My neighborhood is festooned with yellow ribbons. Well, not ribbons exactly, but magnets cut to the size and shape of yellow ribbons and stuck on the back of cars. If the meaning is somehow ambiguous, some of them have careful script writing that reads "Support our troops" while still others have a red, white and blue motif run along the underside of the loop. We support the troops. We buy magnets in the shape of yellow ribbons that say as much.
The sad irony for me is the number of people in our county with sons, daughters, husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, buddies and acquaintances who are the troops - of course we support the troops. They're doing their job. They are protecting us from a madman wielding weapons of mass destruction. Or they are helping us win the war against the terrorists. Or they are participating in a global struggle against violent extremism. No matter what you call it, they're out there 24/7 in Iraq and Afghanistan being shot at while things and people around them continue to blow up. Daily. Brave men and women doing a dangerous job in a dangerous place at a dangerous time.
So we put up the yellow ribbons. Why? Some believe that it has to do with a folk legend that dates back to the (U.S.) Civil War. The song "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" tells the story of a young lady who wears a yellow ribbon to remind everyone of a boy who is "far, far away," and as a reminder to others that she is betrothed to someone who is "far, far away" (check out the reference to "Behind the door her daddy kept his shotgun. . . "). The song has the same title as a John Wayne movie - how much more patriotic could it be?
There was a book about a man returning from five years' imprisonment who had asked his illiterate family to decorate an apple tree with white ribbons if they wanted him back. In the early 70's there was a story printed in which an ex-convict was watching for a yellow handkerchief on a roadside oak tree, Parsons said. In 1972, Reader's Digest reprinted the story, and ABC aired a dramatized version of it starring James Earl Jones as the ex-con.
Then there's the Tony Orlando and Dawn hit from 1973, "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree," that tells the story of a prisoner being released after "twenty long years." The yellow ribbon was a sign that his love was still waiting for him. On a televised newscast in January 1975, Gail Magruder, wife of Jeb Stuart Magruder, who was convicted in the Watergate scandal, decorated her front porch with yellow ribbons to welcome her husband home from prison.
During the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, yellow ribbons reappeared as symbols of solidarity with our captive countrymen. We put ribbons everywhere to remind us of the 60 Americans held against their will by Iranian extremists (look! A connection at last - extremism!). When the moral ambiguity level got high around the first Gulf War, the yellow ribbons came back out - this time as a symbol of support for our troops. Since then it has become apparent that any significant cause must have a ribbon of its own special hue worn on this or that lapel or Oscar gown to reference one's connection with a cause or concern.
But that yellow ribbon keeps coming back to remind us of our troops in far away places. It does not say "Support Our War" or "Support Our Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" - it simply asks to support our troops. Okay. I can do that - but considering the connection with people being held against their will in places they didn't want to be - it makes me wonder if there's not a better, less ironical way to share our thoughts with the world.