What Fifteen Years Can Do, a Sad Night in Georgia

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Recently by Ellen Finnigan: Black Swan Not So Black and White

     

I left Georgia in 1996, the year Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics, the year Bill Clinton was reelected President, the year I graduated from high school. I haven't been back much since, except to visit my parents on the holidays, and that was always what I was doing: visiting my parents. I was never going home for the holidays because Atlanta was never home. We are not Southerners and never were. We are Midwesterners who were transplanted in the nineties, when major corporations were relocating from places like Greenwich, Connecticut to take advantage of cheaper real estate and better tax rates, and so, as far as the likes of our new neighbors at the time were concerned, were as good as Yankees.

Due to the influx of corporate money and Northern blood, our suburban area was the third fastest-growing county in the U.S. when my family moved here in 1992 (I was a freshman). Half my classes were held in trailers, a quick fix to accommodate new students, and I'm sure that at the time the real Georgians would have said, "Atlanta is not the South," but it sure was to me. I found my new surroundings to be downright exotic: the creepy canopies of kudzu; sounds of cicadas at night; girls (Laurie, Lindsey, Stacey, Kellie, Carrie) who wore ribbons in their hair and guys who had started playing football, not soccer, in the second grade. On my first day of high school I noticed that a few of the kids in my first period class had Bibles on their desks. "Is this Geometry?" I asked one of them. "I think I might be in the wrong room." The girl (Chrissie?) said I was in the right place and asked me if I had been saved. When a teacher encouraged me a few weeks later to participate in the Miss Freshman Pageant, I knew: This was the South alright.

This past February, after fifteen years living up North, out West, then back up North again, I moved back to Atlanta after a stint in a commune didn't work out (do they ever?) My parents still live here, my brother and his wife had moved back a few years ago and had a spare bedroom, I needed a soft place to land and so Atlanta it was. I left the cranky Northeasterners with their cracked and bleeding knuckles in the dry dead of winter and arrived in a new land of convertible-driving blondes in blissful, balmy spring. With the dogwoods and magnolias already in bloom, cardinals flittering complacently from branch to branch, with no worries of flurries or hail, no need for snow tires or shoveling, I knew: I had been saved! With each deep breath of that sweet Southern air, each delectable sip of freshly brewed sweet tea, the sun's rays warm upon my skin, memories of my adolescence in Georgia — of buttered grits and collard greens; of Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks; of hot summer days spent sweating in long green fields at band camp (that's right, I said band camp) — came floating to the surface of my mind and I became excited about the idea of living in the south again, of experiencing it anew and relishing what I had missed. I started garnishing my glasses with sprigs of mint. I bought a big, floppy hat. I ran out and bought a copy of Gone with the Wind (I had never even seen the movie) which I read on my brother's porch while throwing the tennis ball for his dog, Jackson. My brother said the dog had been named for a song by Johnny Cash but no, in my mind he was now named for Stonewall.

It is probably an obvious point, but it is difficult to see change, whether in people, places, or cultures, as it happens. We don’t notice the grass growing or, as is probably a more apt metaphor in this case, the wearing down of something by erosion. A lapse in time is required for perspective and then one can see, literally, the changes that have taken place. My move back to Atlanta, in particular a certain recent night here, has allowed me to see what I already suspected: that though I can move back to the same city I lived in in 1996 (Atlanta, Georgia is still here), I will never again be able to live in the same country. It is gone.

About twenty miles outside of Atlanta looms a massive granite rock called Stone Mountain. It rises 1,683 feet above sea level, and there is nothing else like it — not a mountain, barely a hill — for miles. No one knows how such a massive rock became exposed but the best guess is 285 million years of erosion. The north face of the rock is home to the largest bas relief in the world: a Confederate Memorial carving depicting Robert E. Lee, "Stonewall" Jackson, and Jefferson Davis, conceived in 1916 and not officially completed until 1972, often likened to Mount Rushmore for its size and splendor. In front of the carving is a long stretch of grass, with a fountain at the base and lined by pines, that leads up to Confederate Hall, which houses a gift shop, a museum, and a movie theater, where a documentary about the War of Northern Aggression / Civil War / War Between the States / whatever you want to call it plays on a loop. In summertime the side of the mountain acts as a projection screen. At night, Georgians and tourists alike picnic on the lawn and watch the Stone Mountain Laser Show Spectacular, a Southern institution (in my mind).

Mention the Stone Mountain Laser Show in certain circles and you're likely to elicit a knowing chuckle or an exaggerated eye roll. It is a spectacle indeed! Take the theatrical merit of a Six Flags performance, the spirit of a high school pep rally, the volume of a Rolling Stones concert, the sentimentality of a pop country song, mix them together with the visuals of an Atari game and you have the Stone Mountain Laser Show. After the sun sets, the lasers project cute, cloyingly wholesome, cartoon-like images on the side of the mountain to classic southern songs, paying homage to all things Georgia. Because the Southern Pride comes out in full force, it was always a high priority on our list of places to take visitors. We would bring them with the attitude: "You gotta get a load of this."

The laser show changes every year, but the classic show I remember from my high school days had a fairly predictable routine. First, it cycled through professional sports teams, the Braves, Falcons, etc., and played some fight songs from the universities. This was usually followed by a tribute to bands and singers from Georgia (James Brown, Allman Brothers, Indigo Girls) followed by The Devil Went Down to Georgia: Johnny and Satan jumped around in the flames for a few minutes while the chicken in the bread pan was pickin' out dough. Then there was a psychedelic interlude (maybe a tribute to the 70's, when lasers were awesome?), crazy designs on the mountain and lasers pulsing wildly overhead. They always played Georgia on My Mind (Ray's version) paired with images of rolling fields, sunsets, and "moonlight through the pines." The culmination of the show would be signaled by the soft snare drum that begins Elvis Presley's Dixie.

Everything would then become very dark and quiet. One laser would slowly and respectfully (if lasers can be respectful) trace the outline of each Confederate general in the carving. It took a while. By the time the images had been traced, Elvis would be singing "Glory, glory, hallelujah," and the figures would come to life, "step out" of the mountain, raise their swords and — charge! At this point the crowd would cheer and our Midwestern visitors would give us a look. We would look back, as if to say, "Yeah! See? Told you." (This part always struck us as strange, because, well, didn't that war happen, like, a really long time ago? And why do they still care? And wasn't that war about slavery? And shouldn't people in the South be, well, ashamed to root for the Confederates, to have any pride in that war, which "they" fought over slavery?) To whoops and whistles, the horses would be running and an outline of the Eastern United States would appear and break apart into North and South. Then Elvis would take it down a notch:"So hush, little baby, don't you cry; You know your daddy's bound to die…" Sounds of guns and cannons. The flute solo was always very somber, with abstract images of war and dead soldiers.

At the next crescendo ("Glory, glory, hallelujah!"), General Lee would break his sword over his knee, and the two jagged pieces of the sword would be shown falling dramatically to the ground. This was the climax of the song. Then you would see the three generals again on their horses, walking back the other way, slowly, past more dead soldiers. The outline of the United States would reappear — "Glory, glory, hallelujah!" — and the two, the North and the South, would reunite. Then each general — "His truth is marching on!" — would be given a moment to "climb" back up in turn and take his place ceremoniously on the mountain (at this point, fireworks, lots of them) as Elvis belted with increasing intensity: "His truuuth is maaarching ONNNNN!" When it was over, the spotlights would reveal the generals still there in their place of defeat but eternal glory.

Did it glorify war? Of course. Did it seem a little bit over the top? Sure. But if you could watch that whole thing listening to Elvis singing that song, sittin' out there eatin' fried chicken with your fellow u2018Mericans under the stars on a warm summer night and — Was that…did I just get a whiff of Atlanta burning? — and not be the least bit moved for the Confederacy, their fight, their home, and their loss, then you must have a heart like Stone Mountain. I mean, heck, even Rhett Butler, selfish opportunist, war profiteer (and implacable voice of reason) that he was, even he ran off and joined the Cause, and at the eleventh hour! "I shall never forgive myself for this idiocy. I am annoyed to find so much quixotism still lingers in me. But our fair Southland needs every man. I'm off to the wars." (And yes, I realize that I'm writing about him as if he was a real person. My God, if only he were. That stupid Scarlett! How could she not…but then again he…oh, Margaret Mitchell how could you…)

We took visitors to the Stone Mountain Laser Show because it seemed so Southern. There, the Rebel spirit was still alive. You could feel it: the pride, the historical sense, the importance of place. We didn't really get it, to be honest, and wondered what it all really meant. At the time Georgia was still embroiled in the never ending controversy over the state flag and whether it should display the Southern Cross. (We thought: Really? Not over it yet?) We had heard that even playing the song "Dixie" at the Laser Show was controversial, because the monument had ties, way back when, to the Ku Klux Klan, and was partially funded by it. We were always wondering if there was something truly sinister (racism) lingering beneath all that heritage and wholesome family fun. We initially took people there as disinterested cultural spectators, but I have to say that after four years, it became one of my favorite things to do in the summer. The world is becoming so homogenized, and Americans in general have such an appalling disinterest and absolute apathy for history, theirs or anyone else's, that I came to like it because it stood for something unique to a particular time and place, and to a particular people, and (setting aside the moral and political facets of that war, "good" guys, bad buys, etc.) the fact that these people found those stories worth preserving was enough for me. (Not to mention we saw plenty of black families attending the show as well. To be honest, this put our minds at ease.) And besides, the Laser Show was never only about the Laser Show. It was also about the two hours that led up to the Laser Show.

My 15-year-old cousin was going to be visiting from Nebraska and I was supposed to think of a few fun things to do with her while she was here. I had just finished reading Gone With the Wind and my enthusiasm for all things Southern had become a fever. That book helped me to understand the South and "that" war in a way that four years of living here never did. (After all, Atlanta's not the South!) My cousin's visit was the perfect excuse to go back to Stone Mountain, and I simply could not wait to immerse myself in some serious Confederate ballyhoo.

When we pulled into the parking lot, I got nervous. The entrance looked different, cleaner, more Disneyland (whereas it used to be more RV park). There was a playground, a sophisticated obstacle course thing that was never there before, and kids were paying for tickets and waiting in line to walk through it.

"Oh, great!" I huffed. "It used to be just some grass and blankets. Now there will probably be a bunch of jumbotrons and an Apple store. Nothing can ever remain simple! You probably can't even bring food in anymore and we'll have to let a policeman rummage through our belongings and…"

But we walked down the path through the pines and there it was: the lawn, people sitting on blankets, no jumbotrons! And only one cop. It was just as I remembered.

The lawn was already crowded and it was only 7:00. What do you do to waste two and a half hours before the sun goes down? Check your phone? Go on Facebook? Read the paper? Let me tell you what you see on the big lawn at Stone Mountain for two and a half hours before the sun goes down. You see kids running. American kids…running! They are throwing Frisbees with their dads, they are racing down the hill, they are playing football or playing tag. They are rolling down the hill. They are hula hooping. They are also: cartwheeling, spinning, blowing bubbles, chasing bubbles, twirling, playing some ninja game that I didn't understand, and dancing (the hustle, the Cuban shuffle, the chicken dance, the electric slide). You also see people talking to each other, like, face to face, and did I mention running? It's completely bizarre! And awesome, way more awesome than lasers. People are enjoying each other's company, maybe walking over to the one (one!) concession stand to get some Dippin' Dots. A woman next to me leaned over and asked if I was involved with Camp Sunshine, because the blanket I'd taken from my parents' house had the Camp Sunshine logo on it. "No," I said. "What's Camp Sunshine?" She said it was a camp for kids with cancer and that her son had gone there. I asked if he was okay and she said yes, thanks to some kind of breakthrough treatment. Then, just when I thought it couldn't get any better, a choo-choo train came a chuggin' down the track at the base of the lawn. The conductor waved and the crowd waved back.

Ah. America! My country tis of thee…

Soon it was dusk and the children were chasing lightning bugs and buying cheap plastic toys that lit up: swords, fans, fake mohawks. I closed my eyes and smelled — What was it? I didn't know — but it's sweet and it's Georgia and it intensifies at night, and suddenly I was sixteen and back at band camp (that's right, that's what I said), sitting under a big tree before lights out and scheming with my two best girlfriends as to how we were going to sneak out at night and meet the boys at a secret spot in the middle of the woods, something we always talked about but never did. (We were good girls, you see. We were on the dance team. We wore ribbons in our hair. And they were bad, bad, bad, drum line bad.)

The laser show started with some fireworks and the sports montage. The crowd cheered for their teams, booed for their rivals. Then they played part of Ray's Georgia on My Mind and switched over midway to Willie's version. "Something new!" I thought, though I must say I prefer Ray's. (See? I told you I'm not a racist.) Then: a big truck on a dirt road and some country singer singing: "We like it loud / we like it honkin' / We're gonna say it proud / we like our country and we like it loud." That one went over well. Everyone knew the words.

Then I heard a soft snare drum.

Wait. Dixie? Already?

"But the show only just started," I thought.

The lasers did not trace the outlines of the generals slowly and respectfully. The generals just jumped off the wall like spry phantoms and started charging.

"Wait!" I thought. "Not yet! This isn't supposed to happen yet!" I felt like standing up and making the sign for time out and marching up to the guy who was running the thing and telling him that there must have been some kind of mistake: This wasn't supposed to happen until the end of the laser show. Then before I knew it General Lee had cracked his sword over his knee, the states had been shoved back together, and Elvis's voice faded out rather abruptly.

I wanted to stand up, stamp my foot and scream: "That's it? No way! It's been fifteen years, and I'm not movin' a muscle till I get some cotton-pickin' ballyhoo!"

But there was plenty of ballyhoo in store for me that night.

Suddenly the lame psychedelic interlude started, and after that came the tribute to the music of Georgia. They did the full Devil Came Down from Georgia routine: Satan and Johnny in the flames and the chicken in the bread pan pickin' out dough. At least they got that right. After Johnny told Satan that he told him once you son of a gun that he's the best that's ever been the overhead lasers shooting up from the base of the mountain disappeared and everything became dark and quiet. Then fireworks started shooting up and exploding over our heads and I thought, "But they already had the Civil War part."

Then an American flag was projected onto the side of the mountain and Mariah Carey started singing "Hero."

"What the hell is this?" I thought. "Mariah Carey's not from Georgia. She's not even from the South. She's from freaking Long Island!" Then they abandoned the laser show pretense altogether and started projecting real photographs onto the mountain, some random ass pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, Rosa Parks, and Amelia Earhart, followed by token images of "common folk": a farmer, a storekeeper, a miner, a doctor, a black doctor. Then came the fireman and the policeman and the logos for NYPD and NYFD. There was a light flutter of applause. Then (can you guess where this is going?): the Twin Towers, in all their majesty, followed quickly by a helicopter and a fighter pilot.

Then, right as Mariah Carey was screeching at the top of her lungs "When a hero comes along, with the strength to carry on…." a video showed a huge ass American flag unfurling down the side of the mountain, a flag so big it took up every square inch of lit space on the mountain, and it unfurled with flag sound effects and everything, falling right over (gasp!) the generals and their horses. Then the fireworks started going absolutely bonkers. Pow! Pah-pow-pow-pow! The flag faded and there were more images: a soldier saluting…the Vietnam Veterans Memorial…a space shuttle…the Challenger crew…a cemetery….Tomb of the Unknown Soldier…a man and a woman, both in military uniforms and both in wheelchairs, kissing….another cemetery…a man in uniform hugging a child…Arlington Cemetery…the Constitution (ha!).

Then stupid Mariah Carey finally shut up and everything got dark again and I thought, "Thank God. Let's get out of here. This sucks," but as I began to stand up, the words PLEASE RISE were projected onto the mountain in silence. I froze.

The crowd was standing now, and the Star Spangled Banner came in over the loud speakers, the slowest, most drawn out, obnoxiously operatic Star Spangled Banner you ever heard, and there were more fireworks, tons of fireworks, shock and awe levels of fireworks, like Baghdad on the night of the invasion, and then there was a photograph of a massive American flag spread out across a baseball field…a massive American flag on the top of an aircraft carrier….the Iwo Jima Memorial…a bald eagle…a rocket…more fireworks…another bald eagle…the planet Earth….a satellite…the JFK Eternal Flame.

I look around: hats off, hands over hearts. It keeps going…

The Capitol…the country of Japan (Wait, what? As in, "Remember how we annihilated them"?)…Mount Rushmore….the Golden Gate Bridge…a river…the Lincoln Memorial…the Jefferson Memorial…the Statue of Liberty…the Arch…another flag…the Liberty Bell…another flag….a soldier saluting it…the White House (with a flag in front)…two flags!…another bald eagle…Uncle Sam pointing: I WANT YOU…a waterfall…a sailboat… windmills…cacti. At this point I'm thinking of that song from Team America: "Bed Bath and Beyond! Sushi! Books!"

The opera singer howls at the top of her lungs. Another flag. Another bald eagle. Still the fireworks. And it goes on like this forever, and right when I'm about two seconds away from grabbing one of the little kid's plastic light-up swords and stabbing myself in the eyes and poking out my own eardrums to "Make it stop!" it stops and the lights come on.

I sat there disgusted, saddened, and angry, not to mention stupefied by what struck me as about nine thousand layers of irony, but when I looked around at everyone else, they seemed to be in a pretty good mood, almost…satiated, like they enjoyed being subjected to that slobbering, ostentatious, incoherent hodgepodge of orgiastic nationalism and just when I think it can't get any more insane, the song American Pie by Don McClean (um, also from New York), which if I'm not mistaken is a wistful commentary on the decline of American culture in a time that is, politically and geopolitically, violent, turbulent and uncertain, starts playing over the loudspeakers as people pack up their things.

But February made me shiver With every paper I delivered Bad news on the doorstep I couldn't take one more step

And people are singing along like it's a Bon Jovi song as we walk out to the car.

Now the half-time air was sweet perfume While Sergeants played a marching tune We all got up to dance Oh, but we never got the chance u2018Cause the players tried to take the field The marching band refused to yield Do you recall what was revealed The Day the Music Died

I'm sure that if I were a real historian I could offer a lot of insightful observations on this experience, but I'm not. I can only try my best to find words to express all the ways this horrid night appalled me. I know that it had something to do, foremost, with the way national myth can displace (and uproot) local stories. Local stories do not always fit the approved narrative, you see (about "good guys," bad guys, etc.). That huge American flag unfurling over the Confederate generals represented to me, visually, a machine that cannot, does not and will not allow any questions about the past to take precedence over the propaganda of the present. Because you see, if you are allowed to see the past, especially from the vantage point of a local story, you might stop thinking about the present in the way they want you to.

It depressed me to remember how far from our minds war was in 1996, and what a permanent part of our culture war and the warlike mentality has become. Of course back then I was far more interested in winning the affections of a certain snare drum player than paying attention to politics; I know that Clinton, too, was involved in a lot of military shenanigans and adventures overseas, but none of that really permeated our culture the way it has since 9/11. And a lot of people will say that none of this could be helped, that this state of affairs was simply foisted upon us, that we can't go back to the way things were then because we must go forward with the bombing and the shooting and the burning and the maiming because we have to out of self-defense and to those people I ask how many deaths of innocent civilians in foreign countries should we be willing to tolerate in the name of "self-defense," in the name of this "war" on "terror"? I mean seriously, give me a concrete number. How many are acceptable? 30,000? 80,000? 200,000? What is the threshold at which killing again becomes a matter of conscience? At what point do we say, "Enough"?

And then there was the appearance of two legendary Southerners, Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, in this kaleidoscopic fantasia of national dreaming. Could we talk for one second about how these two people were followers of Christ and, thus, staunchly committed to the Gospel message of nonviolence? Not only did they not believe in the use of preemptive force, but they didn't believe that force or violence should be used even as a retaliatory measure under any circumstance. They had nothing whatsoever to do with fighter pilots and certainly would not have wanted to be associated with the myriad wars that have been waged under the auspices of "responding to" the 9/11 attacks for the past ten years, which are now correlated directly with National Greatness. Even though they were black people from the South, if you had given them the chance to have their photographs displayed next to the flag and the Lincoln Memorial or the Cross, which one do you think they would have chosen?

And then let's talk briefly for a second about JFK, who slowly turned away from his Cold War beliefs and took up a secret correspondence with Public Enemy #1, Evil Doer Nikita Krushchev at the height of the Cold War. Actually, even though we all know that America is the best and Americans are the good guys, it might be worth it to point out that Kruschchev wrote the first letter to Kennedy, reaching out to him at great risk and expressing his wish to find some common ground with him and to avoid a war that could very well and very quickly escalate into nothing less than total nuclear annihilation for everyone on the planet. (But he's still an Evil Doer because he's not American.) But Kennedy did put his own life at risk too, by flouting the advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff, responding to Kruschchev and secretly building a personal relationship with him. He, too, wished to establish peace and avoid war at all costs, even if that meant that, in the eyes of those who were frothing at the mouth with Cold War madness, he was committing treason. And he did pay the ultimate price, indeed, when the CIA (our own government) KILLED HIM. Bald eagle! Helicopter! Mount Rushmore! Waterfalls!

On the car ride home I was a rantin' and a ravin' about what had happened to my beloved Stone Mountain Park laser show, and I was accused of perhaps taking it all a bit too seriously. It was just lasers and some music after all. It was suggested that perhaps the show wasn't really supposed to mean all that I thought it meant, that perhaps I was reading into things a bit too much.

Was I taking it all too seriously? Am I taking it all too seriously?

Thomas Merton wrote in Peace in the Post-Christian Era: "We strive to soothe our madness by intoning more and more vacuous clichés. And at such times, far from being as innocuous as they are absurd, empty slogans take on dreadful power."

I felt the dreadful power of vacuous clichés and empty slogans that night. I felt it fall over me like a cold shadow, the shadow of a fat, ominous, mysterious, untouchable blimp that eclipsed the sun and hovered overhead. It was so dark and foreboding, precisely because it was so vacuous, so empty, so vague, and thus so untouchable.

How do you fight a shadow? You can't touch it. You can't move it. You can't stop it. It's just there: the blimp of National Greatness and the dark shadow of lies under which we live, and it's been everywhere since 9-11, falling across every state, every county, every city, every church, every house, every mind and heart, and frankly I'm sick to death of being under it, of hearing about it, of being expected to stand and bow and salute and pay my respects to it, and it's so big, the empire, the lie, so powerful in its inconsistent nothingness, that it's obscured everything else, and now it's taken away this too, my Stone Mountain Laser Show. I even have to hear about it here. Can we never get away from it? Will it never end?

Obama says it won't, as long as there are "safe havens" in the world where evil doers might carry out evil plans.

And I suppose my disgust, indignation and offense had something to do, finally, with this idea of unity at all costs, an idea which really has its roots in America in the War of Northern Aggression (there, I chose one), and Justin Raimondo made this point astutely in a recent column about Obama's latest address to the nation, in case you missed it:

Like his predecessor, Obama has often praised this mystic post-9/11″unity,” including twice in this speech, and therein lies the mark of the tyrant, who always welcomes the unthinking submission to authority wartime brings.  

So no, I don't think I am overreacting after watching the power of those vacuous images and slogans, and that final, sinister command, the call for unity and support, and witnessing all of the people around me stand up and take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts to honor…something, though we know not what exactly; we only know that it interrupts thought, blunts feeling, deadens conscience, that it preaches hate, turns man against man, justifies violence and destroys. And that something, whatever it is, has a cold grip on the American psyche. No, I don't think I was overreacting as the fireworks exploded overhead and obscured the stars, the moon and all light with their smoke.

Oh, and as I watched him on that stage My hands were clenched in fists of rage No angel born in hell Could break that Satan's spell And as the flames climbed high into the night To moonlight the sacrificial rite I saw Satan laughing with delight The Day the Music Died

Unity.

Why dwell on things in the past that separated us when we can dwell on things in the present that unite us? Things like fear and arrogance and hate.

Well, what if I don't want to be united with that? What if I don't want to be united with them?

These are questions that have been asked before.

The answer came to me suddenly when the words PLEASE RISE appeared on the mountain. It was a small answer, and an even smaller action, but it was something.

Please rise? No, thanks, Washington. I won't. I've had enough.

While the South rose around me, I was content to stay right there on my blanket, close my eyes and take a deep breath, enjoying the scent of crepe myrtle or dogwood or cape jessamine, whatever it is that sweetens the air in Georgia at night.

Not that I wouldn't rise. I would rise for Dippin' Dots and hula-hoops, for choo choo trains and families playing catch. I would rise to do the Electric Slide or to honor the founder of Camp Sunshine or the person who figured out how to cure that little kid's cancer. But no, not for this, not for your Cause, your wars and your cemeteries, with your end game that is always described with words like u201Cpeaceu201D and u201Cfreedom,u201D but the means to which is always a form of death: physical, moral, and spiritual.

And I'm sure there are people out there who would say, "You wouldn't be free to enjoy those Dippin' Dots if it weren't for the American military! You'd be singin' your country songs in German if it weren't for the American military!" And to those people, too, I say: Enough.

I can never be a Southerner, but I can still be a Rebel.

I think we're going to need a lot more. There's a war brewing, and it's not with the terrorists. It's with the shadow. And you don't have to pick up a weapon to fight it. It wouldn't do any good anyhow. You can't fight a shadow with a weapon. Plus, their weapons are bigger. Their weapons are badder. They spend $664 billion a year creating, maintaining and deploying their weapons. Their weapons are their alpha and their omega: the source of their power and their entire reason for existing. So if you have any notions of grabbing your musket, gathering your militia, and running out onto an open field, I feel it incumbent upon me to disabuse you of that notion right quick. They will probably spot you with one of their satellites, send over a drone and obliterate you with a laser (while Toby Keith's Courtesy of the Red White and Blue blasts in the background: "We'll light you up like the Fourth of July!")

You can only fight a shadow with light. So take a cue from Rosa Parks and simply refuse to stand up when they tell you to. That's where it has to start, and that's the only way to bring all of this to an end. Do that and you'll be doing your part. True, fight in this way, serve in this way, and they will probably never bury you in a special cemetery or carve your likeness into the side of a mountain. I have a feeling there's not going to be a lot of glory in it, being a Rebel this time around. On the other hand, you will be the victor every single time. You will never know defeat.

Ellen Finnigan [send her mail] graduated from the University of Montana with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing in 2008, and is still proud of the coup she staged while she was there. As leader of the Missoula for Ron Paul Meet-Up, she helped the group infiltrate the Missoula County Republican Central Committee and win the county for Ron Paul on Super Tuesday (to the chagrin of neoconservatives throughout the state). She is working on a book.

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