Revisionist Historians on Harleys
The Rolling Thunder rally started as a government-skeptical gathering of Vietnam vets protesting Congress’s disregard for POW’s and MIA’s left behind. But over the years, many of the vets have become more critical of war skeptics too squeamish to send more troops to kill and die than the politicians who say we need to “stay the course” no matter the cost. This is representative of our broader citizenry’s move towards supporting, at least tacitly, an empire of perpetual war.
By Kelley Vlahos
It is all too clear why we can’t seem to protest our way out of this war.
And as a result, the war itself may never end. In fact, Gen. Stanley McChrystal recently suggested that “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan may be just that – “enduring” – for a very, very long time.
But what is just as important as what the generals say is what the public says, and after spending time with Rolling Thunder over the Memorial Day weekend, it is clear that the national identity is still so dependent on the military and war and the iconography of sacrifice, that to penetrate it with a message of anything otherwise continues to be nearly impossible.
Except for a few stray years after Vietnam, war is and has been he apotheosis of what it means to be an American, the lifeblood of our collective experience, the test of our strength of a nation. It’s a religious experience, one that demands sacrifice and unconditional faith and a set of beliefs. It provides idols and saints and holy days, too
Rolling Thunder has become the ultimate pilgrimage in this regard, even though it was founded at first to demand accounting for American prisoners of war and the missing in action in Vietnam. It soon evolved, naturally, into an annual cathartic event for Vietnam veterans who long felt rejected and forgotten by the American public, in large part because their inglorious war had become a stain on the national war canon.