The modest participation of our volunteer military in the Independence Day celebration in our nation’s Capital has sparked debate. That’s both curious and troubling.
This may be explained in light of a new Gallup Poll showing that Americans have the lowest pride in their nation since the question was asked in 2001, with Gallup noting,
The greatest disparities in the views of Republicans and Democrats… are seen on American economic achievements (89% of Republicans vs. 64% of Democrats are proud), the U.S. political system (42% of Republicans vs. 25% of Democrats) and the U.S. military (98% of Republicans vs. 84% of Democrats).”
Some critics claim that the military display, with a small number of vehicles and aircraft, is too closely tied to President Trump personally. Others cite the cost—likely less than $5 million, a fraction of the cost of a routine military training exercise. A few more fret about the “militarization” of a holiday or major urban area, drawing parallels with the large and garish displays of military might in the old Soviet Union during its May Day parades down the Kremlin’s brick-clad boulevards.
The last concern is the most readily dispensed with. The Soviet Union was, in the words of Ronald Reagan, an “evil empire” hell-bent on world domination and responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people in service of that objective. Comparing Moscow’s May Day parades or China’s deadly crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989 with the participation of uniformed volunteers who have sworn an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” is the height of hyperbolic foolishness, historic ignorance, or both.
As to President Trump’s longstanding desire to see a higher profile for our volunteer military in our national celebrations, the President is, per the Constitution, the “Commander in Chief”—he’s the highest military leader in the nation. That he desires to honor the military is a good thing, not a bad thing. And, for those who say that somehow the military’s participation in national holidays is tainted by the President’s support for such participation, the question needs to be asked, if not now, when? Who would be an acceptable president to oversee such a participation?
The Battle of Gettysburg raged over three days. By the battle’s end, the day before Independence Day, 1863, some 51,118 Americans on both sides of the conflict were killed, wounded, or missing in the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Independence Day 1863 also marked the end of the six-week Siege of Vicksburg, resulting in the Confederacy losing almost 33,000 troops, killed or captured.
Four months later, the future of the republic largely secured, President Lincoln delivered his remarks at the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, urging that his fellow Americans look to the example of the “honored dead” to “take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The very survival of the republic—a republic that would go on to end slavery and, through decades and decades of struggle, would come to greater realization of the principles of the Declaration of Independence—was due in large measure to millions of selfless Americans who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
The self-evident truths of our nation’s founding “that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” required a war for independence to be born into this world where tyranny was the norm and freedom was the exception. It then required a bloody “new birth of freedom” “Four score and seven years” later.
Separating freedom in our republic from those who protect that republic is neither possible, nor desirable. Yet that is, apparently, where we are today.
Alexis de Tocqueville in “Democracy in America” observed that Americans need not “fear from a scourge which is more formidable to republics than all these evils combined: namely, military glory.” This was because the passions that moved us were not “political” but “commercial.” The typical American, Tocqueville wrote, “prefer(s) the good sense which amasses large fortunes,” valuing “public order and public prosperity” as being “intimately united.” In other words, America is naturally a commercial republic, not an expansive empire.
A commercial republic values the creation of wealth above military service. The former comes naturally, the latter doesn’t and is too frequently now scorned and looked down upon by our elites.
This is all the more reason to honor our military. There is no danger of a military junta in the United States. There is, however, the threat that complacency bred by prosperity will lead us to neglect our defenses while placing no value on the very real personal sacrifices required of uniformed service in defense of our republic and our Constitution.