When I happened upon today's Beetle Bailey comic, I experienced a moment of mild consternation. Surely...surely lovable foot-soldiers Beetle and Plato weren't actually crawling through a battlefield while bombs rained down around their silhouetted figures in nicely stylised white explosions? Surely the two characters weren't face-down in the mud in the middle of a war zone? What had happened to the perpetual training camp? Where was Miss Buxley? Where were the good old American mountains and forests and Training Mine Fields* we all knew and loved?
Were Greg and Mort Walker trying to make a political statement? A topical political statement? Were they, in fact, criticising the folly of the war in Iraq?**
Though it does rather astound me that it has taken the Walkers this long to use their Comic About the Military to comment on American foreign policy, I find that I cannot but cheer even such a heavy-handed strip as this. Good for you, Beetle. You've woken up and smelled the tragedy of war. Could it be that General Halftrack may soon be dragged from the golf course and propelled, kicking and screaming, into the Middle East? Is it possible that Sarge will find himself shouting to a purpose? One can only wait and see.
In the meantime, it is worth noting that while the Walkers have progressed from being completely out of touch with reality to tentatively sniffing around this whole reality thing and deciding maybe to give it a whirl, they are still working in an essentially medieval idiom. Beetle and Plato are expressing discontentment with the apparent disparity between the lots of the different estates. Their conversation touches on the unfairness of the first estate's lopsided power over the third, though in order to encode their rebellion, they couch their disgruntlement in terms of age instead of social position. Inherent in their words, however, is the understanding that the "old men" belong to a different class than the "young men."***
Can a peasants' revolt be far behind? I think not.
*Really an element in one strip from this year.
**Granted, Beetle and Plato seem to be in Passchendaele circa 1917, but hey: progress is progress.
***The Middle English word "yonglings" means "young people" and is often applied specifically to young soldiers. I thought I should point that out before people who believed that George Lucas was the devil came screaming down upon me and threatened to rip my teeth out through my throat. Sorry, everyone, but it's true: Lucas did not invent "younglings" all by himself. He too is plugged right into the Middle Ages.