Oh God…Not Rolling Thunder!

I have an issue with “Rolling Thunder;” not with the official annual event in DC, but with the Vermont version that rolls by close to our home every Memorial Day weekend, frightening dogs and small children with deafening decibels, and fouling the air with exhaust fumes.

I would probably have no issue with it if it weren’t for the aggressive noise level to which it isn’t politically correct even to voice an objection.

The low rumble of thousands of bikes rolling through town, the ‘thunder,’ I can accept; but not the painful punctuation provided by squealed wheels, excessive revving and mechanical caterwauling I cannot begin to identify!(??)

I hate that; and truth be told, I would guess most non-motorcyclists do as well. It seems like the whole point is to be as audibly aggressive as possible under the unassailable banner of ‘patriotism.’

And now for the curmudgeon phase of this discourse:

I remember Memorial Day in the 1950’s. Back then, we were still vividly remembering the fallen of WWII.  WWI, “The War to End All Wars,” hadn’t lived up to that promise; and Vietnam was still in the future.

Virtually the entire nation was unified in conviction that WWII, at least, was a just war; even a noble war.

With our recent veteran parents, the whole family would pile into a hulking old Plymouth for a slow drive to the cemetery where we were joined by our cousins, and everyone knelt in silent prayer by the family plot. Then we’d all drive back to Aunt Nellie’s for ham, potato salad and cold refreshments.

It was a quiet contemplative day in which we kids were mostly an audience of antsy listeners as our parents revisited the past. For all the private troubles each family might have, they shared the absolute certainty that our ‘America’ was, indeed, ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave.’

There was no call for honking horns and menacing motor antics when we remembered the fallen from WWII, so I wonder why  it’s such a ‘thing’ now?

WWII is probably the last war in which nearly all ‘Americans’ were united in their support.

After that, the conflicts and their competing interests got murkier and murkier. Korea, as we all learned from ‘Mash,’ was a ‘Police Action.’ Vietnam was a strategic quagmire.

The endless string of wars and terrorist insurgencies in the Middle East all began with the first Iraq War of George the Elder, a wrong-headed intervention in defense of someone’s oil interests (not mine) that allowed Islamist extremists to harness hostility to the West (and the U.S. in particular) into a vehicle for political recruitment.

You’ve got to wonder. Is the need for noise on Memorial Day a passive-aggressive outlet for American supremacists whose fighting force cannot claim a real victory in living memory?
I keep hearing claims that veterans are disrespected in America, but apart from Donald Trump’s unbelievable remark about John McCain, I don’t recall anyone saying a bad word about veterans since the sixties…and today, even Donald Trump is painting himself red-white-and-blue in support of ‘our troops.’

Il Dukey couldn’t resist the opportunity to use DC’s ‘Rolling Thunder’ event as the backdrop for his own empty saber-rattling photo op; he who equates his military prep-school experience to military service, and his personal struggle with venereal disease to the hell of war. But this is what happens when a singular gesture of protest becomes an annual ‘tradition.’ The political hacks move in and the result is pure travesty.

We have a strictly voluntary military today, as opposed to in the Viet Nam era. It self-selects from the overall population, primarily based on two factors, income and beliefs. Enlisted troops tend to overrepresent poorer populations who have less alternative options. Those who rise in the ranks tend to represent more conservative political and religious persuasions.

Military service in the volunteer age represents a largely likeminded community with more influence over the political establishment than at any time in the past. Despite Donald Trump bleating that Obama has destroyed our military, it is, in fact, exponentially larger and better equipped than all competing militaries in the twenty-first century.

It is almost impossible for Congress to touch the Penatgon’s budget. It just goes up every year even as the social safely net and all kinds of human services are under constant attack from Republicans.

The original “Rolling Thunder” ride to the Vietnam War Memorial was intended to bring attention to those who were Missing in Action from that conflict.

I rather doubt that that is still the overarching purpose. When the Obama administration negotiated for the release of Bowe Bergdahl, the President reiterated our national commitment to not leave a soldier behind; and he got no end of grief for the effort.

Volunteer or not, soldier or civilian; every wartime death deserves remembrance. Every human being who labors in the service of their community or country has earned recognition for their service.

Can we please tender that tribute in a less confrontational manner?

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

One thought on “Oh God…Not Rolling Thunder!

  1. Really? Democrats (which I am not) or at least people who claim to be Left of Republicans like to claim that they stand with Working Class people… So now you tell them Motorcycle Runs are offensive? Way to build support… I suppose you also oppose the Motorcycle Rides organized by Labor Unions. As a Harley rider myself, this sounds upper-middle class elitist at best. Count me out of your chorus.

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