 - July 1, 1999  smlogo.gif

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NATO's War Medals

medal1.gifThe Hippie Hawk Medal: Garry Trudeau

If there's one person who can take credit for winning this war, it's Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau. He did it. It was a one-man effort. He took every handoff, and throughout the war it was literally student body left, student body right, all the way to the goal line. Actually, it was student body right all the way. "Student body left" was the earlier Trudeau incarnation, in the early 1970s, when he was a huggably faux-lefty Yalie antiwar columnist. In retrospect, the Trudeau of that period wasn't the courageous voice of anti-establishment tolerance he sold himself as: he was the soul of the future dissent-squelching elite in larval form, the band leader for a nation of spoiled brats reluctantly running the world.

Check out the before and after groupings of Doonesbury strips illustrated here. In 1973, Trudeau lampooned his heavyhanded jock/Nixonite character B.D. for being indifferent to the "accidental" infliction of civilian casualties in
Doonesbury '73
That was then: Doonesbury, 1973
Doonesbury '99
And this is now: Doonesbury in 1999
Vietnam. Previous strips in that particular 1973 series even invited readers, through the bimbo-with-a-heart-of-gold character Boopsie, to lament the indiscriminate killing of Vietnamese farm animals and other wildlife ("Baby ducks, B.D., baby ducks!"). Fast forward to 1999: Trudeau, now a one-man merchandising/publishing empire, author of the most widely syndicated comic strip in America, has seemingly (but only seemingly: more on that in a moment) done an about-face. In a hastily-drawn up series of comic strips published just weeks into the war, Trudeau uses his trademark "gentle humanism" and "subtle sense of irony" to satirize the mainstream Western press corps for making an issue out of-- you guessed it-- the accidental infliction of civilian casualties. Trudeau here has thinly-disguised Dan Rather character Roland Hedley, Jr. making a series of exaggeratedly silly reports from Belgrade, and from Jamie Shea news conferences, about NATO-inflicted collateral damage; the strips typically end in leaden fashion, with punchlines like, "Peter, lots of hurt feelings here in Belgrade tonight." So much for baby ducks; neo-Doonsebury is all grown up, and apparently has bigger issues to worry about.

The comic technique present in these Kosovo Doonesbury strips isn't very sophisticated--just a straight-ahead burlesque of a nitpicking, hypersensitive press corps--but then again, Trudeau was never really that funny. In fact, Doonesbury was never about humor as much as it was about (to use the fashionable corporatespeak term) "team building", i.e. creating a flattering vision of its own center-left audience, one that would inspire group unity, identity, and a sense of purpose.

In Doonesbury's formative years, there were a few constants. Nixon was always a bumbling evil buffoon; the repressive, staid Republican Slackemeyer parents were always defiantly unaware of their own moral bankruptcy, and the emerging triumph of the values of their son's generation; the ogrish pro-establishment jock B.D. would always talk himself into a corner by the strip's fourth panel; the multitudious faults of Trudeau's self-portrait character Mike Doonesbury always seemed somehow to make him seem more lovably human; and Zonker, the pointy-bearded quixotic hedonist (and the Dostoyevskiyan "simple saintly soul" of the strip), always succeeded in maintaining a lifestyle of peaceful nature-loving bliss, so long as he resisted the urge to try to accomplish anything concrete in life.

None of these characters threatened Doonesbury's reader base, who were invited to, and invariably did, identify with the reproach-proof core of Mike, Zonker, Mark, Joanie, Boopsie and Scott the priest, as they struggled against the B.D.s, the Slackemeyers, and the rest of the Nixonian establishment. A savvy observer of his own baby-boomer student generation, Trudeau recognized early on that his left-leaning East coast peers preferred to think of themselves as rebels and perpetually misunderstood moral crusaders, even though their anti-establishment affectations were, by the late sixties and early seventies, almost purely cosmetic-long hair, weed, anti-war marches a decade too late, etc. So when Nixon resigned and the Zonkers, Marks and Mikes of the world suddenly found themselves holding the reins of America's public discourse, Trudeau hit upon what in retrospect was a brilliant innovation: he kept painting his "good" characters as outnumbered idealistic rebels, when in fact they were already an entrenched elite. Trudeau knew Doonesbury readers didn't want any part of taking power, so through the still-struggling Mike and Zonker and Mark he kept them frozen forever in a Peter Pan netherworld of airy student idealism, a world where Nixon is still in charge, good people never get the breaks, and you can still feel proud of yourself every time you sing "We Shall Overcome."

Trudeau turned out to be twenty years ahead of his time. More than anyone, he anticipated Bill Clinton. Like Trudeau, Clinton understood that Democratic voters were more interested in the cosmetic trappings of leftist politics than in the politics themselves. Quietly, imperceptibly, Clinton made it clear from the start that he was willing to defend the elite in deed, while simultaneously pretending to take it on in word. He cozied up to Wall Street and cheerfully sent anti-unionist Bush programs like NAFTA to the floor while loudly propagandizing his "idealistic" social inititiatives--programs like the health insurance campaign and the gays in the military executive order, the substance of which more often than not died under his stewardship.

And when the war in Kosovo came around, Clinton turned to Trudeau for a formula to sell it to the world. The President wasn't Nixon, and his cabinet advisors weren't the bad guys. Like the Doonesbury characters, they were just a bunch of idealistic college kids trying to do the right thing. And whatever mistakes were made in the war were of the bumbling, lovable, Mike Doonesbury variety: good intentions undermined by goofy youthful enthusiasm, like the time Mike addressed an angry anti-war letter to Lyndon Johnson four years into Nixon's reign. 26 years ago, Zonker and Mark were the ones who were constantly misunderstood by their Nixonite parents and peers; now it's Jamie Shea, misunderstood by a harping press corps. Trudeau ostensibly wrote those Kosovo strips to emphasize Clinton's point of view on the war, but in fact he was echoing himself, since the President had already tailor-made the war for the Doonesbury generation.

That's why Trudeau's seeming about-face in these two strips isn't a real about-face. The dynamic in both of them is unmistakably the same. The issues Trudeau writes about are really incidental. Doonesbury is all about audience. In 1973, the Doonesbury audience was against the war because the other side was running it. Now they're in charge, and they think the rest of us should give them a break. After all, they're not bad guys. They're just kids doing their best. And they didn't ask for all this responsibility. Hey, you think it's easy running a war?

Maybe not. But that's the price you pay for being a multi-millionaire, the world's most influential political satirist, and married to Jane Pauley. Buy the ticket, take the ride. You can't blame it all on Nixon anymore, Garry. You are Nixon. And it's about time somebody called you on it.

medal2.gifMedal of Valor: General Wesley Clark

Gen. Wesley Clark was as tough as nails. Reporters swooned in his presence. They called him things like "hard ass" and "mean as hell" and "as tough as a strand of hair on Madeleine Albright's sack." Why's that? Because General Wesley Clark wasn't afraid of anything. Except, of course, anything remotely
Gen. Clark
close to a fair fight. His jets never flew below 15,000 feet, safely out of range of crude Serbian air defenses. This meant a bomb tonnage-to-civilian-death-rate roughly the same as in the Vietnam War, and twice that of the Gulf War, according to an article in last month's Boston Globe. Not to mention lots of melted Albanian refugees, whose deaths were shamelessly explained away by the pliant Western press as victims of brutal Serbian human shield games.

So, how bad-assed was Clark? Here's how bad-assed. He ordered two Apache wings into Albania and even threatened to use them. Then, seven weeks later, when the excuses ran out about training and setting up and all that, he finally admitted that he never had any intention of using them, because he was afraid they might get shot down.

If that ain't bad-assed, then how about this: he refused to fly NATO humanitarian air drops to the estimated hundreds of thousands of Albanian refugees stuck in Kosovo for fear of getting shot at, even though they were in danger of starving to death, and even though the stated aim of the NATO mission was to protect the Kosovar Albanians. There was only one near-attempt to fly low over Kosovo and deliver aid to the refugees stuck inside. It was financed by a shady USAID (read: CIA) backed "charity" called the International Rescue Committee, but guess who those brave American philanthropists hired to actually fly the planes and take the risk? That's right: Slovaks. A group of Slovak pilots had been hired to fly a pair of Ukrainian-built Antonov-26's, cargo planes which, once airborne, are probably more dangerous to the pilots than even the most sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons. NATO refused to send its mega-super-sonic jets and state of the art transport and cargo planes to the same area where a group of underemployed Slovaks were going fly a death machine. That's right: few Slovak pilots in rickety Ukrainian planes were willing to take more risk than General Clark. That's how bad-assed he was.

In the end, somewhere between three and five thousand Serbs are said to have been slaughtered in the NATO bombardment, and $100 billion dollars of damage was inflicted upon their economy. NATO lost no one. The US dollar soared. It was a helluva fight.

The Medal Of Valor, awarded to General Clark, is a yellow-striped ribbon that features a tiny canister of pepper spray in case of assault. General Clark was said to be excited about getting the pepper spray, commenting that he'd never felt safer in his life.

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