I recently drove over 4,000 miles across middle America. I didn’t hit either coast. From TN to AZ, up to Utah and back.
I don’t do Interstates in my Jeep. I do side roads. I pass through lots of small towns.
Here are some of my observations, make of them what you will:
Most “downtown” areas in small towns are dying. While there were some robust centers, most were filled with empty storefronts. I passed through one small community in western Texas that made me think “Salem’s Lot”.
War Memorials. Most county centers tended to have one. And there were a stunning number of names on them. At first it’s surprising given how small the town is, but then you realize it’s the entire county. But even so. There’s a scene in Winters Bone, where they show the local high school and there’s a class on maternity for the pregnant students and their boyfriends and then we shift to the junior ROTC marching in perfect synchronicity in the gyms. This is where our soldiers come from in an all-volunteer army. You don’t see many Harvard grads enlisting. Nor Stanford. And not in the 1%.
Churches. So many churches. And signs. Not just on the churches, but lots of billboards and hand-made signs on the side of the road with religious themes. I’d say my non-scientific swag is that 80% of the messages on those signs were threats. Believe or burn in hell. “God loves you and he will torture you for eternity if you don’t believe that!”
It was a bit confusing.
It made me start wondering several things.
Why do we memorialize our war dead? If you consider the wars our country has fought in over the past couple of centuries, many had imperialism or economic factors at the core, not “democracy” or to save our country. Smedley Butler, one of the most decorated Marines of all time, expressed his feelings. Most recently we’ve got WWII (won), Korea (still ongoing), Vietnam (lost), Iraq/Afghanistan (still going on) and a smattering of other engagements. Were they just wars? Tom Brokaw called the WWII generation the “greatest”. Have we been downhill from there? Does the ethics of the war make any difference to the dead and those who served and our need to memorialize them?
Both sides believe God is on their side in war. Ultimately, of course, the winner gets to write the history.
Which gets me to fear. Fearing God was a constant theme. Be afraid, very afraid, but also have faith in a being that presents no proof of existence which is an interesting conundrum. The messages of most religions are actually very positive and uplifting at their core. Love. Take care of each other. Etcetera. But the practice seems a bit out of whack. We have churches of “prosperity” now. Where God wants us to be rich. I vaguely remember some passage in that book about that.
Fear. We fear hell. We fear ISIS (which gets a tremendous amount of air time for a group that has had practically no impact on the average Americans life and is not likely to do so). We bend our lives around our fears. We get manipulated with fear. We fear immigrants even though the reality of their impact is almost nothing for most of us. We fear people other than us using the bathroom (again, the people we should really fear in there are often the ones passing the laws telling us to fear others). We fear problems that aren’t problems except they are useful talking points for those who want to use our fear against us for their own gain.
Researching Valentines Day (time Patrol, I did some reading on FDR. I leave you with one of his more famous quotes: