I spent part of Sunday at the Vikings-Packers game at the dome. Suffering is good for the soul, and as a Minnesota Football Fan (at both college and pro levels), I get plenty of that.
Being that it was Veteran’s Day, the Vikings rolled out the red carpet for the military. The pre-game and half-time shows featured current and retired veterans from World War II on, and the cheerleaders did their part (I guess), by wearing special costumes celebrating each branch of our armed services.
This isn’t anything new. Veteran’s day celebrations at NFL games has been commonplace for sometime, and they have become much more spectacular in the years since 9/11. What was different this year was the muted response compared to even a year ago. Instead of mass cheering, hollering, and general adulation for the military, there was polite applause for all of the soldiers, and one prolonged round of applause for the older, wounded veterans that were introduced.
A lot of the appreciation that Americans feel towards their veterans comes from the fact that most of our overseas wars have been reactionary (at least in terms of outward appearances). Brave Americans answered the call to defend our country or our allies from hostile aggressors, which is seen as a very brave and noble thing to do, even if the soldiers in question were drafted as my father was in 1952 when he was sent overseas at the end of the Korean conflict. The administration’s efforts to similarly portray the “War on Terror” and the Iraq war in a similar vein have fallen flat, as the 2006 elections show. Part of the fallout from that is the surreal Veteran’s Day celebration I witnessed at the dome.
The pregame show had a bunch of current Minnesota soldiers unwrapping a huge US flag that covered much of the football field, while a military band played. The opening song was a marching band version of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” Sentimental images of US military personnel past and present were displayed on the big screen while an earnest sergeant crooned “We’ll put a boot in your ass; it’s the American way!” A very strange song choice if you ask me. Then there was around a five-minute long commercial played for the US Army on the jumbotron. Again, this recieved little, if any applause from the crowd. Basically we got to watch a pretty boring recruiting advertisement, and the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd reflected that.
Halftime was a little better, as they presented a number of older, wounded vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq along with some guardsmen returning from active duty. These folks received the applause they should have. Whether you agree or disagree with the war, these folks have served and put their lives on the line in defense of all of us, and outward appreciation from the crowd is a nice start (fixing the VA would be better, but that takes work and money, which DC is loathe to spend on non-useful assets like wounded or crippled vets, apparently). The halftime show finished up with the marching band playing the obligatory Lee Greenwood song “Proud to be an American,” during which there was a flyover by fighter jets from the Air National Guard. This was a pointless gesture to a crowd inside a domed stadium, since we could only see the planes on the jumbotron again.
Both shows had the same over-produced visual montages and a lot of slick voiceovers and whatnot. The difference this year was a crowd that was either tired of hearing the same rhetoric yet again, or perhaps a new sense that things have changed. War fatigue seems to be setting in.