"I'm digging my grave now," said the headline. "But soon it will
be your turn. War: Get used to it."
This grim bit of agitprop caught the eye of Greg Ruggiero, senior
editor at Seven Stories Press, a TriBeCa publisher that specializes in
what he calls "socially conscious" books. He tracked down the poster
maker's Web site,
www.micahwright.com, which included a batch of Office of War
Information artwork from the 1940s. But in a bold postmodern stroke,
these posters -- which promoted War Bonds, scrap metal drives and home
front security measures -- had been transformed into antiwar broadsides.
For example, a 1943 poster of a grim-faced GI asking, "Have you
REALLY tried to save gas by getting into a car club?" was recast this
way: "The more gas your SUV uses the more foreigners I have to kill! Now
do you get it?"
Ruggiero offered a book contract to Micah Ian Wright, the Los
Angeles writer behind the "remixed" propaganda poster project. The
result is a slim paperback titled "You Back the Attack! We'll Bomb Who
We Want!" Its contents may be shrill -- many posters bash President Bush
and his policies -- but its author is no run-of-the-mill leftist.
Wright, 34, is a former Army Ranger, one of the airborne commandos
who typically lead the way in war, parachuting into combat zones. An
ex-sergeant and squad leader, Wright now refers to himself as "the
traitor." His posters are like him: blunt, strident, yet often humorous.
"It all came out of this repressed rage I had about watching our
country swagger around the world like the bully on the block," he says
by phone between mouthfuls of onion rings ("Today is my day to eat bad
greasy food"). His antiwar views coalesced during the invasion of Panama
in 1989, he says, after he witnessed the aftermath of errant U.S. bombs
that struck a crowded barrio, killing civilians and causing fires that
burned for two days.
Released in May with scant promotion, his paperback is selling
well enough to command a third printing, about 15,000 copies. Brief
essays from the Center for Constitutional Rights buttress the posters'
jarring visuals and headlines.
Here's Uncle Sam jabbing his fist and index finger through a flag:
"Hey You -- Stop Asking Questions. Or Else We'll Permanently Detain You.
A Message From the Ministry of Homeland Security."
The 1942 original asked, "Are YOU doing all you can?"
Comedian Bill Maher also included a few posters from the Office of
War Information -- all now in the public domain -- in his book published
last year, "When You Ride Alone You Ride With bin Laden." But his theme
was different, creating an entirely new set of posters to prod the
consciences of oil-addicted Americans.
Some who remember the original posters are pleased to see them
again. Novelist Kurt Vonnegut, a World War II combat vet, contributed a
brief foreword to Wright's book and praises him for sharpening the
60-year-old propaganda tools.
"The posters that he parodies were very effective works of art,"
Vonnegut says in an interview. "They were in a good cause. It was a just
war, an utterly unambiguous enterprise."
But don't get him started on the Iraq War.
"Just to cut the Gordian knot," says Vonnegut, 80, issuing phlegmy
chuckles, "it was so [expletive] dumb. I knew what a mess it was going
Wright empathizes with the U.S. soldiers in Iraq and says he
respects their service. He knows what it's like to swelter under more
than a hundred pounds of gear while suffering the suspicious glares of
the occupied locals.
He considers it his patriotic duty to criticize the politicians
who deployed the troops: "Every day a soldier gets shot in the head, or
guys disappear from a Humvee somewhere, people are realizing this
administration didn't do any planning for postwar Iraq."
Wright learned about military sacrifice early. His father, a Navy
officer and nuclear engineer, often had to relocate. ("I never had a
friend for more than two years in a row," he says in his book.) In high
school in Glendale, Ariz., he was a loner who shunned the pursuits of
suburban peers whose idea of a great time was cruising in their Camaros
to the Circle K.
He recalls spending a lot of time reading in his room and
cultivating a subversive sense of humor. His favorite poster, hung in
the bathroom, was a reproduction of a Scott Paper placard that asked,
"Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks?"
"I was highly intelligent but emotionally isolated," he writes,
"perfect, I found out later, for the Special Forces."
He joined the Army in 1987 to earn college money. He endured
rigorous Ranger training, including capturing and eating a snake. He
says he participated in classified combat missions in South and Central
America, but can talk only about Operation Just Cause, the capture of
Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega. (Or, as he calls it, "Operation Just
Did he ever kill anyone? "That's one of those questions that I
really don't like to answer," he says after an uncomfortable pause.
"You're shooting at people and other people are shooting and people fall
down. Put it this way: I never shot at anybody who hadn't shot at me
He left the service in 1990 and enrolled at the University of
Arizona, where he majored in political science and studied creative
writing with an instructor named Terry McMillan -- before she hit the
big time with "Waiting to Exhale." On his Web site Wright says: "Terry,
if you're out there, I was the fellow who wrote the story about the guy
in the grocery store who kills a woman with a can of peaches. . . . With
your feedback, I turned that short story into a successful student film
which still creeps people out to this day!"
Here his biography takes another weird turn. The former
trigger-puller sought his fortune in show business and ended up as a
writer for Nickelodeon, the children's network. He penned several
scripts for its "Angry Beavers" cartoon series and also worked on "Rugrats"
and "SpongeBob SquarePants."
These days he focuses on creating video games and writing a comic
book called "StormWatch: Team Achilles," which harks back to his Special
Forces experiences. "It's left-wing pastiche masquerading as right-wing
military fiction," he says. "It's a team of humans working for the
United Nations who kill superheroes when they go out of control. Because
it's a U.N. team, I get to bring politics into the book."
And who are his heroes? He cites the WWII poster artists, many of
them anonymous, who helped in the fight against fascism and the original
Axis of Evil. "These were the world's best admen, the world's best
illustrators, put together to get everyone behind the war, to
propagandize the American people."
He dedicates his antiwar book to them.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company