South Dakota Journal, Part I

Downtown Rapid City, S.D.


Let me quote more fully from that speech (given in July 1965):

Our power . . . is a very vital shield. If we are driven from the field in Viet-Nam, then no nation can ever again have the same confidence in American protection.

In each land the forces of independence would be considerably weakened and an Asia so threatened by Communist domination would certainly imperil the security of the United States itself.

We did not choose to be the guardians at the gate, but there is no one else.

Nor would surrender in Viet-Nam bring peace, because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression. The battle would be renewed in one country and then another country, bringing with it perhaps even larger and crueler conflict, as we have learned from the lessons of history.

Moreover, we are in Viet-Nam to fulfill one of the most solemn pledges of the American nation. Three Presidents — President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, and your present President — over 11 years have committed themselves and have promised to help defend this small and valiant nation.

For the complete text, go here.

Rapid Creek — after which Rapid City is named — is a modest-looking thing. It’s hard to believe it could have done so much damage: so much damage in 1972, when the creek flooded, killing over 200.

Then again, I later see the creek when it’s true to its name: rapid, very.

Downtown, I bump into presidents, lots of them. This is the City of Presidents, where life-size bronze statues of our presidents stand on every corner, or many corners. Who’s that guy with the birds? Sculpted birds, I mean, not visiting pigeons. Is that St. Francis?

No, it’s Benjamin Harrison. Whether he had a bird thing, I don’t know.

Who’s that westerner, with the cowboy hat, boots, and saddle? Some Texan in our past? No, Calvin Coolidge, the Vermonter. Go figure.

Hoover, like other presidents, has a high collar, and he looks terribly overdressed on a hot, hot day like today. He must be roasting. Bush the Elder, I must say, looks great, standing next to a globe. He cuts a sleek statue.

Eisenhower is dressed, not as the president, but as the general. Nixon is sitting down, with his hands together, looking thoughtful. Plotting? Polk leans on a barrel that says “54° 40’ or Fight.”

I hate to say this — Democrats won’t like it, if any are reading — but Clinton looks totally and appropriately snake-oily. He looks like a huckster, or the worst kind of televangelist, with a microphone.

Kennedy is holding a toy airplane in one hand and a little boy’s hand in the other. Is the boy John-John? I can’t help thinking that JFK Jr. died in a plane crash. Harding is pictured, or sculpted, with a large dog.

I really like the way they handled FDR — the solution they came up with. Remember when the people in charge of the National Mall put him in a wheelchair, though FDR had fought for years never to be seen in a wheelchair? Remember that debate, concerning the FDR Memorial? Should Roosevelt be turned into a kind of disabilities advocate?

The Rapid City people do something really neat: They show him leaning against a podium. The podium has microphones on it: for CBS, NBC, and so on. Tucked behind the podium, discreetly, is a cane.

Such a classy way to handle this issue.

I would think that the Rapid City presidents would be an excellent educational experience for children. I should say, too, that there is a sprinkling of Indian notables, or Native American notables, as there should be (probably). I should say this too: There must be no vandalism here, or very little. I don’t see any pigeons either.

On consecutive days, I have a bison burger. That may be two more bison burgers than I’ve ever had before. I do this on “When in Rome” grounds.

I wonder, “Am I turning into Billy Casper?” (Casper was a great golfer who famously went on a diet of buffalo meat. From that, he got the nickname “Buffalo Bill.”)

Now to the question of “pop” versus “soda”: What do they say here in Rapid City? Both, actually. I hear people say both. And I see both written. So, a bilingual city.

See you for Part II tomorrow.


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