“Hey man you’re afraid to hug.”

Bred, a compact, muscly, cleanshaven dude, Bred — that was his name, it must be an Alaska thing — had grabbed me around the midriff, and choked me tight. I hadn’t hugged back because it was 3am and I was worried that I’d chuck all over him.

He was friendly, but I thought a shoulder splurk might finish that. He was shipping out the next day from Fort Wainwright, along with a few hundred other troops, one of them Trig Palin. He was a sniper, by training, hated the war, thought it was futile, but was going back anyway. Service? Duty?

“I do one year, then I get a gig with Blackwater.”

This was the Marlin Bar, a bunker in Fairbanks that used to be an old fishing club, and used the club license to serve Alaska’s ridiculously cheap booze until 5am. The joy of a small-mid size place like Fairbanks is that there’s only one place for anyone bent, dissenting or just out for a fight, and the Marlin was it, where backwoods punks, lesbian singer songwriters, Alaska 4 Obama honchos and some ornery troops had gathered. Old fake fish on the wall, interspersed with band posters, an old barometer stuck in a permanent storm.

Four hours earlier, half the crowd had been at the airport for the arrival of the divine Sarah, inuit goddess come from sky. Say what you like the thing had been perfectly choreographed, with the hangar door flung wide open, Palin’s plane taxi-ing into a set of flight steps standing like a lonely totem on the tarmac. The plane slid up beside it, as a crowd of 2000, stoked by a brass band, worked themselves into a frenzy. When the door popped, and the distinctive diminutive figure in biggish hair and stylish eyewear appeared, the crowd went batsh-t orgasmic.

“Ive been telling the country about John McCain and a lot about Alaska,” she roared to the crowd, who roared back.

She didn’t give much more than what’s evolving as her standard stump speech minus the catty remarks, and with a few local references, but she could have recited Inuit words for snow and got a killing reaction. Two weeks ago, she was a novelty governor the state was still getting used to. Now she was potentially one thrombotic-argument-with-Cindy away from the big job.

“I told them that here in Alaska it’s a snow machine not a snow mobile!”

Big laughs, applause.

Not the half socialist, big government behemoth with the free oil money I bet. They don’t even do socialism that well. There’s no sales tax on anything, so all the booze is cheap, and the food is through the roof. It’s like a social engineering experiment in creating one big drunk tank.

“Man hug me back.”

What to do? I liked this bloke — he was utterly clear-eyed about the Iraq mess, a step or two to the left of Chomsky. He felt he could talk to me without being judged. But he was going to sit in a concealed place and shoot people from a half mile away. What is owed in such situations? Pure human soldiarity, I guess. I hugged back.

A 9-11 deployment is a helluva PR act by the military — especially since it’s mostly bullsh-t. Most of the troops going from here are going to Fort Dix and other bigger despatch camps where they’ll cool their heels for weeks or months before going OS.

No politicising 9.11. Yeah right. McCain’s website has a huge 911 banner with the ‘serve something other than yourself’ legend on it, the Republican Convention ran a 911 clip that was effectively a snuff movie — shots of falling people ‘n all — and of course the Democrats have just let them waltz right in and do it, too p-ssweak to assault Republican complacency, duplicitiy and arrrgggggggghhh.

It’s not a snow mobile its a snow machine.

Everything coming at once today — Palin’s first TV interview with ABC’s Charlie Gibbs, which was basically an attempt to trap her into a foreign policy idiocy. She avoided everything, but then got cornered into saying that if Georgia was invaded by Russia when a NATO member, the US would have to go to war, a shockingly consistent argument which has no place in current discussions.

There’s no business like snow business…

Obama and McCain doing back to back TV interviews on public service post the 9.11 ceremonies where they’d walked around together giving out flowers to 911 survivors, firemen etc, like a pair of ageing debutantes…

“Serve something greater than yourself,” McCain rasped, ‘”t doesnt have to be the military. The peace corps, Americorps, these are all forms of acceptable pseudo fascistic soft power…”

I made that last bit up …

But seriously, what is all this creepy stuff about service all of a sudden and collective national identity all of a sudden? For a society founded on liberal individualism, it’s a creep out. The whole point of the American revolution was to create a place whose meaning was a product of the sum total of the individual pursuit of life liberty and happiness by its citizens, within the framework of a strictly minimal law.

Snow news is good news…

Both major parties are now collaborating on some Mussolini-ish corporatism where the meaning of your life flows from service to the state. Is this the next stage in America’s fraught obsession — fleeing from exurban anomie — after a brief flirtation with ludicrous religion? To the point where a young man, signed up again to go to a war he doesn’t believe him, has become the epitome of sentiment, a killing machine who needs a hug?

Snow job.

That a mother will send off her son to possible death for the assembled media — “if we hold you a little tighter, if there’s a tear in our eye, please understand”, Sarah Palin told the assembled troops — as 40 press photographers snap, and thirty journalists clack clack a report down the wires of this tender moment for a mother. Hugs, who doesn’t need them?

It’s snow go the bogeyman, it’s snow go the ghandi
All we want is a nice little war
A nice little war would be handy
The glass is falling fast my love
The glass will fall for ever
But if you break the bloody glass
You won’t stop the bloody weather.

(apologies to Louis MacNeice)

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey