Veterans clubs are an absolute bulwark of middle America. They are like a rock through good times and bad. They maintain a continuum in American life in quiet but reassuring fashion.
We've all been at a vets club and been attracted to those rows of photo portraits on the wall. Past commanders. Past Auxiliary presidents. Individuals who have been in the mainstream of the community. Individuals whose service background is as important to them as any other aspect of their lives.
It's actually a cross-section too. Yes there are a few of the upper-crust types, people whose financial fortunes have sailed well above the norm. There are working class individuals who may have lived a very modest existence. Service organizations unite them all.
They give you a sense of the community's history because they represented such an array of callings.
They are the kind of people who members of my generation didn't necessarily take seriously when we were young. So many of those past commanders represented "the other side" of the generation gap. We were brazen back then and looking for "relevance."
We saw those service organizations as being much too willing to facilitate the government's misguided military aims. Those people weren't willing to "give peace a chance," it seemed.
Realistically there was lots of blame to go around. Young people could be derided for not being willing enough to work within the system. And the older people were too willing to slide into that "silent majority."
The silent ones didn't want to deal with issues that might bring discomfort in their lives. Protesting the apparent will of government just wasn't in their DNA. Any attempt at serious discussion of the Viet Nam War might cause their eyes to glaze over. The cliched rebuttal from that mostly silent crowd was "America, love it or leave it."
Young people could have just pushed the protest message but it went beyond that.
"It was a hard time for all of us," the colonel character said to Rambo in the first of those movies.
Young people made it hard by departing from so many of society's conventions. It made it so much harder to win the respect and attentive ear of our elders. We were infected with the hippie ethos.
I have long argued that this ethos had far more impact than the actual hippies. This year's Driggs lecturer at UMM argued that the hippie movement was completely separate from political activism. I sensed that members of the audience couldn't quite buy that.
But the lecturer asserted that the hippie movement was worldwide, spawned in countries that enjoyed post-World War II prosperity. It was seen in countries that had no involvement in Viet Nam.
The baby boom created teeming numbers among the young. No matter what we stood for, we were bound to be heard. Maybe the numbers meant that it was harder for us as individuals to get attention.
Might this in some small way explain why we rejected conformity? Why we proclaimed "do your own thing?"
Can you imagine this expression getting any sort of traction in today's society? Kids today follow the rules like privates in the army.
The rules are set down by aging boomers who are trying hard to forget the ragged edges of their past. If reminded of it, their eyes might glaze over. They rationalize it by saying that the world needed a little shaking up back then.
Once certain values, like interracial brotherhood, gained proper currency, it was fine to go back to business as usual.
The basic principles of environmentalism got established. I think.
The backlash to global climate change warnings has me worried. In fact the whole "tea party" has me worried. I suspect there are generational dynamics at work again.
Recently I heard an interpretation of the tea party that caught my attention: The movement represents a crying out of the aging population which is saying, in effect: "I'm (basically) done living my life so just let me keep my money."
America is aging. A member of the Driggs lecture audience made a striking point about the diminished number of the young. This individual pointed out that all the small towns out here once proudly fielded an assortment of athletic teams. We sort of took it for granted. The teams would carry a town's banner.
A steady process of decline set in. Towns went through spasms as they came to realize they couldn't support their own athletic teams (without pairing) or even their own schools eventually. The emotions could be back-breaking.
I remember a story about a state legislator who had his car damaged when he attended a meeting on proposed consolidation. I won't say where but it was to the south of here.
I recall seeing emotions of this kind firsthand. But I also learned that these emotions fade quickly.
One minute, there is an element in Starbuck that insists that the new Minnewaska Area school not be located one foot closer to Glenwood than to Starbuck. And they're prepared to get out rulers. The next minute, everyone calms down.
We have learned that it was never necessary to build these "cornfield" schools just to appease community emotions.
Those emotions flowed from people who were the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
I learned that the "Valley" of "Lac qui Parle Valley" was inserted as a political sop. Something to do with wrestling already being called "Lac qui Parle" and being associated with a particular town.
In hindsight, all of those emotions should have been pushed aside. The "agitators" were willing to "move on" much more quickly than we might have expected. Does anyone in Cyrus today really care that the town doesn't have its own high school?
Is it time for Chokio to take the same pill? The C-A system has been through a little incident recently. Now the leadership there seems to be saying "we have it under control so let's all just move on."
It's only money.
A new "baby boom" would solve everything. But don't bet on it. Parents aren't given enough slack in raising their kids nowadays. The risk is more than the reward. The cost is becoming prohibitive.
Many people have a hard enough time supporting themselves. We can become truly nostalgic looking back at that post-WWII time when the values were so unquestionably good. We can wonder "why not again?"
And we could be inspired by those rows of photo portraits at local veterans clubs - pure Americana.
Those people moved forward without sweating the small stuff.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org