License Plate Wars

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"It’s true, I’m tellin’ ya. Turn back and take a look."

Susana, a lifelong Brooklynite, had spotted something neither she, Belinda or I had seen before. Such is not an uncommon occurrence along Cross Bay Boulevard, which transverses Jamaica Bay in the New York City borough of Queens. On the shore to the east of us were the terminals of JFK International Airport, which the Feds claimed they had just saved from being blown to smithereens. However, on the strip of land where we were pedaling into a 20mph headwind, an ancient tidal marsh attracts birds and animals us cityfolk never see and people who want to see, photograph or catch them.

However, Susana’s discovery had nothing to do with flora or fauna, or fish or fowl. Instead, it was affixed to the rear of a late-model Subaru Tribeca. It was a license plate that denoted its driver/owner as a "Veteran of the Global War on Terror."

I wish I had enough of a gift for satire to make up such things. But as surely as Tony Soprano don’ wan’ no witnesses, we espied the latest monument to Bush’s War In Error, I mean, War on Terror. We thought about taking a photo on Susana’s cell phone, but after the thought that the plate’s proud bearer might be within striking distance, we thought better of it. However, after our bike ride to the ocean, I did some surfin’ (on the Net, that is) and found New York is just one of a number of states that have authorized such plates for veterans who honorably discharged after tours of duty in post-9/11 Iraq or Afghanistan.

All right. So the ones whom Dick Cheney and friends put in harm’s way, I mean answered their country’s call, to control Iraq’s oil, I mean protect our freedom, deserve to be recognized. You’ll get no argument from me on that point. Let’s authorize a new GI Bill for them. Give them first dibs on interest-free loans so they can buy those houses that went into foreclosure after their owners’ ARMs stretched beyond their financial reach. Finance their educations — hey, let ‘em get MBAs so they can learn how to make the next generation of shaky loans.

You may think I’m making light of those selfless heroes who braved Afghanis and Iraqis who didn’t want what American plutocrats decided they should want. I am not; everything I have proposed for them is better than what they have so far endured. And what I’ve suggested is also better than having to live with the knowledge that they risked themselves, not as bulwarks against linen-swathed young men just barely past puberty who dream of 72 virgins in the afterlife, but as mere tinder against the invisible flame of that abstract enemy called terrorism.

That got me to thinking about all of those other abstract wars: the ones on cancer, poverty and such. All against enemies that were neither actual people nor nations. The outcomes of all of them were the same: lives ruined and bureaucrat’s bank accounts fattened. Should those who paid the price, or at least contributed to the good lie, I mean fight, also get their own special license plates? My father spent his last days as a Coast Guard reservist back during the high season (pun intended) of the War on Drugs. Every once in a while, they’d manage to chase some boat they thought was carting contraband. Back out to sea they’d go, like hermit crabs picked up on the beach and tossed into the tide, only to return with the next incoming tide further down the coast. Dear ol’ Dad, who was as much for law and order as the next guy, saw and called the charade as it was. "We may as well take the money that’s being spent on the War on Drugs and give it to the guys we’re supposed to catch," he once sighed. And my father was never one to sigh.

Surely he deserves some sort of recognition for that. "Veteran of the War on Drugs." It doesn’t seem too much less absurd than "Veteran of the Global War on Terror." And neither strains credibility any more than the Wars on Anything Else I’ve Mentioned.

Now I wonder: When are we going to see license plates that read, "Veteran of the Defense of Liberty?" That struggle no more has an end in sight than do the wars on terrorism, drugs, rich media celebrities or anybody or anything else we can think of. So, like the War on Terrorism veterans, the defenders of liberty should be so recognized now. Certainly Lew Rockwell, Karen Kwiatkowski, Paul Craig Roberts, William Anderson, Wilton Alston, Eric Margolis, Burton Blumert and Gary North (who probably disagrees with me on just about anything that doesn’t have to do with war, peace, the long arm of the state and the non-feasibility of this country’s current economic policies) should be near the head of the line for their plates. Special places are also reserved for Tom Chartier for using his humor and old-school punk rocker’s sense of absurdity as scalpels to expose the rotting internal organs of the military-industrial welfare corpse and Becky Ackers simply because her no-punches-pulled language is the very antithesis of what we hear from those who declare Wars on Terror. And I would give special places on that line to any number of people, some of whom have written for LewRockwell.com, and countless others who haven’t.

It’s been said that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. If the inverse of that statement is true, all the folks I’ve mentioned are terrorists. Does ignoring them constitute service in the war on terrorism? If it does, well, all I can say is that they’re heroes all the more deserving of my special license plate. And I can design a license plate that looks better and lasts longer than any that comes from a state!

Justine Nicholas [send her mail] teaches English at the City University of New York.

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