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Keillor writes: "The $54 billion bonus heading for the Pentagon is a beautiful thing, and so far I haven't heard a dog bark against it, even though we don't appear to have $54 billion worth of new enemies and we've now come to admire former enemy Vladimir Putin, and the idea of throwing billions at the Islamic State is like going after bedbugs with bazookas, so there it sits, a big lake of cash waiting for water skiers."

Garrison Keillor. (photo: Wisconsin Public Radio)
Garrison Keillor. (photo: Wisconsin Public Radio)

The Epic of Donald Trump

By Garrison Keillor, The Washington Post

19 March 17


he $54 billion bonus heading for the Pentagon is a beautiful thing, and so far I haven’t heard a dog bark against it, even though we don’t appear to have $54 billion worth of new enemies and we’ve now come to admire former enemy Vladimir Putin, and the idea of throwing billions at the Islamic State is like going after bedbugs with bazookas, so there it sits, a big lake of cash waiting for water skiers.

Base pay for a private first class these days is around $22,000 and, granted, it is not rocket science — aerospace engineers can earn a hundred grand or more — but a Radio City Rockette earns about $1,500 per week. Should we be paying more for precision tap-dancing than for the defense of our country? Meanwhile, apple pickers are hauling down around $23,000 while orange pickers get $20,000. I’d say our soldiers are due for a big raise. Those caissons don’t roll themselves, you know. The shores of Tripoli are an ever-present threat to our security. And the halls of Montezuma are out for revenge.

I just hope that my good friends in the Pentagon will stop and think about the value of the arts and literature to our national defense. Some of that money, perhaps $3 billion or $4 billion, would be well spent encouraging writers and artists to cast a warmer light on our uniformed services than what we’ve seen the past century or so when, aside from George M. Cohan’s “Over There” (1917) and Frank Loesser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (1942), the arts have been decidedly anti-war.

When was the last time a great poet wrote an ode to the importance of following orders? 1854, that’s when. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” immortalizing Lord Cardigan’s botched mission in the Battle of Balaclava — “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tennyson was England’s poet laureate at the time and felt obliged to turn a military disaster into something heroic. No American poet laureate ever wrote anything similar, and maybe that’s because they’re paid $35,000 a year. Make that $350,000 and give the laureate the rank of major general and a cap with a plume and see if the tune doesn’t change.

Our Nobel laureate Bob Dylan could have written (but did not):

Well it ain’t no use to sit around the barracks

And ask why you must drill.

Or ask why we have to carry rifles:

They are to injure, maim and kill.

Get out of bed at the break of dawn,

Put your helmet and your uniform on,

You’re not a bishop, son, you’re just a pawn.

Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

It’s no wonder that wealthy New York real estate heirs shopped around for physicians to diagnose heel spurs to exempt them from the draft. For a century, nobody has written a great work of literature celebrating America’s military — “Slaughterhouse-Five”? “Catch-22”? “The Naked and the Dead”? “The Things They Carried”? I don’t think so. Nobody read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and went down to the recruiting office to sign up.

It was not always thus. Look at what Homer did for the Greeks with his “Iliad.” It’s an action epic, one hero after another, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax — no introspective nonconformist in the ranks, wondering, “Why are we brutalizing each other? Why can’t we sit down and talk through our differences?” Because we are us and they are them, and it’s one for all and all for one, so grab your spear and go puncture those Trojans, son.

What we need to make America great again is American literature about greatness. Look at Leo Tolstoy. He could’ve just written “Peace” but he wrote “War.” too, both of them, glorifying General Mikhail Kutuzov, who engineered the defeat of Napoleon. Spending some of that $54 billion on the arts would be an excellent investment. If they need someone to write an epic poem, here I am, my pen is poised.

Media to the right of him,

Media to the left of him,

Democrats embittered.

Loud was his battle cry,

The man with long red tie,

Onward he twittered.

Rising in early dawn,

Turning his smartphone on,

Texting he bravely fought,

Tweet after tweet he shot

With his red hat on,

Looking like George C. Scott

Playing George Patton.

It’s the story of a man who overcame his heel-spur handicap by playing golf regularly and eventually took command in his bomber jacket and led the country to greatness. It’s going to be fantastic. I promise you. your social media marketing partner


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+144 # Femihumanist 2017-03-19 13:30
I have a very novel idea: Let's use "defense" money for defense instead of war. I can think of many defense projects that need doing: food, shelter, healthcare, clothing, education, infrastructure, communication, transportation, beautiful things (like art and music) to put us all in a non-militaristi c mood, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NAACP, pipeline defenders, and so many more.

+39 # MindDoc 2017-03-19 14:30
Spot on. But as to calling war, defense, well:
1) Orwell foresaw this, and of course Bannon/Fox et al fully embrace doublespeak, particularly "War is Peace" and other golden oldies from the Ministry of Truth. 2) A look at our nation's (actual, not alternative) history is to see how "War Dept" became "Defense" (not Peace!) as today "healthcare" turns into the oxymoron "Trump Care",

Garrison Keillor is a true American, just as NPR and PBS - both in the crosshairs of Ryan/Trump - are American treasures, remnants of the best of America, welcoming all people (as our Statue of Liberty proclaims), and embracing - even leading - in areas of the arts, science, medicine, and education. All endangered species now.
+40 # Kootenay Coyote 2017-03-19 18:23
Oh,& environment too. That could stand some defence if we're to survive....
+4 # Femihumanist 2017-03-20 20:54
I just went back to read what I said. I can't believe I left out "environment." I'll try to remember to include it next time. Thank you for the suggestion.
+44 # carytucker 2017-03-19 13:30
Gen Kutuzov knew what he was doing: refusing to engage superior forces, conceding ground without losing his troops, waiting for winter in a ruined Moscow to starve the Grand Army before shooting it to pieces on its way back home. Doesn't sound like Mr Trump or any of his sycophants.

the wasting his retreatingtreat ing, resting
+89 # 2017-03-19 13:45
DDE warned us of the Military-Indust rial- Complex, but did we listen??
Support Planned Parent Hood to help prevent unwanted presidencies! GW Bush and now Trump. Wake up!!
+82 # norman markowitz 2017-03-19 13:58
Yes, Garrison.. But now that we have Milo Minderbinder in the White House accompanied by a cabinet of General,Scheiss kopfs, Catch-22 seems almost normal.

Trump,seems to like the wars that he has seen in the movies and on television. Maybe we can encourage him to build a Texas Theme Park, Trump World, with rides that give people the 'fun" of wars past, present and future.

All Trump voters would be given free lifetime passes to Trump World if they signed papers agreeing never to vote in elections .

Trump himself would be given unlimited bankruptcy rights for all of his enterprises if he agreed to leave the Presidency and take Bannon, Conway, and hIs entire administration to take up permanent residence in Trump World
+8 # randrjwr 2017-03-19 22:12
I'd buy a ticket to see that.
+16 # giraffee23 2017-03-19 14:19
Will somebody wake me up? I am having a nightmare: The powers (and checks/balances ) don't appear to understand insanity rules in USA. Lies AND unfulfilled promises go routinely unpunished AND our allies are insulted (etc.)and Garrison just amplified these facts.
Pinch me or send a prince to kiss and wake me up.
+10 # vilstef 2017-03-19 14:23
As for Bob Dylan, don't expect the writer of Masters of War, a truly powerful anti-war ballad to come out in favor of the Krupps and the Trumps and the Putins.
+19 # chemtex2611 2017-03-19 15:00
"If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied."
+16 # John of Milpitas 2017-03-19 15:24
And here I thought when I was reluctantly voting for Hillary that I was voting for the bigger hawk, I wanted Bernie. But I knew I couldn't vote for the blowhard, Donald.

I would like to add Dalton Trumbo's book, "Johnny Got His Gun" to required reading lists. I read it in the early 70's not knowing what it was about. Has been my most favorite book since.
+23 # elizabethblock 2017-03-19 15:49
Re Trump's fixation on North Korea, I think we're looking at a good example of projection. That's what psychologists call it when you attribute (rightly or wrongly) traits of your own that you don't want to acknowledge.
North Korea is ruled by a "strongman," actually a bully, who is hell-bent on acquiring powerful weapons, and doesn't care if his people starve.
Sound familiar?
+13 # elizabethblock 2017-03-19 15:54
I LOVE the Dylan parody. I'm gonna sing it.
If there were a Pulitzer prize for light verse, and there should be, Garrison Keillor would get it.
+11 # tgemberl 2017-03-19 17:10
He talks about the Illiad. It does glorify war. But one thing that struck me about it when I read it about 25 years ago is that it doesn't demonize the other side. Homer was a Greek, but there's lots of compassion for Trojans in the story. It ends with a sad lament to a Trojan hero, Hector.

The Aeneid of Virgil, written maybe 700 years later by a Roman, does demonize the other side. The Trojans, supposed ancestors of the Romans, are presented as good and the Greeks as evil.

Believe it or not, there is actually some evidence that the Trojans were ancestors of an Italian people, though not the Romans. Scholars have discovered evidence of a language spoken on an island near Troy that is similar to Etruscan. So the Etruscans may have been related to the Trojans. I think the Romans borrowed some traditions from the Etruscans.
+7 # margpark 2017-03-19 17:59
What about, "Over there, over there. Send the word, send word overthere, that the yanks are coming, the yanks are coming ..... and it will soon be over over there." You missed one Garrison. It must have been a hit because I remember it from when I was a wee one.
+2 # kalpal 2017-03-20 15:01
Trump's major failing is his inability to laugh at himself. His ability to spout lies and BS are both failings as well.
+3 # Realist1948 2017-03-21 09:33
WRT ' introspective nonconformist in the ranks, wondering, “Why are we brutalizing each other? Why can’t we sit down and talk through our differences?'

On first reading this seemed like a somewhat flippant, throw-away line. But I hope it wasn't meant as such. Note that the most costly war the U.S. ever suffered (in terms of lives lost) was our own "Civil War." Had Americans north and south been able to talk through their differences, untold episodes of cruelty, suffering and loss could have been prevented. But instead "us" fought "them" even though at times this involved brothers against brothers.

More than 150 years have passed since our Civil War, and we still do not have a cabinet level Department of Peace. Maybe a fraction of the $54 billion that Trump wants added to our military budget could be used to fund such a department.

I expect that many professors and intellectuals would jump at the chance to head such a department. And I seriously doubt that any citizens would have to be conscripted to fill its ranks.
0 # 2017-03-21 15:39
Bellum se ipsum alet
0 # 2017-03-27 14:12
Yes. War Feeds itself
0 # jtatu 2017-03-22 15:07
It seems that some good literature came out of the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and World War II.

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