From June 2011 to August 2012 my partner David and I rode our bicycles 12,200 miles, from our home in Minneapolis around the perimeter of the United States. On the trip we observed a puzzling contradiction. People overwhelmingly oppose the current wars, yet young people are still signing up to “serve.” What follows are thoughts on how this works in my own hometown and the hundreds of urban and rural communities we cycled through.
Anne Winkler-Morey pedaled more than 12,000 miles in quest of the real issues facing Americans.
Photo: David Winkler-Morey
Minneapolis is an antiwar town. The Minneapolis City Council has just passed a resolution which calls for a shift in federal spending priorities away from war to, instead, local essential needs.* But youth going to a football game here receive a much louder message: The stadium in downtown Minneapolis displays mega-sized banners of the Minnesota National Guard in full military gear, draped next to giant portraits of Minnesota football heroes. All banners are framed in Viking purple and gold. The message to young people: The best way to serve our state is to sign up for war.
Connecting war with team spirit and athletic heroes is effective advertising. There are other less obvious ways of sending the message to new generations that going to war is the best way to serve their communities. One way is to glorify past wars. This is more effective in smaller towns than in larger cities.
Minneapolis does have its war monuments. Lucia Wilkes Smith, a former director of Women Against Military Madness, took me to see Hennepin County’s World War I Memorial not far from her home. The seemingly endless rows of trees and stones, one for every soldier, are a graphic reminder of the sheer numbers of men, and a few women, who served during the Great War. For Lucia it firms her resolve to work for peace. For others it probably reinforces support for the U.S. military. This is, after all, “Victory Memorial Parkway,” not “All Quiet on the Western Front Boulevard.”
But for most Minneapolitans the memorial, with its paved paths and mile of green space, is just a good place to ride a bike, see a band, or play Frisbee.
In many of the small towns we visited during our cycling journey, however, war memorials speak louder to young people. The memorial bridge or road that forms the main artery into town is festooned with Army, Navy, and Marines flags. Memorial statues are located in the center of the only park in town. The memorial is the place people gather for sports or other occasions, and to simultaneously venerate soldiers past, present, and future.
Statue of “The Unknown Confederate Soldier,” flanked by Confederate and U.S. flags, Edenton, North Carolina