Americans are feeling uncomfortable. There is strangeness in the air and we don’t fully understand what is happening. We see things that make no sense, and we wonder, "Am I part of this, or not?" Whether one answers "Yes" or "No," the implications are distinctly terrifying.
A good citizen, we are told, supports the war in Iraq. That this occupation is not a "war," that it is based on Washington, D.C.—generated lies, that it is a permanent part of a still secret and regional strategic agenda, and that it effectively creates terrorists instead of killing them is irrelevant. To be a good citizen, you must support the war in Iraq.
A good citizen does not criticize his President, a.k.a. his or her "commander in chief." It is easy to be confused. We are told that 300 million citizens and 30 million more living in the United States are the same as the 1.4 million on military active duty, who acknowledge the President as a commander in chief during, and only during, times of war. We are told that a selective permanent military occupation of an oil rich state equates to just war. We are told that the First Amendment to the Constitution really doesn’t mean what it says in black and white, much like the rest of the Bill of Rights.
Yet, only moments earlier we were told that the freedom from government interference outlined in the Bill of Rights is sacrosanct, and worth an eternal and global fight to the death.
A good citizen is not a criminal — yet we live in a modern America where one is a criminal if one does not wear a state-mandated seatbelt, if one enters a public building without the appropriate citizen’s identification, if one smokes a cigarette on the wrong sidewalk, if one does not remove clothing as demanded by the Department of Homeland security prior to a commercial plane ride for which one has not only privately purchased, but paid a smorgasbord of additional fees to cover the costs imposed by these same Homeland Security regulations. One must disclose all of one’s activities to the state, in advance, if possible. The state must never be placed at risk by the checks we write, the things we buy, the letters we send, the phone calls we make, places we go, the friends we hold dear, the words we say, the ideas we consider.
My local paper, the Shenandoah Valley Herald, ran a front-page article yesterday about a truck driver who was tasered to death less than ten miles from my house on June 20th because he would not submit satisfactorily to the local police queries. He was pepper sprayed, then tasered multiple times until he expired. I don’t know what crimes he committed, but I suspect they will be recorded as many and most serious.
Jon Stewart captured the insanity of the American state in this four-minute clip, where Stewart conducts a Forrest Gump style assessment of the latest FBI and Department of Justice anti-terrorist operation against the notorious Miami Seven. It is absolutely hilarious, as if made for comedy. It stars Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and his two best men, all playing themselves.
We need to take Forrest Gump in America to a whole new level. Instead of being entertained by Gumpian common sense and wide-eyed amazement, as we are with The Daily Show, every good American ought to aspire to achieve a certain level of personal Gumpism.
Public critics of government excess — in any era — tend to be the educated, the economically and historically sophisticated, the articulate, the intellectually curious, and the morally or religiously devout.
It is always good to criticize governments, starting most vociferously with your own. But Forrest Gump was not educated, articulate, or religiously devout.
Public supporters of government excess, top-down mandates for law and order, moral majorities and central-planning state-allocators of global resources, are not Gumpian either. These flocks are Gump’s immediate enemies. When Forrest is running, it is from this angry, obsessed, jealous prole-mass, whether they are attempting to beat him into submission, punish him for crimes uncommitted, or keep him caged by low expectations.
Forrest Gumps are the living, breathing nemeses of fascism, gang mentalities, and chic utilitarianism. Gumps among us may not speak the whole truth, and they may understand little of what intellectuals and know-it-alls say about "how the world works." But the Forrests of the world trust their gut, and they prefer to believe their real mothers, not their would-be nannies. Forrest Gumps know that stupid is as stupid does.
Gumps believe in hard evidence, and they observe this evidence wherever it rests, without fear. Gumps are not dismayed when those doing stupid things appear powerful, respected and are well-dressed. They are blissfully ignorant of the idea that the wealthy and politically connected have power over the smallest detail of a man’s life. Forrest Gumps, childlike and innocent, will openly observe that the emperor is stark naked, and by extension, powerless over his betters.
With today’s state-loving blowhards busy blowing with all their might, we might consider a third way. The proper response may not be, as in the Three Little Pigs, to build a stronger house. It may be simply be to walk out the back door, change the dynamic, shift the power perspective in our own worldview. It is asymmetric warfare of the finest kind.
Gump’s fictional story is nothing more than a single life lived honestly, damn the consequences. This way of life is remarkably self-centered — yet as the Winston Groom novel shows, this type of life tends to be more influential than the lives of flocks and flocks of those who look to others to know what to think, what to do, and how to behave.
It is good to enjoy Gumpism for its inspirational and entertainment value, but we should go further. We ought to cultivate Gumpian perspectives of American politics, and adopt a Gump-inspired lifestyle in the heart of an increasingly vicious and amoral state.
Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D. [send her mail], a retired USAF lieutenant colonel, has written on defense issues with a libertarian perspective for militaryweek.com, hosts the call-in radio show American Forum on Saturday nights, and blogs occasionally for Huffingtonpost.com. To receive automatic announcements of new articles and upcoming guests on her American Forum radio program, click here.