There’s something insidious about email from an anonymous source which cajoles a course of action, uninvited — that is bad enough, but when the pitch is passed innocuously by family or friend, the treachery carves even deeper. Specifically, over the Thanksgiving break the following message arrived from a friendly source:

What a simple way to honor our troops with recognition and a greeting!
Something cool that Xerox is doing.

If you go to this website; you can pick out a thank you card and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq.

You can’t pick out who gets it, but it will go to some member of the armed services.

How AMAZING it would be if we could get everyone we know to send one!!! This is a great site.

Please send a card. It is FREE and it only takes a second.

Several stealthy ploys are at work here. One is the base appeal to mindless patriotism, (see the first line above). Next, couple this personal appeal in a positive way to an impersonal corporate entity — that’s Marketing 101. Then, remove the fear of inter-personal contact — click a button on a website only registering your name and home town, to initiate an action to an unnamed person — nearly anxiety-free. And finally, the real cost associated with this activity — a piece of raw emotional response to war has just been therapeutically removed. Any feelings for war’s victims and/or the trauma afflicted upon participants at all levels and both sides — is fleetingly transferred through this anonymous action. How tidy is that? “And it only takes a second.” Very creepy, no? Also worth noting, the card designers are young children, so absolution by innocents also comes into play.

So with all these notions racing through my mind, I responded as follows to my well-meaning but totally uninformed acquaintance.

When things are “too easy & simple” I object to the simulation of “doing something” when the activity is more likely to impact the virtual participant (the button-clicking web visitor) — as a balm for the conscience, than to impact the supposed recipient of the effort — foot soldiers in a dubious war. Guilt: that one cannot do more meaningful work, and/or guilt that what one might be tacitly supporting may cause more harm than the merit it aims to produce.

Hence, we oblige as consumers to legitimize anonymous “recognition” (an oxymoron if there ever was…), at no cost! Or we paste magnetic ribbons on our gas-guzzlers (…won’t even harm the paint!), in “support of the troops”, while we meld in subconscious agreement with an administration that would not stand a more critical examination of current war methods and ends.

It’s time to end this bloody war and honor our fellow citizen-soldiers by bringing them home, not by continuing things as usual.

Hopefully, the message is taken to heart.

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