For my generation, and for the Boomers and Gen Xers who came before us, World War II is viewed through rose-colored and Hollywood-manufactured glasses. Our knowledge of the conflict is mostly confined to low-angle shots of US infantry charging up Omaha Beach and GIs chain smoking Marb Reds while standing in front of a bunch of newly captured SS stormtroopers. That’s not to say that there aren’t those among us who know the exact number of casualties at the Battle of Stalingrad or who can remember the names of WWII-era aircraft better than our own social security number. I have no doubt that the facts and figures and mythology of the European and Pacific Fronts will live on as long as our nation has air left in its lungs. It’s the portions of the war that aren’t so amenable to the patriotic remembrance of our past that I’m worried about.
It’s no secret that the western front was the sexy part of the war. Talk to a group of 10th graders and I’d bet good money half of them forget that we even fought the Japanese until you bring up Pearl Harbor. When 48% of 18-24 year olds can’t find Mississippi on a map, it’s not exactly a world-shaker if you find out they don’t know Hirohito from a hole in the ground. I mean, aside from that cinematic abortion that Ben Affleck put out a decade ago, how many movies can you think if that feature the Pacific Theater? For a plethora of reasons it just never had the same cultural cache as the European side of the conflict. Unless kids are spending their free time these days watching Letters from Iwo Jima and reading Flags of Our Fathers, they aren’t likely to have much of a frame of reference when it comes to the eastern portion of the war. And if they don’t know about all the gory, gutsy glory of the GIs over in Guadalcanal and Saipan, then how in the hell are they going to know about the 110,000 Japanese-Americans that our government forcibly relocated and held in internment camps during WWII?
I bring this up, in large part, because I can’t go more than a week without that old Santayana quote about those who forget history being doomed to repeat it getting stuck in the soft underbelly of my cerebellum. You see, this morning I drove down to my gym well before sunup to take a shower because Hurricane Sandy had decided in all her infinite wisdom to knock my power out for a few days. So, it’s about six in the morning and I’m groggily undressing in the men’s locker room at LA Fitness when I look up at one of the ubiquitous wall-mounted flatscreens and see this:
That sound that you’re hearing right now is your own brain trying to escape from your skull to get away from the xenophobic stupidity that you just witnessed. Even as I’m trying to type this right now my hands are making Kramer-esque gesticulations to no one in particular to try and express the sheer insanity of what I just witnessed. So, we’re in a classroom and it’s clearly the future because a) they tell us it’s 2030 and b) there are holograms. Everything starts out with this chinese professor who is apparently giving a 2 minute lecture on the history of Western Civilization to a group of implausibly attractive college kids. As the professor goes on we find out that America has gone the way of Tab and Beta-Max and is now a relic of a bygone age because they went overboard with deficit spending and raised taxes too much. This was apparently a violation of America’s most basic principles and inevitably led to old glory being enslaved by their insidious Chinese overlords who seem to gain their evil power by maniacally laughing at their subjects misfortune. And, after all this, I still have absolutely no idea why what I just watched even exists.
This ad, creatively titled “Chinese Professor”, is the brainchild of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a non-profit think tank that advocates for fiscal conservatism and, apparently, anti-Asian sentiment. The organization’s stated mission is to, “eliminate waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government” and it was one of the infinite bastard progeny of the Reagan Eighties decentralization craze. Among their many plaudits, they were caught sending out form letters signed by dead people in the Microsoft anti-trust case and have lobbied for Big Tobacco on multiple occasions. Yet, even for tobacco lobbying necro-petitioners, this latest ad was beyond the pale.
I’ve watched the ad about 20 times and I still have no idea what its purpose is besides spreading enmity and hatred. It’s not in support of any candidate. No issues are brought up outside of a vague allusion to excessive government spending. All it does is demonize the Chinese people as some kind of malevolent other who want nothing more than to see America crumble. At least with the majority of the vitriolic attacks from the Romney and Obama campaigns I can see the rationale behind their rancor. This exists solely to breed prejudice and I would be madder if I weren’t still stunned by its baseness. Citizens Against Government Waste and other neo-conservative may claim the patriotic high ground, but their blusterous jingoism is nothing more than a defacing of America’s tapestral beauty. I don’t remember fiscal austerity being a bedrock principle of our nation’s founding, but I seem to recall something about all men being created equal somewhere in there. I’d like to see a political ad about that.