I say we will have no more saluting

Hamlet declared that we will have no more marriage, while I...

| Jun 24, 2010

I woke in the night, in ready-made anger, generated by a television news image left over from the earlier evening, an image of a bunch of nameless, faceless subalterns of government in suits, saluting in every direction along with a squalid squad of hapless, Pentagonic generals, of which there seems to be an endless supply to send out into the field, foreign and domestic, to fail relentlessly to do what they were charged to do.

All that damned saluting, especially by those guys in business suits! Decorum is all shot to hell. Even in the darkest days of World War II, the Navy found time to teach us boots military decorum. We learned that only personnel in uniform saluted or were saluted. Out of doors, an officer, only if covered (wearing a hat), was to be saluted. Nor did one ever salute a civilian, for God’s sake. And I say, by extension, that those civilian operatives should keep their hands in their pockets if they can’t learn to stand properly at attention.

These are the times that try men’s souls: wasn’t that the way Tom Paine put it long ago? And isn’t it so now?

Here we are with the most promising Presidency of our era crashing on the rocks of the worst batch of bad luck in memory — and all to the gleeful spite of the worst of people in the body politic.

Just think: a great and enlightened nation held helpless and hostage to the global empire of BP and its multiple oily billions. If in doubt, reread “Beowulf” about monsters in our depths. Think about those who would presume to do our thinking for us — and sink us.

I had thought that we were all set for something new in the affairs of men and women. I have been arguing that we are into a New Period in the history of American fly fishing and made my argument out of signs that I thought I saw of more humane intellectual, political, social, and economic forces rising around us. Now all that appears to be going down the drain, the more fool I.

The shrillest and ugliest

The bankers and would-be bankers have ruined everything. The American genius for business turns villainous. The stubborn darkness of the recession has given rise to political factionalism, in which the shrillest and ugliest strike out from the dark caves of ignorance, fear, and hate, and care for nothing beyond the accumulation and protection of private wealth — guarding their golden hoard. Above all else, in the dynamics of human consciousness, they lust for the rawest sort of power and hate taxes most of all.

They cry the Constitution as their authority for an America of the dark ages. This mindless shouting of The Constitution depends on their insistent ignorance of the document itself, the conditions of its origin, and its continued growth over our history.

Taxes! Here I am, an eighty-five year old, retired schoolteacher, a veteran, now a scribbler of blogs. And I live in luxury! I am hard-pressed to think of a single thing that I treasure, enjoy, and am grateful for that does not eventually root itself from taxation. Taxation is the cost of our privilege and our luxury. Bring it on! say I.

We should worry ourselves sick about American education. What do we make of ourselves as a nation, alone in the family of nations, where the operative principle of life, evolution, is held in doubt, more often in out-right rejection by so many.

The religious right, hand in hand with poverty, stands in the way of proper education in the United States of America. Think how a state like Texas, in the body of its legislature, can determine what nonsense and error children are required to be taught. Think of how these legislators pander and pimp for their primitive religious literalisms of race, class, sex, and gender. Only in America!

And those guys go on saluting, saluting, and ever more saluting. I wish the President would stop it. (At least there was comic relief when Bush saluted.)

What, after all, does a salute signify if not acceptance? And what should we be accepting today? BP? Bankers? Religionists? Tea Partiers? Moral and political shysters of any stripe? Must we accept, acquiesce, in all this?

I saluted in those days

In my youthful days in the Navy, I prided myself on the style of my salute. I did it right. I thought I knew what I was saluting as recognition of my right and proper responsibility as a citizen of this great nation. But that was another time — long ago — when our souls were tried to great and just purpose.

I am troubled by these guys in their suits and am beginning to understand what young people today mean when they speak idiomatically of “a suit,” those identical, interchangeable operatives with their spread collars and Windsor knots. All black suits.

I was raised to a careful standard of linen and cravat. I love neck ties and feel at my best only when wearing one. But what shall I do now, when that suit and tie, that perfectly knotted bit of the finest Italian silk, has come to suggest something quite other than it used to? What shall I do now?

Shall I dress in the trash mode of the multitudes and become one of them? At my age! I need a New Style for this New Period that I keep plugging. That is, if there is to be any New Period.

My soul is being tried. Out of uniform, as I am, I can salute no one and no thing. I have lived too long, a victim of my excellent physicians and their ministrations. I think I am living beyond my moral means. Again, in a luxury that borders on the obscene given a world of such immense and pervasive suffering — and the rampant resources for destruction of BP.

Something to salute?

While I despise the religionists and their silly “end times,” I have to wonder if I ought to just come down off my high-horse, quit looking for New Periods and just accept, salute, what might well be The End, finis, of all that I understand and has been given me. I suspect that there is not enough in Google to save us. And Mozart cannot last forever.

Still, maybe there is something for me to salute after all. I am bound on my own special wheel, bound to the continued effort to try to encourage and assist young people. Young people distract me from my miseries of mind and heart and remind me once again of life and art. They inspire me simply by their being young. But for them, I should be in despair. I salute them — at full attention.


Is this the way to use the privilege of a blog? As a sort of antacid for a burning spirit? I had thought that my blogs ought to be a series of carefully wrought essays, written, revised, and rewritten. They ought to be on matters of common interest and concern with the reader — a place where we might meet in mutual pleasure.

Now here’s this piece, burning and indigestible. Shall I be forgiven?

Gordon Wickstrom is a Boulder native, navy man in the Philippines, CU grad and Stanford Ph.D., professor of drama, director and sometime actor. He retired home to Boulder in 1991, fishes with his wife Betty, and writes books, essays and columns on the angling life and on theatre. He is the oldest living — in captivity — writer about fishing in English, and a member, for the sake of his obituary, of the Flyfishers’ Club of London.