Garrison Keillor's column in the Tribune today was a strangely vicious attack on Rolling Thunder, and their motorcycle rally in Washington on Memorial Day. Estimates vary as to the number of participants, but most say there were about 350,000. Warner Todd Huston at Newsbusters is also reacting strongly to this Keillor tirade:
A patriotic bike rally is sort of like a patriotic toilet-papering or patriotic graffiti—the patriotism somehow gets lost in the sheer irritation of the thing. Somehow a person associates Memorial Day with long moments of silence when you summon up mental images of men huddled together on amphibious assault vehicles and pilots revving up B-24s and infantrymen crouched behind piles of rubble steeling themselves for the next push.It gets worse, of course, after the manner of all vitriolic rants, and more nonsensical. I gather that, in the opinion of famous and highly cultured Garrison, a motorcycle rally is inappropriate for Memorial Day. (Or was it the sheer numbers that bothered him?) What is appropriate? Looking at paintings, naturally. You don't understand what looking at Monet has to do with our fallen soldiers? Huston doesn't get it either:
You don't quite see the connection between that and these fat men with ponytails on Harleys. After hearing a few thousand bikes go by, you think maybe we could airlift these gentlemen to Baghdad to show their support of the troops in a more tangible way.
Now part of Keillor's screed was filled with a loving description of Renoir's ballerina, Monet's children in the garden of sunflowers, and Mary Cassatt's The Boating Party that he wanted to see upon his visit to the Smithsonian. Beyond a doubt these are some of the finest and most important paintings of their kind. But, I found it interesting that Keillor felt that a great way to celebrate Memorial Day was to go see some paintings by Europeans -- and one ex-pat, wannabe European -- instead of something, anything actually American.Mind you, he got all this from watching them ride by. Here's the result 5 minutes of really basic fact checking that I imagine a journalist might have done, from the Rolling Thunder website ("About Us"):
He repeated his attack against the people on bikes that he has no knowledge of a few paragraphs later saying that if they read some books on WWII..." ...they would get a vision of what it was like to face death for your country, but the bikers riding in formation are more interested in being seen than in learning anything. They are grown men playing soldier, making a great hullaballoo without exposing themselves to danger, other than getting drunk and falling off a bike."
"Our membership is comprised of men and women with 40-45% being non-veterans with the balance being veterans from all wars and peace-time. Although many of its members ride motorcycles, a person does not have to own or ride a motorcycle to be a member, just the time and willingness to be an advocate for our troops, veterans, and POW/MIA's."There's lots more, but I don't think Rolling Thunder needs defending. And who knows? One day, the famous and cultured Garrison may get his head out of his Renoir.
"Each year, Rolling Thunder®, National spends hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial support, food, clothing and other essentials to sanctioned veterans' groups, veterans and veterans' families in need, homeless veteran programs, women's' crisis centers, and toys for children. Our state chapters also spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year on our issues and veterans."