What Would Billy Bragg Do?
Fascinating story in the New York Times magazine about Henry Rollins’ role as a U.S.O. representative, “entertaining” American troops abroad. Rollins has been on several such tours, visiting Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Qatar and Honduras. Understandably, he has conflicting emotions about his role in boosting morale for the soldiers: “I identify really strongly with their training, with their discipline,” he tells reporter Susan Dominus, but he’s nonetheless firmly opposed to the current U.S. government and the war in Iraq. Dominus fails to fully explore this inherent contradiction, perhaps because Rollins failed to fully explain himself. The closest we get to understanding the paradox from the former Black Flag singer’s perspective is this paragraph:
When soldiers confront Rollins about what they know about his politics – “Hey, man, you don’t like my boss” – Rollins tends to dodge the conversation. “I’m like, that doesn’t matter right now – here in Baghdad all that matters is that I want you home in one piece,” he said during an eight-hour van ride on one leg of the trip, recalling an exchange he has had several times. “The other stuff – we can have that discussion in Minneapolis when you’re home eight months from now. And we can have a debate, and I will whip your butt.”
And the closest we get to understanding the soldiers’ feelings about him is this:
A burly, 30-something explosives defuser … said he and his friends had a Rollins Band CD they’d play full-blast in their Humvee when they went out on a mission. “It got us pumped up,” he said of the ritual. So he was thrilled to meet Rollins – “we’re all superstoked,” he said – but told me after a few minutes of conversation that he’d have been even more excited to meet someone a little more pro-military. “Like Bruce Willis,” he said, “he’s cool. Or Toby Keith. He’s totally pro-military.” He was a little tired of “celebrities who get on the bandwagon and denounce the war and denounce Bush.”
Perhaps the best news to come out of the piece is the fact that the U.S.O is willing to hire people like Rollins – and, believe it or not, Al Franken too. As President Bush told an audience in Argentina last week while rioting went on outside, and I’m paraphrasing from a speech I heard at the time (with a slight grin on my face), “Isn’t it wonderful that we have the freedom to dissent?”