Friday, December 22, 2006

Toys for Tots

I have a Christmas album (I'm too old to reflexively say "CD," although that's what it is) with a medley of '60's ads by famous singers (well, famous in the '60's) for "Toys for Tots." It's nostalgia for me, because I remember those ads coming on around Christmas time, and the Marines in their dress uniforms and white gloves standing by to deliver presents with all the seriousness and determination that only military training can imbue, while the celebrities like Nat "King" Cole, Peggy Lee, and Nancy Wilson crooned (yes, crooned; this was "Rat Pack" music, not the Beatles) how "some had too many/some hadn't any."

My first thought, to be honest, was about how this was used to domesticate the Marine Corps and make us think our military was trained to be the ultimate humanitarians, not killers. It is, of course, what a military is for, and why we train them: to kill, not to deliver toys. And it struck me as a bit insidious, the more I thought about it: using Marine Corps personnel to sell the country on a standing army and the "normalcy" of always having men (and now women) under arms, because, after all, the American military is humanitarian, not mercenary.

But I also imagined this was a program which had gone the way of the Vietnam War and the military draft, because those ads were all old ones and I haven't seen one since childhood. Through the magic of the internets, however, I find Toys for Tots is still alive and well, and that it's a "59 year old tradition of the Marines Corps Reserves." And I can't be Scrooge enough to complain about any program that tries to give toys to children at Christmas time. So I won't comment on the problem of imagining our military is always humane and humanitarian, the problem of American exceptionalism which has only gotten worse since World War II, not better. It's a good thing; I'm glad to know it's still being done, even if no modern celebrities are crooning, or even rapping, for it.

What I miss, too, is the message from my childhood. The lyrics went like this:

"The joy of living,
Is in the giving.
So let's give lots of toys for tots,
Toys, toys, toys for tots.
You can be a Santa,
If you will lend a hand.
Yessirree, there never will be an empty stocking in the land.

"Some have too many,
some haven't any.
If those who have
give those who haven't
Oh, what a Christmas Day!
The Marine Reserve will help you,
Will help you fill your sleigh.
With lots and lots of toys for tots,
So give a little toy today."

That last stanza was the real tag-line of the appeal; and it's perfectly in keeping with the message of John in Luke's gospel, which is perfectly in keeping with the season of Advent:
The people asked him, 'Then what are we do to?' He replied, 'Whoever has two shirts must share with him who has none, and whoever has food must do the same.' Among those who came to be baptized were tax-collectors, and they said to him, 'Teacher, what are we to do?' He told them, 'Exact no more than the assessment.' Some soldiers also asked him, 'And what of us?' To them he said, "No bullying; no blackmail; make do with your pay!' Luke 3: 10-14, REB
There you have everything the program proclaimed, including a reference to soldiers. It's a pity we don't hear that message at Christmas anymore; at least not on TV.

Nostalgia really isn't what it used to be.

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