I was pumping gas and leaning on the side my car as my wife sat cooling in the car, on a Friday evening around six o'clock. As I watched the numbers rolling by on the pump's gauge a mumbling and low voice occurred behind me, I glanced back over my shoulder. It was a man in his mid-fifties reading my bumper stickers. "Keep Church and State Separate," and "I'm Too Poor to Vote Republican," my chrome plated Darwin fish and "One Nation Undereducated," and the clencher, much smaller, on the lower right of the bumper "Attack Iraq? NO!"
"Figures!" He then said loudly enough for me to hear, "A commie, pinko, liberal, bunch of liberal crap!" He then huffed off to his truck. I stayed silent – trying to stay cool – and letting him be. But he wasn't through yet. He backed up his truck to within inches of my front bumper and then leaned out to see me while he added more angry diatribe from the comfort zone of his own front seat. "See that tag I got! See that license plate! "I got that in combat fighting for you to have the right to put that communist crap on your car! "Asshole! Pinko!"
I nodded for him to show him I acknowledged his Purple Heart that was displayed on his commemorative license plate that the state of Georgia was kind enough to make available. But I stayed silent and he finally drove off while the sound of words of disdain for me grew quieter has he left the parking lot.
Was he saying that he fought for my freedom, more specifically my freedom to political speech? I think he was. It was a reach, a long reach for reason, teetering on excuse for disagreeing with someone who is disagreeing with the status quo. Kind of like "Jesus died for your sins!" Essentially disagreeing with the wing of the status quo that had supported you – or said they had, seemed they had.The gas station, mouth wielding vigilante was Vietnam age and I'll assume his Purple Heart comes from that theatre. A war based on a lie that accomplished nothing. What incredible disappointment it must be, the type that weighs like a brick in the chest, like a feeling of pressure on the brain, to return from that invasion and occupation considering yourself a patriot. A patriot so long as the mind stays closed, the brain stays shallow, and selective acceptance of news and of hear-say. Another veteran of that occupation might be a disdainful dissenter when the truth is known, having to deal with his anger, his reality. One man realizes he fought and was wounded in Vietnam for nothing and eventually is cool with the geo-political of it. The other is stubbornly insistent that he did something about communism, that the world is better off for what he did. He is sick of being the minority, so he may become a recluse, hiding himself and his family from the dissenters for the rest of his life. When faced with a dissenter and his bumper stickers, a button is pushed, a rage boils up, reality is hitting him the face, an affront to so much that he personally exalts about god and country.
For the veteran, in confronting the dissenter, with hostility and belligerence, in the gas station parking lot, he has violated the civil rights of the dissenter with the harmless bumper-stickers. He has become the freedom grabbing enemy he imagined he was fighting against. His own personal imagined enemy.