pimping and panderingEnding the Iraq war debate in the House of Representatives, Rep. Sam Johnson (a Republican from Texas) concluded his comments by "snapping off a salute." Johnson is a former servicemember and a Vietnam war POW, and his own military service was far more significant than mine. But my god does that salute rankle, and in precisely the same way that John Kerry made my skin crawl by saluting -- well, by sort of saluting -- and "reporting for duty" at the Democratic convention. Am I alone in this?
The salute has a particular context and meaning; it's a particular gesture of respect, and in its place communicates an exceptional message. If you've ever served in the military, and have saluted a superior who didn't bother to return the gesture, you probably still remember the distaste it made you feel. A salute between servicemembers conveys mutual respect and obligation; it begins with the subordinate, but is returned by the person of superior rank, in a gesture that acknowledges reciprocal duties. People who might literally be called upon to give their lives for one another are showing with a concrete gesture, many times a day, that they accept their position and its burdens.
Politicians saluting during political events? Blech. I can guess what Johnson might say he intended, but the gesture strikes me as an untenable appropriation, an attempt to use a symbol out of its context in order to sacralize partisan politics. It seems to be about a half-step away from Buy Zippy brand peanut butter -- for our brave troops who died! (Now ten percent off at leading grocery stores!)
Military ritual belongs in the military. Political arguments should turn on fact and reasoning, not on facile symbolism.
And yeah, I know. But still.