Odds and sods – Iwo Jima, Libya and parliamentary poets

Australia is not alone when it comes to sacralising war and memorials. Tony Jaques has just sent the blog a link to a CNN Money article about a T-shirt manufacturer, Under Armour, producing a T-shirt with a basketball version of the famous Iwo Jima photograph.

In the T-shirt case the figures are raising a basketball net rather than the US flag. The shirt was dubbed the “Band of Ballers” See http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/18/news/under-armour-iwo-jima-shirt/ .The company, after a social media storm, removed the shirt from sale and said: “We deeply regret and apologise that a t-shirt that was not reflective of our values in honouring and supporting our country’s heroes went on sale.” The apology fails the ‘who was to blame?’ test, which Jaques has discussed in his regular issues management newsletter, with its passive voice formulation of ‘went on sale’ and its mealy mouth obfuscation.

But it was probably not the mealy mouthed apology which got social media comments stirred up. Indeed they ignored the obfuscation, rejected the apology and just claimed the shirt was offensive. But a nice commentary on US views of itself though came from one post cited by CNN: “Stupid, stupid move Under Armour. You’ve offended the most amazing fighting force on the face of the earth and they don’t forget or forgive easily.” Don’t you love them? Almost as bad as Australians saying – just like the Canadians – that we won WWI by turning the tide at the end. It can’t have been both of us and, from memories of Vietnam the blog suspects that only in the US would anyone regard the Marines as the greatest fighting force on the face of the earth. And, of course, this is even before we admit that the Iwo Jima photograph itself was faked and the subsequent US based memorial was subtly changed to ensure it provided a diversity of personnel who were not there when it happened.

The blog got Tony Jaques’ link to the CNN Money site around the time it came across a news article confirming the spectacular capacity of the US – along with their allies – to produce unintended consequences. The Libyan coast guard is complaining that they only have a few rubber craft to turn back the migrant tide crossing the Mediterranean from their coast. It’s not of course because they are not trying but because 70% of their naval vessels (according to an FT report 16/17 May 2015) were sunk when the West intervened to help overthrow Gaddafi. Most of the rest are in Italy being fixed. The UK, which is now refusing to take refugees saved from the sea, was of course among the Libyan bombers. Just stop the boats, said Tony Abbott to the Europeans and the Libyans would love to heed his advice – if we had left them with any to launch.

And in another odd bit of news, and following on from an earlier blog comment on politicians who are poets, the blog noticed a column by Alicia Stallings, a Greek-based poet who is a vague possibility in the forthcoming Oxford Chair of Poetry election. Writing in the TLS (27 February 2015) Stallings referred to the 2012 Greek parliamentary debate when then-PM Antonis Samaras, and soon to be PM Alexis Tsipras swapped Cavafy quotes. Samaras: “Bid farewell to the Alexandria you are losing”; and Tsipras: “And now what will become of us, without barbarians?”  The blog is not expecting our leaders to follow suit any time soon even though we know Tony Abbott knows, along with everyone else who has completed primary education in Australia, some Dorothea Mackellar even if he only remembered three words of it. And somehow the blog is not sitting on its chair waiting expectantly for Bill Shorten to let loose with an apposite interjection based on Horace or a Martial epigram.