Swans Commentary » swans.com March 28, 2005  



Spreading Democracy Instead Of Gonorrhea
It's Infectious!


by Richard Oxman





Special note: Readers are advised to not read footnote five until the very end...as it contains a punch line of sorts. Thanks for your kind consideration.
"Keeping our men clean is a matter of the highest importance."
—General Pershing
"For God's sake...don't show this to the President or he'll stop the war."
—Secretary Baker responding to (head of the CTCA) Raymond Fosdick's handing him French Premier Clemenceau's magnanimous offer to establish licensed houses of prostitution for sexually-suffering American doughboys.


(Swans - March 28, 2005)  As we approach the end of March we can observe many frightful anniversaries associated with what Teddy Roosevelt lovingly referred to as the "Great Adventure" -- highlights which carry heavy parallels with current abominations, and hark to the Hell that is our future.

The virulent strain that is our history continues to spread...disease.

According to Edmund P. Arpin, Jr., WWI saw many stateside training camps modeled on the American college experience of the time. To wit, "countless contemporary observers noted the keen sense of schoolboyish anticipation and excitement that infected...fresh recruits." (1) Fort Sheridan is one example given of an encampment in which "an atmosphere somewhat like that of a college campus on the eve of a big game" was taking place. (2)

All of the talk today of dissatisfaction and desertion among the ranks notwithstanding, (3) our shoot-em-up, video (game for death) youth are very much focused on the extreme fun of The Gunplay Abroad. Jeez, they're just ill at ease.

Just as well-meaning souls advocated for the army, attaching their agendas around 1917-18 to abominable activities abroad (vis-a-vis the Temperance crusaders' 18th Amendment fight and The American Social Hygiene Association's anti-VD campaigns), (4) today we see many hallowed words coming down from the Heights of Holier Than Thou realms...suggesting that fun can be found amidst friendly fire, and satisfaction guaranteed spreading Democracy instead of gonorrhea.

Our patriotically-transmitted, idiosyncratic idiocies have been plaguing us and others forever. I'm afraid it won't be over over there till it's over over here. The fun associated with fighting, and the diseases imbedded in our so-called leisure activities. (5)

It's one easy thing to call a WWI spade a spade. It's another matter entirely...spotting a modern day inflammation, cussing and discussing it across the nation...shunning the infectious --on some level-- in the process.

Here's to public health! What's that above your pubic bone?

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1.  David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.185.  (back)

2.  Ira Berlin, ed., "A Wisconsinite in World War I: Reminiscences of Edmund P. Arpin, Jr.", Wisconsin Magazine of History 51 (1967), p. 6. On pp. 4-5 in John Dos Passos' One Man's Initiation: 1917 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1969) we find: "We had spent our boyhood in the afterglow of the peaceful nineteenth century....We flocked into the volunteer services. I respected the conscientious objectors...but...I wanted to see the show."  (back)

3.  See "AWOL in America: Why Over 5,500 U.S. Soldiers Discharged Themselves" and "Three U.S. Soldiers Refusing to Fight Speak Out Against the Iraq War" on Democracy Now!. I believe that my questions in part of "Oxeyes Tears Over Weeping Camel: No More War Moms" are worthwhile too. The bottom-line issue of the military establishment's legitimacy --among AWOLers and journalists alike-- is rarely raised. The contrast between individuals such as Ken Benderman and Harpers' Kathy Bodie et al., including Amy Goodman, respecting the Iraqi war is quite instructive.  (back)

4.  The Commission on Training Camp Activities boasted posters that read "A German Bullet is Cleaner than a Whore," and many pamphlets proclaimed that sexual purity was next to godliness...and essential to patriotism. This CTCA --backed by the YMCA, Knights of Columbus and the Jewish Welfare Board-- put forth the notion that a soldier who got a dose of gonorrhea was a traitor.  (back)

5.  The light sentences handed out respecting a recent NBA brawl ("Three men accused in NBA brawl sentenced to probation") are typical. And, what's worse, the stimuli for such illegal "shenanigans" grow worse with time. Zero is being done to reverse the horrid "hockey-mentality" momentum of all sports. The extreme danger/environmental degradation associated with many leisure activities speaks for itself. Teddy Roosevelt thought conscription would "rank next to the public school among the great agents of democratization." Actually, he was talking about indoctrination. And every leftist with the head screwed on tight knows what part the public school plays in pushing pubescent youths...into line. The playing fields of Eton are one thing. But very few institutions worldwide can compete with American educational propaganda, sports-related activities being at the core of perpetuating conformation. In that sense, a 747 crashing into a packed stadium is as likely to hit as many "little Eichmanns" as one leveling part of the Pentagon on its annual Father-Son Badminton Day.  (back)


Internal Resources

Humor with a Zest on Swans

America the 'Beautiful' on Swans


About the Author

Richard Oxman, always in search of a trustworthy bookie, lives in Los Gatos, California. A former professor of Dramatic Art, Speech, Cinema History, Comparative Literature, among other disciplines, at Rutgers University and other so-called institutions of higher learning, he's also taught ESL plus worldwide for over three decades...to all ages. He's crossed significant paths with some of the most interesting figures of the 20th century, including Tennessee Williams, (mentor) George Weber, Samuel Beckett and Kid Gavilan, but he believes the deepest creative influences on him have been his many wives and children, and unkind strangers; serving the public in very odd non-academic capacities has also contributed. Some of his past lives can be viewed at frenchpaintbox.com and onedancesummit.org, and most of his recent writing plus can be found in the Cultural Politics section of the online journal, Selves and Others. Throughtout 2004 he focused primarily on what he calls walktalk, writing that attempts to move readers to action (following new paradigms). He plans to be a regular contributor to Swans, which he considers a gem, and "rare as flawless chrysolite."



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Published March 28, 2005