Considering such idiocies as occur every week -- most recently the brilliant idea of the Philadelphia mayor and his cohorts to drop a bomb on some row houses -- you may well ask why you should have to think even for a minute about the Peace Quilt, which ranks far down on the list of asinine projects in America.
But because this great quilt can never do any graver damage than (conceivably) smothering some of the U.S. senators who are busy sleeping beneath it, one at a time, I feel it is a less harrowing topic than Philadelphia at breakfast.
It can be argued that the motives behind this quilt, a regular quilt for a bed, are all good. Peace Links, an organization formed by women opposed to nuclear war, is a perfectly respectable organization and its goal of peace in an atomic age is not so radical as to arouse widespread anger. My own survey, in fact, shows that fewer than 1 percent of all Americans are keen for atomic war.
Besides, these women are perfectly sane and do not think peace will be achieved or maintained indefinitely merely if the bulk of the Senate sleeps beneath the quilt for a night. On the contrary, the quilt itself urges us to act, to make the dream of peace a reality. Nobody can argue with that.
Why, then, do sane men like myself bristle considerably when persons of quite moderate wits suggest I sleep under such a quilt, and record my dreams of peace in some Peace Log?
The answer is in the adjective -- you really cannot help it if you're sane, any more than if you're insane. For one thing, if I promise to record my dreams I will actually do it, and since I have never in my life had a dream about peace, but rather quite different topics, I think it best to say no at the very beginning.
Also, there is clearly no sane relationship between sleeping under a decorated quilt and achieving world peace. The quilt has 50 squares, each one designed by a child from one of the states, and turned into textile by some doubtless admirable ladies of Boise, Idaho. The quilt has been brought to the Capitol, and a number of senators have already slept under it and recorded such inspiring messages as this one from Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D-Hawaii), who had a "deep dream of peace" in which he beheld:
"The U.S. Institute of Peace, created under legislation which I first introduced in the Congress more than two decades ago and signed into law by the president only last Oct. 19, was in full operation. I mingled among the leaders and future potential leaders of all the world's nations . . ."
This is the way senators dream, evidently, recalling their various brilliant legislative efforts and foreseeing getting out of Hawaii into the big time of the world, mingling among leaders of nations, etc.
One objection to the quilt is that it is an invitation -- nay, a solicitation -- to politicians to explain how wonderful they are, when a better course would be to put the heat on them to support policies that might reduce the chance of war.
In Central and South America it seems likely that rapidly growing populations without money to feed, house and maintain themselves properly, might have something to do with unrest and war, and even in more economically favored places war is less likely if there are not bitter wrangles over shares of market, tariffs, currency exchange and so forth.
Reduced demagoguery from the White House ("evil empire" and the like) might also help, but none of these things is affected by a senator's dozing beneath a quilt. They might want to spread it over the president, too.
Ascribing some hidden meaning to the quilt, for we should always ascribe good motives to those who invent projects we think are plain dumb, I think I have hit on it:
It is a question of bonding and solidarity.
And tolerance is required here. We do not all bond the same way. You have only to think of the marvelous howler monkeys in their lofty trees, or the noble wolves with their sad sweet cries through the northern night, to see the importance of solidarity with one's fellows. The Peace Quilt is a symbolic effort to reproduce in human terms this community with our fellows, since we all want peace.
It may be true that the quilt is not the symbol I would choose. Something less slumberous is called for, symbolically, and the 50 pictorial elements designed by little children are all too likely to suggest that the cause of peace is best served by tots, when what is wanted is wisdom and experience and the kind of reasoned virtue that little kids notoriously lack in their feudal squabbles.
But none of us would want to sound too superior to the honest efforts at peace symbolism devised by any group at all. We all have our own bonding techniques, our own ways of establishing solidarity with groups we approve of.
"Honk if you love Jesus," for example, is a bumper sticker commonly seen, and I never honk. On the other hand I do bow my head at traditional points when the Nicene Creed is said, and that is at least as odd as honking a horn, probably. In each case there is a strong element of showing solidarity with others.
The mere wearing of a necktie is a matter of showing solidarity; so are shaving and haircutting and dress in general. You may see this also in any trial of basset hounds -- one of the most enchanting ways to spend a day -- where you notice that the sin of sins is to break away from the pack. Nobody likes the hound (except about four of us) that trots off to explore a stream instead of baying sweetly with the rest in their aimless chase for the rabbit.
These small bonding rituals also explain such odd phenomena as paying kids to walk a mile in support of the war on some plague or other. And if you ask what the point is in most office meetings, library lectures, and picnics on the 50th of July, the point is simply that your attendance shows you are ready to suffer along with everybody else.
In short, whenever you hear unusual howling, sniffing, singing, braying, your reaction to it will depend largely on whether you are a monkey, dog, mockingbird or jackass. That high-decibel uproar in the canopies of Panama is annoying to many ears, but not to the howler monkeys, whose solemn rite it is. It is also lovely to those who, like me, have never met a monkey they didn't love. But not everybody thinks it's so great.
So with the quilt. Who can really object to it? Consenting adults and all that. How senators sleep is no business of ours, and if the quilt helps their brains solidify for peace, then that is splendid.
Having shown my sympathy with all well-meant efforts of all humans, and my full respect for the importance of bonding in all animals and all kinds and conditions of men, I still respectfully venture a rare personal opinion that the quilt is spinach and the Capitol is just the place for it.