Monday, May 16, 2005

War in the Desert

So the other combat boot dropped the other day. One of the Lovely Bride's gaming group, Army reserve and a veteran of Gulf War I, is heading back to the Big Sandy. His unit, which has been on on-again-off-again status since the beginning of the shooting, is heading for Texas, and then out to Iraq. Insert joke of your choice comparing the two here.

But it reminded me that, in preparing to go to the American Southwest recently, I steeled myself for entering Red State America. I expected a lot of flags, a lot of ribbons, a lot of booh-yah jingoism at every turn.

What surprised me was the lack of any of that. It was like I was in a country that was not at war.

At first I thought it was just because we had spent time in the National Parks, but on the road, in the cities, in the resorts, the very existence of the war was played down. I saw a few yellow ribbons on the cars, though I saw less in the entire time I was out there than I see in a daily commute. And while there were a few “support our troops” signs along the side of the road, there were more billboards complaining about the UN and the Bureau of Land Managements. (And lest you think this is a slam on southwestern Patriotism, the yellow ribbons and flags I did see were in MUCH better condition than the faded stuff I get around here from our sunshine patriots).

I think part of this is that this particular region is heavily militarized (McChord, Whidbey, Bremerton, Everett, Fort Lewis, and so on) and as a seaport is more aware of the dangers from abroad. It’s a little more laid back in the wilds of America, where the war is the sound of distance thunder and a five-minute bit on the news. Even in Bryce, where we stayed at a resort with John Wayne’s photo mounted over the buffet and the muzack consisting of whiny country guitars and whinier lyrics, the urgency of the war was notable by its absense.

One place where we were reminded of the War was at Hoover Dam. They’re building a new by-pass downstream (though part of that may be to relieve the bottleneck across the two-lane top of the dam), and they have security checkpoints in both directions. When we pulled through (a very short stop – we don’t look horribly threatening), they had a guy in combat camo out of his car and having a chat with him. While they have tarps and temporary offices up, I have sympathy for the troopers in the middle of desert checking cars. But that was it – our war? State troopers dealing with tourists and the Arizona heat.

More later.