I had always revered Rolling Thunder — the romantic vision of a Band of Brothers, refugees from a South Asian hellhole whose common experience, really, was the only thing separating them from a certain reckless breed of motorcycle gang. Their annual sojourn to the National Mall for Memorial Day, emblazoned in leather with the simple demand, “Never Forget,” insisted we remember the 58,000 who fell in Vietnam, how they got there and the countless others we pushed away from our consciousness when they came home.
This morning, as I hear the distant roar of their convoys traveling up Route 50 toward the nation’s capital, I am not thinking, as I usually do on Memorial Day, of my uncles and friends who fought in Vietnam. I am mulling over instead the scars of our present war in the Middle East and Central Asia, and how Rolling Thunder disappointed me so, when a large swath of their riders became so patently pro-war under the thrall of rightwing provocateurs like Michelle Malkin, who fueled unfounded rumors that war protesters planned to urinate on The Wall, and deface other war memorials during a 2007 rally on Washington. They proceeded to revel in intimidating Americans who came to the Mall that weekend in peaceful resistance, allowing in effect, Bush Apologists and warmongers to interchange today’s critics of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations with Jane Fonda, Cindy Sheehan and all manner of spitting hippies. Many became tools, wittingly or not, shedding the vestiges of their rebellious origins, for the sake of propping up the Republican Party at a time when most Americans had turned against the war. They allowed their honorable name to be dragged through the partisan muck.
I was at that protest, and watched as these burly guys — and gals — and their friends and followers lined up in menacing gauntlets outside of The Wall to intimidate activists, I was there when they waved the middle finger and screamed f–ck you! at protesters and told me personally, that it was not George W. Bush that got the country into such a mess, but weak-kneed lefties back home, badmouthing the war, not supporting the mission. Just like Vietnam.
Honestly, these guys always blamed Hanoi Jane, but I liked them better when they blamed Johnson and Nixon and McNamara too.
But I knew then, in 2007, that while the anger at hippies wasn’t forgotten, the mistrust of the government was. Probably still is — but I have a feeling, any problems with veterans and soldiers and future war policy, will certainly be blamed on President Barack Obama from now on.
That’s fine, because this weekend is for remembering. And reminding. As for this war:
Iraq (since 2003) — 4,300 deaths; 46,132 wounded (medical air transport only, doesn’t include illnesses or minor injuries, that would take the number over 80,000)
Afghanistan (since 2002) — 686 deaths; wounded — not available
Number of men and women who have served in either theater since 2002: over 1.8 million
Number of servicemembers returning with depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: 18.5 percent:
Number of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans seeking care at a VA since 2002: 350,000+
Estimated number of soldiers from Iraq/Afghanistan who have suffered a brain injury : 360,000
Number of U.S soldiers still in Iraq: approximately 134,000
Number of U.S soldiers in Afghanistan: 38,000 and counting
* Above photo provided by the Associated Press