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G.I. Joe Morgan, A Real American Hero, Chat Day
2004-07-13 00:12
by Mike Carminati

A true military officer is in one particular like a true monk. Not with more self-abnegation will the latter keep his vows of monastic obedience than the former his vows of allegiance to martial duty.
—Herman "Franks" Melville, Billy Budd (Selig), Sailor

My name's Dewy Oxberger. My friends call me Ox. You might have noticed I have a slight weight problem. Yeah I do. Yeah, yeah, I do. So I went to this doctor and he told me I swallow a lot of aggression along with a lot of pizzas. Ha ha, ha ha, pizzas! …I thought to myself, "Join the army." It's free. So I figured while I'm here I'll lose a few pounds. You got, what, a six- to eight-week training program around here, a really tough one, which is perfect for me. I'm going to walk out of here a lean, mean fightin' machine!

—Dewey "Evans" Oxberger played by the great John Candy in Stripes

Although military, economic and political strength certainly favors the more powerful side, the matter of simple justice is a counterbalancing factor.
—Jimmy "Don't Call Me Lance" Carter

I've always been kind of a pacifist. When I was a kid, my father told me, "Never hit anyone in anger…unless you're absolutely sure you can get away with it." I don't know what kind of soldier I'm gonna make, but I want you guys to know that if we ever get into real heavy combat... I'll be right behind you guys… every step of the way.
—Russell "Don't Call Me Richie" Ziskey, also in Stripes

According to true military art, one should never push one’s enemy to the point of despair, because such a state multiplies his strength and increases his courage which had already been crushed and failing, and because there is no better remedy for the health of beaten and overwhelmed men than the absence of all hope.
—François "Beltran" Rabelais

And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
—Bible: Psalms 78:66.

It’s a beautiful world we live in
A sweet romantic place
Beautiful people everywhere
The way they show they care
Makes me want to say
It’s a beautiful world
—Devo "White"

They're panicking out there. It's Christmas and they're afraid they can't get their kids the G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu grip and that their wives won't make love to 'em anymore. They're panicking. I can smell it!
"Honest"Eddie Murphy as Bill Ray "Don't Call Me Ellis" Valentine in Trading Places

Blessed be Providence which has given to each his toy: the doll to the child, the child to the woman, the woman to the man, the man to the devil!
—Victor "Zambrano" Hugo

I wouldn't marry you if you had the body of G.I. Joe.

—Bride of Chucky from the film of the same title.

In the days of my youth, G.I. Joe was the eight-year-old equivalent of James Bond. He was the coolest thing going. And why not? We mulleted Seventies kids were reared at the cusp of a toy revolution. The G.I. Joes of my older brothers were no more than Ken in fatigues. No Kung-Fu grip. No lifelike hair. No eagle eyes. Not even a whiff of Bullet Man! I know it's hard to believe now. However, the only real action that my brothers saw with their G.I. Joe action figures was when they stuck its head in a vise and invented Massive Headwound Harry G.I. Joe (headwound not included).

I remember the dawning of Kung-Fu grip, an event as auspicious as the when proto-humans first learned to use tools with the help of a giant shingle from outerspace, if 2001 is to be believed. I was barely a sentient seven-year-old life-form, but I knew when I witnessed greatness, and here it was. No longer were we to subsist on Joes who appeared to be holding a cup with one hand and pinching Barbie's toches with the other. No, Joe could, and did, repel down a rope from the seven-foot-high basketball rim in my driveway to the safety of terra firma. I remember when I first received the bounty that was G.I. Joe with the Kung-Fu grip, and my friend Jeff and I spent a summer afternoon doing just that, rescuing Joe from the danger of enemy headquarters on that basketball rim to the safety and freedom of a mound of dirt ten feet away, in the good ol' US of A.

And the toys Joe had would put even James Bond's Q to shame. I had the Jeep with a missile launcher mounted in the trailer, the submarine that actually submerged and had a pinched mounted on the front to snare the conveniently included rubber octopus, the mobile headquarters that allowed Joe to search for lost radioactive satellites, and the collapsible carry-anywhere super headquarters. All the accoutrement were included back them. There was none of this "X sold separately". If you bought the Search for the Abominable Snowman, you got the snow survival suit, the skis, the ski poles, the snowshoes, the sled, the rope, the net, the binoculars, the supply chest, and the comic book (!), everything you needed to trap the abominable snowman, who was also included. When you got the ,a href="">deep sea diver suit, that actually sunk to the bottom of your pool, it came with the air tubes that led to a pontoon boat, also included, where the other Joe would monitor deep-sea Joe's air levels. You got it all, baby!

Soon Joe was trying out the Evil Knievel stunt cycle, that, if one cranked for a sufficiently long, would leap Snake River more successfully than the real thing. Of course, the action figure always flew off, but so did the real thing.

Joe hung out with Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man, of "Better…Stronger…Faster" fame, who came with bionic version that could actually use by looking through the gaping hole in the back of his skull (it was actually a mini telescope). Steve Austin also had bionic implants that you could remove a la the game Operation, but only after removing or rather rolling up his skin—a bit creepy, now that I think of it—, and a one-ton weight that only his bionic right-hand could lift. (Of course, ho one ever wondered how his human body could support the tonnage that his arm could lift. Compressed spine, anyone?)

Joe and O.J. Simpson were also buds, back in the day. No joke, I had an O.J. action figure that came out before he was famous for being accused of killing people. It was even before he left the Bills for the then-woeful 49ers. He was decked out in the old AFL Bills helmets with the standing buffalo in front of a white background. Like so:

And, no, it didn't come with a white Ford Bronco action vehicle.

I remember when they came out with the ultimate G.I. Joe, called Mike Power the Atomic Man. I was nine years old and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Even the packaging was cool: it wasn't just a cardboard box with a little cutout to see inside. Mike Power came incased in clear plastic, the new space-age polymer.

He was Joe's answer to Steve Austin, a probably a pretty pathetic one at that, but I didn't care. His hand rotated when you turned a little built-in dial with your thumb, and when he held the two included propeller blades, he was a one-man helicopter.

This thing had to come with me to school, though it had to be kept secret from my teacher. I unveiled the ultimate Joe creation at recess amid the oohs and ahs of my fellow fourth graders, making me the coolest kid at kickball that day. It was such an auspicious event it even suspended play at the outset as we put the new Joe through his paces sitting around the metal grate behind "homeplate", that acted as a communal dugout for both sides, as we drank in his coolness. I don't know how I did that day at kickball, a difficult sport in the '70s given that we all played in bellbottoms. I may have popped up or kicked the ball all the way to the basketball pole that acted as a marker for the farthest anyone could then kick the ball—I did reach it a couple of times. But whatever I did, Atomic Man did it with me, riding in my backpack. And all was well.

That was sort of the apogee of my G.I. Joe days. I soon started to outgrow him and needed my own space. I hadn't really given the toy much though in the intervening years until there was a baseball-related story that involved said Mr. Joe.

It seems that the Twins last week butted heads with a few peace groups because of their promotion, the second annual Armed Services Appreciation Day. And Joe was the culprit. You see, the Twins were going to be distributing G.I. Joes to the kids who attended last Monday's game with the Royals. The Royals?!? I think parents received Purple Hearts for having to witness the carnage.

What seemed like an innocent way to pay tribute to "our soldiers", was seen by the offended groups as a way to "promote war…at our national pastime."

Now, before I weigh in on the issue. I have to comment on an article in that wonderful publication The Washington Times. My opinion of the Times is unprintable, unless I want to draw the ire of Michael Powell. Suffice to say that my respect for the Times amounts to the way Shrek used the pages of the fairy tale at the beginning of the first Shrek movie.

Times columnist Tom "Don't Call Me Don" Knott takes exception with a statement by Friends for a Non-Violent World, "It's not a credible way to honor those who've suffered the inhumanity of war.":

You always love the titles of these groups: Friends for a Non-Violent World.
Who can argue against Friends for a Non-Violent World?
Well, Osama bin Laden and his thousands of nutty followers are against a nonviolent world...
There is a stunning disconnect with all these groups. They might issue objections to G.I. Joe or American soldiers stacking nude scumbags on top of one another, but they are unusually quiet around a head that is placed on a body, as if it were an ornament.
Which part of the recent beheadings is so hard to comprehend?
You say the beheadings have no connection to G.I. Joe?
It is all connected, the series of beheadings merely the latest acts of twisted minds who declared war on us long ago.
We just chose to ignore it before September 11.
Right. An eye for an eye, and the world goes blind.
We also know now that guns don't kill people; G.I. Joe dolls kill people.

Wow, way to prove that those peace groups are out of touch with reality, Don, er, I mean Tom. To quote Sgt. Hulka (again of Stripes), "Lighten up, Francis." Oh, and I really love the one-sentence paragraphs. I guess you have to keep it brief and punchy to reach the addle-minded dolts who deign to read your publication.

Now, a couple of things must be said about the evolution of G.I. Joe. When I was a kid, Joe was an adventurer first and a soldier second. Sure, he carried a rifle, but he also carried everything else imaginable including shark repellant. This was probably done to be sensitive of the antiwar sentiments surrounding the Vietnam War at the time. Joe evolved beyond his army soldier rubric. After Mike Power the Atomic man came a sort of cyborg/superhero type thing called Bullet Man. About that time everyone seemed to outgrow the toy at once (including me).

The Eighties brought a miniature version that was far more militaristic and tremendously smaller. You couldn't recreate the adventures that I and my contemporaries but Joe through when we were kids. It was just a little hunk of plastic. It didn't do anything and nothing was included. But there was a TV show this time and the new Joe became a beloved toy and symbol of American ideals.

So I would protest handing out G.I. Joes because they are junk. I'm sort of on the fence as to whether they promote war. I played "Cowboys And Indians" when I was a kid, had a cap gun, and shot rockets into space. And I think I turned out pretty normal all in all. I also watched Tom and Jerry put never dropped an anvil on anyone's head to see if his head would take on an anvil-like shape.

Now that I have kids myself, I shy away from the military toys though. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the aftershocks of Columbine and the attendant loss of innocence. Maybe it's that I don’t played into a culture in which almost every video game seems to desensitize kids to killing even as they make it more and more realistic. Those toys probably wouldn't damage my kids anymore than they damaged me. Their innocence would shield them from the potential evils, just as mine served me well. It may be that they just make me as the parent feel uncomfortable.

One thing is certain, handing out dolls is an odd tribute to American soldiers. I'm sure it was intended as a nice gesture, but we do live in a culture in which apparently nothing is innocent any longer, no matter how much that irks Tom Knott. But how can anything associated with the current war be innocent given the Senate panel's report that was just released?

I mean, it's apparent to everyone but President Bush that we should never have gone into Iraq given what we now know. Whether that's an indictment of the war itself given what our government knew or thought it knew at the onset remains to be seen. Many (including me) think it is, but it is definitely more complicated. And now that the presidential election is becoming more and more a referendum on the war, it gets even more complicated.

Maybe the Twins should have been a bit more sensitive. Maybe the peace groups should keep it in perspective—it is after all just a toy. Maybe the Twins should have reconsidered the event. All I know is that I miss the innocence that once allowed these toys to be acceptable and I wish I could go back to it.

Which brings me, of course, to another Joe, Joe Morgan. He never lost that innocence. He is more stuck in the '70s than a Styx/Journey double bill. Joe missed the revolution in baseball analysis that Bill James helped usher. Joe is at essence Bullet (Headed) Man, the ultimate extension of the baseball analysis of the previous generation. He is one of the last stalwarts of baseball analysis who accepted wholecloth any claims by Sparky Anderson that this season's phenom would be the new Mickey Mantle.

And I say god bless him. So without further ado, I welcome you to the innocence that is Joe Morgan Chat Day:

The Good

To be continued…

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