Yellow Ribbons . . . Who’s Listening?

Who’s listening? Apparently not many.

This is a story about not paying attention, or choosing not to. I’ll let the philosophers argue about which is worse. For the sake of this post, I just want to talk about the yellow ribbon campaign. You know the one. A soldier comes home from the war in Iraq or Afghanistan and people wrap yellow ribbons around the trees as a welcome. This morning I was chatting with a young lady, aged 25, who had no idea what the significance of the yellow ribbon was. If you, like her, don’t know, then let me enlighten you. Then I’ll tell you why it’s nonsense.

Oh, and today, on April 14, 2009, CBC Radio reported that 21 year-old Trooper Karine Blais died in Afghanistan. She is the second Canadian female soldier to die in combat in Afghanistan. Ironically, yesterday, a local family dropped off yellow ribbons to all the houses in our neighborhood, asking us to tie those ribbons around our trees to welcome their son, 23, who is making it back.

About that song . . . It all started with a 1970s band called Tony Orlando and Dawn.

Back in the day, they scored a huge hit with a song called "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree". It’s about a man who has just been released from prison after spending three long years for some kind of theft. In the song, the ex-con says, "now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine" so he obviously did it. No question. He writes a letter to his girlfriend (or wife) back home saying he’s coming back.

For you kids out there, a letter was a precursor to email whereby people wrote on paper using a pen instead of a word processor, then folded the message, put in in a paper envelope and affixed something known as a stamp, a kind of pre-arranged payment to cover the costs of someone delivering the message across town, the country, or the world. It was surprisingly inexpensive given the distance these messages had to travel. But I digress . . . back to the song.

Our returning prisoner is looking for a sign that his lady wants him back, even after all this time. So he asks that she tie a yellow ribbon around the ole oak tree to signify her desire to have him back. If he doesn’t see a ribbon from the safety of the bus, he’ll just stay on and keep riding. It’s over, baby! Lucky for him, she does want him back. Big time! There are a hundred yellow ribbons tied around the ole oak tree.

It’s sickly sweet. And also not particularly fitting for a hero’s welcome. First, the song is about a criminal coming home (respectfully, one who has paid his debt to society). Second, it’s about a coward. The guy isn’t willing to face his girlfriend (or wife) and ask her whether she wants him back. No. He needs a signal he can decipher from the relative emotional safety of a bus. So, an ex-con and a coward

If people actually listened to the words, they might be looking for an alternative symbol to welcome their soldiers home. 

It’s nonsense, and for some reason, it irks me every time I see those ribbons and hear that song play in my head. Maybe I’m just turning into a curmudgeon like this guy or these other guys. Or maybe I just wish people actually listened, read, and occasionally paid attention to the nonsense they believe in, support, and repeat (all of which sounds like another rant). Then perhaps there would be less belief, support, and perpetuation of nonsense.

Surely, I can’t be the only one who feels this way.


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