I was never off the hook on Memorial Day or Veterans Day as a child. As a trombone-bearing band kid, those holidays always meant early mornings at the school courtyard to prepare for my city’s quarterly parade. I was too young to really appreciate it — honestly, I was more bothered by the strenuous march.
But there was motivation behind the hassle. By honoring our community members in service, we took the opportunity to share our music, our culture and our city’s history. It was a positive movement to bring our community together — free of confusing national and international politics, we performed for our country and our neighbors.
The parades I’ve attended feature some gunfire, and I’ve heard of larger ones that include a couple of tanks. Keeping in touch with the reality of wartime is part of the festival. But if there was a whole line of tanks, missiles and perhaps jets flying overhead? For me, the military fever would consume any amount of patriotism offered up by the parade.
But the last image might become a reality. Last Tuesday, it was revealed that President Trump asked the Pentagon to begin plans for a national military parade in Washington, D.C., inspired by the Bastille Day parade he attended in France. “We are actually thinking about Fourth of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength,” the President said shortly after the event, according to the New York Times.
Such a parade would take immense effort away from any local initiatives to honor the military and fuel critics that believe Trump favors an authoritarian style of governing. And those critics wouldn’t be wrong: The parade came from the sole imagination of the president, who evidently likes the image of armed soldiers marching American streets to demonstrate power.
On top of this, the stated principle of Trump’s parade is to celebrate a time of peace. We’re not at war, but “peace” still feels like an exaggeration. Only last year, we launched 60 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian rebel air base, and vague details of the deaths of four American soldiers on a mission in Niger makes the extent of our military engagements abroad foggy. That’s neglecting our current tensions with North Korea, trade conflicts with China and ongoing cybernetic offenses by Russia.
To some extent, proclaiming peace with such a march would be a grandiose act of propaganda. On the other hand, it’s not a unilaterally bad idea to put in effort to appreciate our military. I’m not a fan of overt patriotism, but marching veterans and soldiers in service are focal points of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades — and why shouldn’t they be? Many put their lives on the line or intend to. They deserve several times to shine.
But having a local parade in your hometown is far more powerful than a national march organized by the state. That’s because the veterans there are part of the community. Family members will get to cheer on their parents, children, siblings, significant others or any loved one up close; they watch as the veterans are honored by the school bands, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and all sorts of community members. Most importantly, the community gets a degree of control over what their parade looks like. It is about the people and the community, with the nation as a backdrop.
None of that would be present in a national parade. In fact, such a parade may not be about people at all. Usually, military parades of this type offer a photo opportunity for some of the nation’s latest and greatest military technology. Just on Friday, North Korea presented their Intercontinental Ballistic Missile at the finale of its own military parade, a clear message of defiance to the United States. Will people really be cheering on their loved ones in service? Or will the whole world just be in awe of our military capabilities?
If President Trump wants to host a military parade, fair enough. Despite its questionable nature, there are bigger fish to fry for his opponents given the number of free states that have similar parades. If he does, though, what the president won’t be able to replicate is the heart and soul of true American parades. Look up the parades that run through Boston every year: Fourth of July, New Year’s, the Pride march, cultural celebrations of the Irish, Haitian and Puerto Rican people and so many others. These are parades organized by the people for the purpose of bringing America together, both in our differences and in our collective responsibility for this country. Many of these feature our troops by choice.
I’m all for promoting veterans, through their benefits and visibility. But when it comes to celebrating them, I’d rather show their faces before their weapons.
James Mazarakis is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]