(as published in the back of Rebels #2, May 2015)
I just got done doing a blitz of interviews and podcasts about Rebels, and its forced me to put into words something that up until this point was just sitting in the back of my mind, more of a feeling than a thought.
I describe myself as a patriot, and whenever I do I can sense raised eyebrows and a skeptical looks, which I totally understand. I’m pretty open about being a leftie, politically, even an outright socialist when it comes to certain human issues. I’m also the guy that created and wrote DMZ, a scathing 72-issue takedown of modern American war and media. I suspect when I announced Rebels a big chunk of my potential audience believed it was going to be some sort of hatchet job on our beloved shared history and identity. Not just suspect – I know this was the case, because I started getting emails about it. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Since 9/11, and I think to a lesser degree the Reagan years, there’s an association that comes with words like patriotism and some of the uglier policies our culture has brought forth. I know I developed a reflex since this war on terror started, an instinctual rejection of anything that smacked of “pro-America”, the whole ‘with us or against us’ mentality. It made being a proud American an extreme partisan position. It meant lining yourself up with horrible people and abusive ideas. And it’s that ugly side of American culture that DMZ took a blowtorch to.
But I knew that wasn’t the case, and it bothered me. It made me angry. Because I love this country’s history, I loved the mythology, the folktales, the heroes and the language and the imagery. I love the idea of a country founded on the concept of laws. Not royal lineage, or military might, or racial identity, or religious ideology. Ok, sure, there were some bum laws in there, like the Three-Fifths Compromise, but we fixed that. We, as Americans, improved ourselves in that respect, and still strive to improve, to live up to the promise this country was founded on. That’s something to be proud of, and I was angry that I felt robbed of the ability to openly express that and still be me, thanks to the post-9/11 climate.
Rebels is, in part, my reclaiming this aspect of my identity, for me and for anyone else like me. It doesn’t matter that politicians on all sides use this history and twist it around to sell what they’re selling, to demonize the other, to justify all sorts of lies and bullshit and anger and bigotry. I’m writing Rebels with honesty and pride and I can metaphorically (and even literally) wave the flag and celebrate our history and believe in common sense gun ownership and support my veteran friends and buy American whenever possible and still be the guy who wrote DMZ and Channel Zero and vote Green if I want and believe in universal health care and wear my Bernie Sanders pin (a Vermonter!), and not be a hypocrite But rather a run-of-the-mill complex human being with opinions and beliefs, like anyone else.
I’m really resisting wrapping up this essay with some cliché “and that’s what makes America great!” line, because in all honestly, America as it is today isn’t all great. Its got a lot of flaws, and I think that’s part of the reason the history of our independence and the whole Spirit of ’76 thing has such mass appeal – it reminds us of that promise I just mentioned. That ideal to keep striving for, and the terrible struggle men, women, and even children endured to create a brand new kind of nation where such a thing was possible.