Ancient Egypt had its Rosetta Stone, Ancient Greece had its Venus de Milo, Easter Island has its stunning moai, and now we have the perfect artifact of our time and place: a $100,000 American-flag belt buckle encrusted with rubies, sapphires and diamonds.
The historic piece of work is owned by one David H. Brooks, former chief executive and chairman of DHB Industries, which made money hand-over-fist selling shoddy body armor for American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. What elevates the buckle out of the realm of expensive kitsch and into the lofty heights of world history is the way it embodies the mindset of the ruling class of one of the world's great powers during the time of its rapid demise.
Brooks is lucky he lives in a country where desecrating the flag is considered a constitutionally protected form of political speech. Not that he thought he was desecrating anything; in fact, his over-the-top bling perfectly sums up his understanding of his country's government: he sees it as an open trough, funded by taxpayers, at which people like him can pig out. And pig out he did, paying for plastic surgery for his wife, porn for his son, hiring 50 Cent and Aerosmith to play at his daughter's multimillion dollar bar mitzvah, and hiring prostitutes for his board members and employees. His lawyers even argued in court that the prostitutes were a legitimate business expense since "Mr. Brooks thought such services could motivate his employees and make them more productive."
Now that is an American capitalist for you. It's not about greed, it's about productivity.
In all seriousness, I am hardly joking when I suggest that a $100,000 American-flag belt buckle encrusted with rubies, sapphires and diamonds is an historic artifact of utmost importance, and here is why.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the US is going to lose the war in Afghanistan. No one knows exactly what this will look like, but it is not going to be something that Washington will be able to spin as anything other than a defeat. Remember Richard Nixon's "peace with honor?" I didn't think so. That's because despite all the effort that went into selling the final debacle in Vietnam as "peace with honor," what everyone knows that that the US lost the Vietnam war. This is what is coming in Afghanistan, and it won't make a whit of difference how Obama or his successors try to dress it up.
What will follow will be an orgy of finger-pointing placing blame for the catastrophe. And just like after Vietnam, the shrillest voices will blame "peace activists" and "liberals in Washington" for not letting our troops really fight. And just like after Vietnam, this will be pure myth. But it will also be highly combustible fuel for the far right. It went a long way to putting Ronald Reagan in power in 1980.
This is where $100,000 American-flag belt buckle encrusted with rubies, sapphires and diamonds comes in. For while Mr. Brooks was impressing prostitutes with his bling, his company was charging the US Military millions of dollars for body armor that used a material which becomes permeable in high heat and lacks protection at vital areas of the body.
American soldiers died for that belt buckle. We can at least do them the honor of keeping a photo of it handy to remind us of who really "sold out" American troops in the Bush wars.