I was gonna write about something serious today, but the electrical folks are here, putting up fans, changing lights and all that good stuff, so instead I’ll write about one of the best bits of satire I ever read, in a letter written to Stars and Stripes
newspaper, by a plucky second lieutenant.
Where exactly in the cosmic scheme of things is a second lieutenant? Well, as a cavalryman said in a western I once watched as a kid, “Nobody wants to be a second lieutenant, not even a second lieutenant wants to be a second lieutenant!”
Stars and Stripes
, a newspaper for members of the U.S. military which originated during the Civil War, is not a propaganda tool, but instead serves up news and opinion from independent sources. Like any great newspaper, it had an interesting letters to the editor section, especially in the early 1970s, which is when I read it, my family being stationed in Germany at the time.
It was in this section that I read one the best pieces of satire I have ever come across. As someone who was Humor Editor for my school paper - as well working for the base newspaper as a reporter for school events - I was struck by not only how funny it was, but by the sheer rage it generated as a result.
Which is what you are looking for, basically, when you write satire. Praise is all fine and dandy, and I’ll never turn any away, but to have some incoherent blowhard erupt like Mount Vesuvius is the true test of humor.
Just think of Jonathan Swift, and his solution to the famine in Ireland.
In military movie theaters at the time - and I suppose it is probably still the case - it was customary to stand while the National Anthem was played before the previews would commence. It wasn’t mandatory, but you just sort of did it, because it was the thing to do.
Not everyone felt that way, however, and it created a mini-tempest in a mini-teapot. Folks were infuriated over what they perceived as a lack of patriotism. For me, it all came to a head when a plucky second lieutenant wrote a letter suggesting that Military Police be stationed at the back of the theaters with truncheons, so that they could beat into submission folks who didn’t stand automatically when the anthem began.
It was hilarious, and I wish I’d had the foresight to cut the letter out and save it.
Of course, it’s all fun and games till the humorless strive to make their voices heard. Outrage! Anger! How dare he even think it appropriate to suggest such a thing? We weren’t living in a dictatorship, after all . . .
I’ve always wondered how many folks secretly agreed with him.
And I am just thinking, here I am, a teenager, and I can see what he was doing, and all these supposed grown-ups are only capable of rage? I learned an important lesson about humor that day. Mainly, never try to placate the humorless. On most cases, they are beyond redemption.
But it was a great piece of writing, and as funny as some of my own stuff which has appeared in print over the years may be, I’m not sure any of it was ever as good as that one letter to the editor.
I have wondered, though, with a sense of humor like that, just how far his military career went?
Now on YouTube: for Civil War buffs
Now on YouTube - my show on the Civil War Battle of Fayetteville.
"On the Air with Richard S. Drake" celebrates 25 years on the air in 2016.
Quote of the Day
I’d hate to take a bite out of you. You’re a cookie full of arsenic. - J.J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster), “Sweet Smell of Success”