I worked on it for three days. I started with a poster board that was 24 by 18 inches of thick stock. I had searched through a ton of magazines I found cast aside around the army base, looking for photos that seemed relevant to my attempt at art. When I had a large collection, I began.
I picked a photo of a soldier for the bottom center. It showed him from the waist up, revealing his open jungle fatigue jacket, dirty face and helmeted head. His expression was one I saw a lot when I was in Vietnam; a kind of blankness that left only the eyes to tell a story of apprehension, mistrust and sadness peering out behind determination and courage.
It was a good image, done in black and white, but one of the many photos of soldiers the media printed and displayed of the young men who went to prosecute the country’s intent in Southeast Asia. I cut out the image of the soldier, removing the background and other elements in the shot, leaving only a six inch tall rendition of the soldier. I set it aside and then began to cut out images of people in America. Some were protesting, some were rioting, some were at funerals and some were at rallies but all of them showed the people here at home in various conflicts of their own. Some about race, some about government and yes, some about the war. All of these images were smaller than the image of the soldier and I covered the poster board with them, gluing them in overlapping montage from the top of the sheet to the bottom. And on the bottom I glued the image of the soldier. I titled it “Wanting to be safe at home.”
It was a statement on how those of us who went to fight missed being at home, that regardless of its problems and issues, it was still home sweet home and what we were fighting for. I hung it up on the wall in my room in the barracks where it stayed until morning inspection when my platoon sergeant saw it, endured a case of apoplexy, and literally ran it downstairs and into the Commanding Officer’s office.
I was immediately summoned to the CO’s presence where a red faced, bulging veined Captain asked me what I was doing with material that demeaned the United States Army and denigrated the US government. “This is subversive!” declared the CO. I should point out that we weren’t on especially good terms. When I arrived at Frankford Arsenal as my final duty station before discharge, the Captain took great exception to my uniform. It was festooned with parachutist and rigger wings a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the Screaming Eagle of the 101st Airborne Division on my combat patch arm. My hat also bore two sets of wings. My commanding officer was very unhappy that my fatigues, my work uniform, bore more decoration than his Class A dress uniform. I stood out like a neon sign and he demanded that I remove all of “that crap” immediately. I followed the order and then immediately filed complaint with the Inspector General’s office. I was following regulation by displaying the patches and badges and the IG backed me up and told the CO he was out of line. I had everything sewn right back on. That was the first interaction I had with my CO but it was not, by far, the last.
The CO was almost orgasmic that he could charge me with not one but two court martial offenses and started the paperwork. Having no stockade, I was confined to quarters and only allowed to leave to use the restroom or attend meals. I was visited by a representative from JAG, the Judge Advocate General’s office. He was the trial lawyer, what civil court would call the prosecutor. We spoke for about 40 minutes as I pointed out the various things I’d pasted to my poster and told him what they meant to me and what I was trying to say with my art.
A half hour after he left, my platoon sergeant came to tell me that the charges against me had been dropped. In the view of the JAG, I had not engaged in subversion, I’d merely exercised my First Amendment right to express an opinion. The sergeant handed me my poster, which was torn, crumpled and had boot prints on it. “It got dropped accidentally. Maybe by one of the JAG guys.” he said as I looked at the ruin of my poster.
I didn’t say anything. Instead I hung it on the wall where I’d first placed it. I added an element to it though. In a bordered box at the top I wrote the words:
Small Minds Eschew the Obvious
My sergeant saw it at inspection the following morning. Although his face and ears reddened and his jaw clenched, he said nothing but gave me a demerit for an unlocked foot locker. It was required to have the box unlocked for inspection. The following day the lock was in place and he went to gig me for it being unavailable for inspection and I presented him with my gig sheet from the preceding day. The point being, he couldn’t have it both ways. Figuring I would make a big deal of things, he withdrew the demerit, leaving my record once again clean, and I opened the locker for him.
I learned a lot of things while I was in the army, and not all of them had to do with armed conflict. There was also unarmed conflict, a realm where ego often prevailed and rank itself was a type of weapon. It’s the same lesson we learn from teachers, bosses, and other people whose authority we find ourselves under. To me, these are the people of small minds who reject the obvious realities when those realities appear to endanger their over inflated self image.