Fireworks and picnics, flags and "My Country 'Tis of Thee," have been the must-haves of our July Fourth celebrations for as long as I can remember. Some of you might have joined the kids dressed in red, white and blue splashing around in the Coolidge Park fountain. Throw in a trip to the relatives, and you've got yourself an Independence Day bonanza. Did you ever feel the need for an army tank in the background?
I doubt that the insistence on spending millions of our tax dollars on a show of military might is a one-off event. This sets a precedent for taking money from park fees intended for repairs and upgrades and spending it on military fly-overs and transporting tanks to D.C.
Trump inserting himself in the midst of the military planes and tanks is a visual that isn't going to go away. While his words were nonpartisan, what he had to say was irrelevant. He had the spotlight and ran the show as a campaign moment.
Some leaders like to pose as commander-in-chief of a military spectacle because it gives them the look of divine designation. Evoking the divine right of kings is a rarity these days, but dictators like North Korea's Kim Jong Un heartily embrace these visuals. Now they're eerily associated with our president, underscored by claims that God chose Trump. The July Fourth totalitarian tweak should give us all heartburn. But I'm also worried for our military. My concern stems from a long ago Independence Day celebration in Bermuda.
A U.S. naval base in British Bermuda grew in importance during World War II and was a respected part of the island. Every July Fourth, the sailors and navy personnel would arrange for a parade down Front Street, the main road through the island's capital. VIP residents sat in the outdoor bleachers while the rest of the population swarmed the sidewalks. We all cheered and waved as the men in full dress uniform marched by in formation under the high noon sun. The marchers halted in front of the VIP stands and stood at attention for the Star Spangled Banner. That's when things got ugly.
One of the sailors swayed, fainted and fell to the ground. Several of his mates picked him up and carried him off. The marching continued but the young sailor did not return, not even at the post-parade reception. That's when I asked if the man was OK and got the response of a lifetime. "We took him to the infirmary and he's better, but marching in full dress uniform in the hot sun is just ridiculous. We were commanded to do it, and none of us had any choice. Entertainment! That's all we are. I hope you enjoyed the show, because we sure as hell didn't." His face turned red with anger and he turned his back to me and marched off
In possibly the hottest summer in history, our military was again treated as political theater. When some generals expressed concern over the politicization of the military, folks like Lou Dobbs applied the demeaning term, "snowflakes." But I wonder if those officers were thinking how those dollars could have truly honored the military. Did they imagine helping veterans hospitals or homeless vets? I know I did. There's no argument that our military deserves respect for its devotion and sacrifice. Surely we can do better than using our servicemen and servicewomen as stage props.
Contact Deborah Levine, an author, trainer/coach and editor of the American Diversity Report, at [email protected]