Tuesday, May 27, 2014

All's fair in politics and war

One of the most annoying things about Memorial Day (and Veterans Day) is how politicians use the holiday as a bully pulpit.  This is particularly true of conservatives who continually love to remind us that "freedom isn't free," forever extolling the virtues of the armed services in defending our beloved democracy.  So, when this VA scandal hit the fan, you could bet conservatives would jump all over it, as has Pat Buchanan.  Of course, dear Pat uses the occasion to decry the Obama administration for everything from illegal immigration to the ballooning federal debt, as he tips his hat to the annual "Rolling Thunder" tribute.

Operation Rolling Thunder is not something you really want to commemorate.  It was the sustained bombing campaign carried out over North Vietnam for 8 months (February-October 1968) in an effort to demoralize the Vietcong, who were gaining the upper hand in the Vietnam War.  This essentially became LBJ's last stand, as the mission was a total failure with more than 900 U.S. aircraft lost at a price tag of $900 million (roughly $6 billion in today's terms).

Bob Dylan used the term to describe his tour in 1975, but wouldn't say if it was in reference to the bombing campaign, claiming instead he was inspired by a thunderstorm that rolled in one afternoon.  However, the motorcycle group Pat salutes makes no effort to hide the reference, founded by Vietnam vets who had a bone to pick with the federal government, descending on the Washington Mall each year since 1987.

Maybe the vets who inspired the initial rally meant it ironically, as I imagine many men were lost during that ill-advised bombing campaign.  It is hard to say, but conservatives appear to have co-opted the event for political purposes, especially in the wake of the VA scandal that they blame entirely on the Obama administration.  Ben Carson called the scandal a "Gift from God," thinking it will give Republicans a much needed political boost in the midterm elections.  These pundits ignore the Senate vote on the VA bill in February.

Pat more or less echoes the sentiments of the good doctor in using the scandal to highlight what he regards as a failed presidential administration.  But, the Rolling Thunder motorcycle club first made its descent on Washington during Reagan's administration, calling attention to what these Vietnam vets saw as a failure to properly address the POW/MIA situation  This had been popularized in the second Rambo movie in 1985.  It was at the center of The Deer Hunter, a much better film from several years before.  Eventually, Rolling Thunder got the attention of the US Senate, which launched the most thorough investigations during the years 1991-93, ultimately leading to a normalization of relationships with Vietnam.  For many vets, the issue is still not closed.

It seems over time, events have a way of being conflated for political purposes and their initial meaning is lost.  This certainly is the case with "Rolling Thunder."  It shouldn't have been used as a rock anthem, motorcycle club or anything else, as it represents a very ugly chapter in American military history.  Maybe it is time we quit using the military for political purposes all together.  If you remember, Sarah Palin tried to hijack the event three years ago by riding backseat on one of the Harleys.   Now here's Pat Buchanan and other conservative pundits trying to use the rally as an attack on this administration.  Enough is enough!

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