Rolling Thunder, War and Memorial Day

Originally Posted @TAC

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:

U.S casualties:

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

26 thoughts on “Rolling Thunder, War and Memorial Day”

  1. The ‘boys’ of Rolling Thunder drank the Kool-Aid. Now they are no longer rebels with a cause. Now they are clueless goons embracing the wiles of Empire and rejoicing in their being PIMPED.

  2. Anybody who saiys hippies spit on Vietnam Vets is ignorant of history. The civilian Anti-War movement joined with Vietnam Veterans Against the War and eventually brought the war to an end. Hippies, including Jane Fonda (who funded all the Anti-War coffee houses and did the FTA Tour) helped AWOL vets, hid them, helped them get to Canada where Canadian Hippies sheltered and fed them. Jane Fonda nutured VVAW and helped them grow. The “spitting Hippie” is the first Urban Myth. It had its start in a Pro-War comic book in 1982 and it needs to be exposed and expunged from history. (See “Spitting Image” by Jerry Lembke or “Vietnam and Other American Fantasies” and “Mythmaking in America” by H. Bruce Franklin)
    Bill Warrick
    Veterans for Peace

    1. Well, no one spat on me when I came back from my time on Yankee Station, bombing N. Viet Nam, 1972. The worst thing waiting for me was a keg of Olympia beer.

      Lester Ness, USN, 1971-76.

  3. So many Americans are so gullible. I have travelled all over the world and Americans are almost childlike in their gullibility.

  4. Bill, it is my understanding that the “spitting on veterans” meme was also reported by GI’s who had returned from WWII – indeed that many of the “injustices” reportedly suffered by returning Vietnam vets at the hands of “hippies” and others had been previously “experienced” by the returning vets of “the greatest generation”.

    1. It is a recurring sequence after a country has lost a war, for example German soldiers after WWI, French after Dien Bien Phu, and Algeria. The other one is the “stabbed in the back” theme. Read “Spitting Image”, it goes into detail about the history of this myth which goes back far beyond Vietnam.

  5. I haven’t much respect for overgrown man-children riding around with ear-splitting straight-pipe motorcycles to begin with. Macho wannabes and showoffs with no respect for others are perfect candidates for recruitment for the fascists.

    1. Some of these guys, I suspect, saw “Easy Rider” (1969), and never grew up.

      These “Rolling Thunder” people should can their super patriot rap. Instead, they should work to get us the hell out of Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Also, they should bear in mind that Obama is today’s LBJ.

      1. Intresting none of these people linning to go the war front.It is much easaier to ride around mencing those who oppose the war than go and fight for what they claim to be believe in.

    2. “Loud pipes save lives”. Bikers believe this stupid myth (or use it as rationalization) the same way the American sheeple believe “the terrorists attack us because we are free”.

  6. There’s nothing new here, bikers clashed with protesters of the Vietnam War. There’s always been a generic, right wing “love it or leave it” mentality in biker culture even if it clashes with its more anti-authoritarian tendencies.

    Why is Cindy Sheehan a spitting hippie? I wish there were more Cindy Sheehans.

  7. The torture team, the Bush worshippers, remind me of old Communists claiming that Stalin wasn’t so bad, blah, blah, blah. Anything to avoid admitting they were wrong.

    Lester Ness

  8. Indeed, Andy,

    A very pronounced credulity characterizes many if not most of the Americans that I have known. It is though there is something in the fare there that stunts the growth of one's critical capacities. I have always tended to impute it to the rampant commercialism and the intellectual shallowness it necessitates. Sad to say, though, that things here in Canada are hardly much better.

  9. I was at the 2007 Anti War Demonstration. I helped carry the “Impeach Bush” sign for The Worldcantwait. The so called gauntlet was , in my mind, made up of leather chaps wearing escapees from some gay bar holding up “Peace Sucks” signs. These people are a bunch of would be Nazi goons. If the Govt wants to keep tabs on would be terrorists these goons should be first on the list.

  10. At the 2007 AntiWar demonstration, the bikies picked on older women and adults with children who were for peace. It seemed to me to be a clear Karl Rove action, like the tea bag parties and the Shame at Notre Dame, not even representative of real people. The Gathering of Eagles was the group and they were like a drag queen’s idea of Rolling Thunder. It was laughable except that they hurt people.

  11. Our contribution this year is Memorial Day word search puzzles. Kids can play them at your cook out and it will help them understand the reason for the holiday.

  12. 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,sports limo

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