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The Tackiness One Only Gets By Going to College

Over at Ambivalent Imbroglio, Ambimb boiled my blood. I think I've mentioned before that my father was in Vietnam. Well, he returned before I was born, but oddly the shadow of that shaped my youth a great deal more than one might expect. From the time I was young, my mother would tell me stories of his time away: how they met for R&R in Hawaii (she still loves the memory of it there), how she once ordered 300 hamburgers from a McDonalds while he was in basic training (don't ask), and then a few darker tales, because not all children's stories should be nice. On the desk in my father's room is a disarmed mortar that has a story to it, a story that would be told whenever he and any other Vietnam vet were together in the house. Don't get me wrong. These aren't my tales, and I'm too young to be a part of them. But they're very, very real to me.

So as I'm taking a break from the Note (page seven!) and wandering over to Ambimb's, I see this written about the yellow ribbons on some people's cars:

Brilliant, don�t you think? Support our troops by driving around with a magnet that orders everyone else to support our troops, and if you decide you no longer feel like supporting our troops (whatever that means), just remove the magnet! Support support support! And the real genius of the whole thing is that the damned things are made in Taiwan (at least the ones I saw in stores) and every penny of profit on them is going to a handful of private individuals who don�t give a damn about any troops except insofar as the idea of those troops can be exploited for private gain.

Support our troops! Support our troops! Support our troops!

Damned ribbons.

Sometimes thoughtless words strike deeper than they should. Forget the fact that yellow ribbons are supposed to be removed. (That's the whole point.) What does it matter that these are made in Taiwan? And what right does anyone who doesn't know the person who owns the bumper in front of them have to cast aspersion's on how serious or heartfelt that person's feelings might be?

So I called him out on it. (See his comment section.) To which I got this reply:

The ribbons just strike me as a shallow and relatively thoughtless way to express an opinion that is ambiguous, at best.

And on the subject of moral superiority, it appears there's plenty of moral superiority to go around for both those who support and those who oppose the Iraq war/occupation. I think there's some moral high ground in the idea of elected leaders being truthful, honest, and open with their constitutents, rather than lying, deceiving, and acting in secret against them. You might agree. Or not. The beautiful thing is we can both be right because, in George Bush's America, there is no spoon.

Yes. Because this is all about George Bush. It's King George's War, and if one of your loved ones happens to be in it, then God forbid you express support for them: after all, it's a war of a lying, deceiving, secretive president. Just like when my Mom was missing my Dad, she was actually flacking for Goldwater and Nixon. I'm afraid I lost my temper:
Let me share with you something that happened to me on a drive recently. I stopped in a gas station near Grand Rapids and (since I was filling up a van) had a bit of time to look around the lot. Across from me was an SUV--a type of vehicle I'm really not fond of--with a yellow ribbon magnet on it. After a few minutes of filling up, another guy came over from the pump and started talking to the SUV owner, a middle-aged white woman.

"Got someone over there?"

To which the woman nodded, and the two started a very pleasant and chirpy conversation about their children: where they were serving, what part of the military, etc. I won't pretend to remember the details, but it was one of the more touching moments of my vacation.

Now, I don't know what that ribbon communicates when I see it on the car of someone I don't know. I'm afraid that whatever the existence of spoons, knives, forks, or other kitchen implements in an America that apparently now belongs to one man following an election, I'm not privy to other people's thoughts. Whether something's a magnet or a sticker doesn't tell me a damn thing about the permanence, depth, or thoughtfulness of their heart. But I rather suspect that a number of military families put those on their cars for the traditional reason: because they hope their loved ones will come back. I imagine some others do so because they hope the loved ones of others come back in one piece. Maybe they don't--maybe it has something to do with the country of manufacture of the magnet. But color me charitable to them in imagining that their expressions are no less thoughtful than mine. Maybe you know better.

In the meantime, I think about two middle-aged parents freezing in a parking lot talking about children in sun-bleached sands, and I think about the snide way you're dismissing they way they signalled each other, and I really don't give a fuck about your spoon.

I don't care how much someone despises Bush and his politics. I don't care how much a liberal thinks the war is wrong-headed. I don't care if you think that yellow-ribbons are only sported on the cars of redneck, NASCAR-lovin', red state yahoos that you never want at your dinner table. (Though I truly doubt this is so.) In fact, I don't even care if the statistical majority of people with removable decals on the back of their cars put them there out of thoughtlessness, jingoism, or whatever unclean motive you care to attribute to them.

Someone put a yellow ribbon on their car because he's staying up late at night wondering if his child's mother will come back whole. Someone's yellow ribbon means their son's letter hasn't gotten through in a while, and they're worried. Someone's yellow ribbon got put there because every time they see it, they remember this moment.

That's enough. It's enough to make the mockery meaningless and the mockers less so.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Tackiness One Only Gets By Going to College:

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Here, here! Very nice way of putting it.
Amusing that you associate these problems with the left wing. After all: * The ribbons are made in Taiwan ? Surely a socialist would prefer to see the money go to a poorer nation ? * As a left wing pacifist, I have to say that support for soldiers is something I'm very much behind. The fact that I believe the responsibility for the threat to their lives lies with the war-criminal politicians of their own nation than their reluctant opponents on the actual battlefield only makes their situation more worthy of sympathy. * Left wing philosophy does not dictate that every member of the population must be an accomplished political philosopher, well versed in the intricacies of foreign and defence policy. If someone wants to stick a yellow ribbon on the back of their car, that's as much a freedom of expression issue as sticking a Christian fish there. I think you're being a bit harsh on Imbroglio here, though. Just as a yellow ribbon might recall a memory of a loved one or proud feelings of their devotion to their country, so it recalls to others their shame that thousands of human deaths are being caused by the president of their own nation with the mandate of a sizeable proportion of the population. Neither of these messages invalidates the other. Neither is "wrong". Because a yellow ribbon carries no canonical semnatics !
I heart you.
Bataleur: a) I don't associate the sentiment in total with the left wing. I'm sure that--the internet being a wide place--if you searched out there long-enough, you'd find a left-wing Scrooge. That said, to say that Ambimb and the crowd commenting are not left-wing would be an act of willful ignorance. b) I agree that yellow ribbons carry no "canonical semnatics." Yet here's the rub. The yellow ribbon is an established symbol with a well-worn meaning: "Let the troops come home safe." Now, perhaps Ambimb sees it as saying something else about George Bush, or even, as one of his supporters has suggested, that non-yellow ribbon drivers support terrorists. (That would make me a terrorist.) Although there is no canon, why should I give credence to a hypersensitive political fetishist's interpretation rather than the standard one, particularly for any given instance of a yellow-ribboned car? Certainly I might as well think the best of my fellow man, when he's not making an ass out of himself. The trouble with the "this is all jingoism" tack is that it judges people without having the tools to provide any effective judgment. Are they making "vague statements" without doing anything else in support of the war? Damned if I know. For all I know they gave up their son or daughter. The thing is, Ambimb doesn't either. Nevertheless, it makes one look very wise--if your audience doesn't look closely--to spout off about how ill-conceived the public is.
You write well when your blood is boiling. I hope your note is going well. I've written a response at my own site if you feel the need for further diversion.
Hereby second ambimb's notice that you do, apparently, write well in such a state. It may have been a favor to so incite you during the home stretch of the Note. And good luck on that. Merely noting that I think this problem might be an intractable one, and suspect it may be best-phrased as Nash equilibrium. (My econ is very weak so I'm not going any further.) Both sides, pro- and anti-yellow ribbon (I'm going to leave Tony Orlando out of it) would rather that anyone who sincerely felt obligated to put up a ribbon would have that desire respected. Both sides would also rather that the left's complaint---that public declarations of patriotism, etc., are not always sincere but are sometimes cynical political moves---were rectified. But because neither can know the sincerity of the intentions of the other, those against the war cannot criticize the hypocritical patriotism without sometimes stepping on the sincere.
In fairness to Ambimb, it's probably worthwhile to point out that I get about 1.5 pages done after each posted exchange I have with him, so in a very real sense his debate is driving the completion of the Note. He'd get a thank you, but (a) Note authors don't get to put acknowledgements in our Notes when published, and (b) he's anonymous, and I doubt any law review would let me thank an anonymous person.
Hmm. Having just spoken to a colleague who's just got back from the states I feel a little more informed now. See I thought the ribbons were what you put up when you had someone serving away from home. You take them down when your boy gets home and in the meantime it's just a nice thing to do. This seems like a good thing and makes public the sacrifice involved and encourages events like the one Tony talked about. However when you print the word's 'support the troops' on this you change the game. Since those who oppose the war are regularly accused of not 'supporting the troops' or even 'giving succour to the insurgents' and since these charges tend to come from one side of the fence a pretty innocuous symbol and equally innocous phrase becomes politicised. It is possible to support the troops in a 'hope they all come back alive' way, and even to support the mission in a 'democracy/peace would be great for Iraq' way while still maintaining that the war should never have been fought, that the price has manifestly not been worth paying and we're looking at a pretty terrible outcome. You could believe all of the above things without being inconsistent and many people do. But faced with an environment in which not supporting the troops is equated as equivalent to actively being against them you can understand why all these ribbons get on people's nerves.
Would someone--Martin, Ambimb, anyone on that side of the issue--like to present some evidence of a correlation between individuals with yellow ribbons and "support the troops" slogans on their car, and those who say that opposing the war is not supporting the troops? Because, of course, then you'd have something to argue against. But of course, what you're more likely to prove is that (a) some people have yellow ribbons on their cars; (b) some other people, probably exemplified by people like Ann Coulter, make the "not support the war"="not support the troops" equation; and thus (c) some other people assume the two are connected. But otherwise, Martin, while I can see why it could "get on people's nerves," I see no reason to assume that the problem isn't the stimulus but rather the nerves themselves.
I do hope you're only taking time away from classes and not the Note to publish these comments, Mr. Rickey. PS: Just because the Review won't publish your star-footnote doesn't mean you can't include one in your draft. Just make sure it's hilarious rather than sincere.
"like to present some evidence of a correlation between individuals with yellow ribbons and "support the troops" slogans on their car, and those who say that opposing the war is not supporting the troops?" Nope, cause it's an unreasonable request and not the point. The people could be completely unconnected. The Anne Coulter school of thought have effectively politicised the act of displaying a ribbon whoever does it. They're the ones you might want to try being mad at, it was in the end them and not the ribbon displays that led to the Ambivelent chappy being upset. I'd also restate the bit about adding words. The ribbons as I understood it are about coming home safe. Support the troops is a difficult concept. I sure as hell don't support a lot of what they're doing - anymore than I support the insurgency. Doesn't mean I wouldn't like them home safe though. "I see no reason to assume that the problem isn't the stimulus but rather the nerves themselves." I could say the same about your whole post, but I do actually understand why you're pissed off about this. I'd just ask that you extend the courtesy to the other side. Incidently, good luck with your note, and when you've finished it will you tell we none lawyers what the hell a note is?
TtP: Unfortunately, my morning today has involved several twenty-minute breaks between classes. I really can't build up a head of writing steam in that kind of time, so it looks like all the Note work is going to be done between 2:30 and 8PM today, barely hitting the deadline if I'm lucky. In better news, though, the writing's going well. Martin: What's a Note? About thirty pages. (Rim shot.) It's a short paper inflicted upon law students by journals in an attempt to teach us how to produce legal research and writing. Or to give law reviews something to publish. Or as a hazing ritual. Something like that, anyway, but the upshot is that it's a long paper which isn't really a requirement for any class. As for your substantive comment, I'm afraid it's a bit of a cop-out. Ambimb's a law student, and we are supposed to be trained not to make accusations unless we can actually support them. You would be correct if his piece said something like, "I really hate seeing those ribbons because, due to people like (pick Conservative Bugbear of Choice), they remind me of those who think I'm anti-war and thus anti-troop." It's a respectable argument, just like Notes from the Legal Underground (more or less flippantly) has a negative reaction to them because of the old folk song. But it's not those folks that I should be angry at, it's who Ambimb should have targeted. Instead, he didn't: he decided to rant against a group of people that he didn't know a thing about. One person's speech shouldn't "poison the well" for any other group's that way in any event, but combined with a snide comment on folks he didn't know, it's simply not kosher. Further, even if I accepted your position, it's not what Ambimb has put forward. Instead he's argued that he's afraid that the ribbons are being "misinterpreted" by the public at large, that they're propaganda for Bush, or other various phantoms without much in the way of evidence. Anyway, there's an interesting point about viewpoints and anti-intellectualism that I want to write about this soon. Really soon. Like, after 8PM tonight... ;)
Good luck on the rest of it. To Martin, a bit of unrequested history: "Notes" comes from a distinction in the early days of the law reviews. Essays and Articles being the respectively longer bits of scholarship, Notes were written by practitioners and professors about a discrete area of law, say, the forming of a contract through reliance, or accomplice liability. Often they were written about a particular statute (think Sarbanes Oxley) or a particular case, in that event often being called "Case Notes" or "Case Comments." Aside from their narrower focus (in local lingo, "modest compass"), the chief distinction between Notes and the longer pieces was that Notes were left unsigned. ("Unsigned" is something of a term of art, because many were initialed and thus the author was clearly identifiable.) I have no specific knowledge on when Notes began being written by law students (tho' I expect it happened first at Harvard). But sometime in the early 20th century, the unsigned Notes previously written by professors or otherwise grown-up law people were replaced by unsigned Notes written by students. The tradition of leaving them unsigned has disappeared in all but a few journals, Harvard being the only one that comes to mind. Anyway, now the transformation is more or less complete. Whereas Notes originally began as practically motivated explanations of a discrete body of law written by and for practitioners, they have in many journals turned into more fully academic exercises. (The tone can be easily identified because the latter ends with an exhortation to the appellate courts to adopt this or that 2L's reasoning and overturn an entire field of settled law.) It's not uncommon to see an entire volume of some journals (not naming names) go by without a single practice-oriented Note. TtP PS: Thanks for using the word "bugbear."
"present some evidence of a correlation between individuals with yellow ribbons and "support the troops" slogans on their car, and those who say that opposing the war is not supporting the troops?" Just for laughs, do you have some evidence of correlation between - people who have 'Support Our Troops' yellow ribbons, and who have a loved one in Iraq as distinct from - people who have 'Support Our Troops' yellow ribbons, and feel the need to make a public statement that they support the troops? Surely, unless you have reason to believe the first correlation exists, you can't accuse Ambimb of insulting those with a loved one in Iraq.
Actually, Raymond, I can. You see--and this would be the crux of my statement--Ambimb made a blanket accusation over a wide spectrum of people while pretty much remaining willfully ignornant of their opinions. Rather than having to prove that all those who have a yellow ribbon on their car have a loved one in Iraq, I only have to show that some do for him to have made an overbroad statement. Would you care to even posit, for a moment, that none do? (Although it has to be pointed out that your two sets of individuals would overlap in significant areas as well. Trying to say the two groups would be distinct is a bit ridiculous.)
Just dropping by after a while, and this post reminded me of when my dad was in Nam. We used to send him tapes every week, and get one back. The old reel-to-reel short tapes, every Sunday afternoon. Well, he still speaks Korean, you can guess how his tour went. But we dearly wanted him home and safe. BTW, there is another combat area, my nephew just rotated home from there after being injured in a parachute jump. What an Arabic specialist was doing jumping out of a perfectly good airplane he hasn't said. I'm glad it wasn't worse and glad he's home.
someone just ripped off the yellow ribbon on the back of my car...the one that says "keep my son safe" Maybe they didn't bother to read it but thats hard to believe as it is right next to the one that says "half my heart is in iraq". To me that magnet had meaning,it wasn't there as some kind of fashion statement or fad.My son is in constant danger,some of his friends are dead, others wounded in ways that will never heal.I don't know when he will come home.I just don't have words to say how I feel about the person who ripped off the ribbon.It has also happened to a lot of the ribbons friends have put on their cars to show support for my son and all who are in danger.Most bewildered by this thoughtless act is my daughter,12 years old.I explained best I could,just more for her to try to understand during this stressful time.So,please,those of you who want to bash the yellow ribbons,please show some respect for those of us to whom they have true meaning.I will be buying a new ribbon,made in the USA sold by a family buisiness that does use the profits to help the troops and I will epoxy it on this time.
It is unfortunate that many people can become inflamed by something that provides others comfort. I was a child during the Vietnam War and I remember the way many treated the soldiers that came back from that war. I truly believe that it is my generation (40-50 Yr. Olds) that have created this 'fad'. We do not ever want to make the mistake of hurting our military men/women again in that same manner. Youth today, since they did not have that extreme experience, can in no way understand that feeling and the need to express support. Also, many ribbons are US made also and those of us who truly care DO LOOK for that label. Anger or resentment are truly misplaced with this situation and perhaps this is a case of psychological transferance. Look within and I am sure you will find something that brings you comfort that others could ridicule. THEN think on how you would feel to be ridiculed and do not do that to others. I am not a religious person, nor do I find comfort in religious sybolism, BUT I would never ridicule someone with an Icthus or cross on their cars. POINT: Think twice before speaking out on something that is close to another's heart. It causes hurt and it makes the world a less pleasant place to live!

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