Somewhere in Washington State, in a conservative town he would rather not name, is a lonely liberal man with a high-speed internet connection, a sarcastic wit, and a suggestion for how the U.S. military might fill its recruiting gaps: With pro-war College Republicans.
The man calls himself General J.C. Christian, Patriot, and he runs the online campaign "Operation Yellow Elephant," which has been exhorting young conservatives to carry their support of the Iraq war to its logical conclusion by enlisting for duty on the front lines.
The General, as one might guess, is not having much luck. But the more he fails, the more he highlights a division between the war's political enablers and those who end up dying while fighting in support of a mission that was supposedly "accomplished" long ago. It is the same division that existed in the Vietnam era, when President Bush and other sons of privilege dodged active-duty service, a class division that allows the comfortable to pontificate on the theoretical virtues of war while those in lower tax brackets bear the brunt of its human cost.
This pisses the General off, as do Republicans in his small town who lecture him about his lack of patriotism when he voices opposition to the war. So when the General heard about the military recruiting shortfalls, his mind immediately turned to the young Republican movement: "I thought, 'Well, these people are always talking about patriotism, and always equating patriotism with support for the war, it's time that they walk the walk.'" That sentiment is summed up on his web site, operationyellowelephant.blogspot.com, with the motto: "It's their war. Why aren't they fighting it?"
With the help of likeminded web activists, the General tried earlier this summer to place a recruiting advertisement in the program for the Young Republican National Convention, held in Las Vegas on July 6. The advertisement would have read:
"Our nation is at War! We are in a desperate struggle for all we believe in. Our military is suffering a manpower crisis. Why are you here when your country needs you in Iraq? Talk is cheap. America needs more from you. College, family, and careers can wait. Heed your nation's call and enlist in the infantry today."
"They refused to run it," the General said. "They said it was too negative."
The young Republicans did, however, take a moment to respond to the criticism that they are chickenhawks. The chair of the young Republicans' convention, Nathan Taylor, issued this defensive statement:
"Most of our members," Taylor said, "either serve, have served, or plan to serve in the United States Armed Forces, or have participated in events or projects supporting the United States Armed Forces." (Just how many of these patriotic young Republicans fit into that last category, "have participated in events or projects supporting the United States Armed Forces," he did not say, nor did he say exactly what it meant. Paying taxes? Interning at Halliburton?)
The flap over the convention ad this summer reminded several bloggers of a video clip, shot last year during the Republican National Convention in New York City, in which an Iraq-war veteran who had infiltrated the convention tried briefly to drum up recruits from among those attending a gathering for young Republicans. The clip, which is posted at a site friendly to the General's campaign, crooksandliars.com, shows a well-groomed young Republican named Shedrick Gavin being asked by the Iraq war veteran whether he would enlist. "Of course not," Gavin says, surrounded by other young politicos who represent the future of the Republican Party. "I don't believe in killing."