Sunday, May 29, 2011


The roar will be deafening as thousands of motorcycles parade into DC today as part of Rolling Thunder. The older veterans of Vietnam are now joined by newer veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Wherever they fought, they have earned a place in this parade.

I often wonder if I am totally unpatriotic when I feel absolutely no connection to this band of ex-soldiers who continue to move in formation. I’m almost afraid to admit it in this metropolis where the military has its headquarters.

I wonder why I am not emotionally stirred by so many men and boys and even women on bikes. Then I remember that the last US war I supported was the one my father served in soon after my birth. He went to Korea in 1951 on a secret Naval mindsweeping effort. I was too little to understand why he was gone or that he might not come back. He must have made a positive contribution because his name appeared in a book titled The Sea War in Korea.

The wars of my lifetime -- Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan -- were all battles I didn’t choose or choose to support. In the end history will probably conclude that no one won in any of these conflicts, but that countless people lost their lives, their limbs, and/or their minds.

My circle of friends and family doesn’t include even one person who has served in the latter two wars, with the exception of a journalist who went to Iraq. My children and my friends’ children chose not to enlist in the all-volunteer military.

This is not to say my heart doesn’t ache when another bomb goes off or a helicopter goes down, inflicting pain, suffering, and death on those involved. But these are strangers who briefly make the news and then fade from my radar screen only to be replaced by the next victims.

Part of me is sorry not to want to wave flags along the parade route. But I can’t deny that Rolling Thunder simply does not give me red, white, and blue thoughts.


Blogger Steve said...

I know exactly what you mean. I suspect my ambivalence about these military and veterans' displays stems partly from the fact that no one in my family has served -- and I mean going back many generations. We're just not military people. (I was in the Peace Corps, though, and I like to think that was serving my country, too!)

Also, there is a swagger and bravado about military culture which does not resonate with me at all. I am usually repelled by a lot of brash patriotic talk, flag-waving and heavy-handed nationalism. Nationhood has never made much sense to me. Borders cause more trouble than they're worth.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- And here I thought I must be the only one...

I have a very different attitude toward the Peace Corps. I think it's all the weapons that put me at odds with the military.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

Many of the Vietnam vets were drafted and they went out of a sense of duty to our country with enormously varying amounts of patriotic spirit. I'm sure that plenty of them were not too happy about having to go and most of them had no idea what they were in for once they got over there. But in all of my youthful naivety I simply wrote them all off as traitors to the peace movement, which is unbelievably ignorant. But I was very young and easily influenced by my peers. If I'd thought about it I probably would not have had the same attitude towards the soldiers that I did about the war.

As survivors of the horrors of that war they have a bond which will last forever. And each generation has a different style of honoring and celebrating their fellow soldiers who are no longer with us.

So in spite of how I felt about the Vietnam war, I think Rolling Thunder is a pretty cool thing.

7:15 AM  

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