Unfortunately, military service never even occurs to many of America’s best and brightest. Since retiring from the military in 2010, I’ve run across quite a few people—young and old, but especially young—who have never personally seen, let alone spoken with, an active duty member of the armed forces (or even any veterans—who now comprise just 7.3% of the population).
At most elite universities, for example, the chances of an undergraduate meeting a veteran or serving member of armed forces are very slim. The fanfare of a national parade in a key media market will give at least some of the citizenry who might not otherwise be exposed to the armed forces an opportunity to actually see the wonderful men and women who serve today.
Some critics are claiming—without citing any real data—that the troops don’t want a parade. Actually, the troops have never experienced the adulation and respect that can come from a major, national-level parade. Their average age is about 30 so at most they were toddlers when the last military parade of this scale took place in 1991. In truth, there are plenty of indications that troops do want recognition for their service, and it grates on them when they don’t get it.
Parades benefit the military in other ways. Former First Sergeant Rod Powers notes that today military parades still operate to “instill pride and discipline” and says military manuals insist that “drill is the foundation of discipline in battle, and that its importance has been proven again and again.” He adds that “regular parades in public display the military as a highly trained, disciplined, and professional force.” Given the coverage of allegations of military misconduct, the public ought to have the chance their military’s disciplined side.
A parade the likes of which we haven’t seen since 1991 could help sustain the morale of the force, which has suffered thousands of killed and wounded in the conflicts since 9/11. It can be a meaningful counter to the sense of isolation that I believe is widely-felt in the military, that is, the feeling that the military is “at war” while “America is at the mall.” Frankly, Americans owe those who are serving—and their families—a major event like this to recognize successes, even if the war on against terrorists will surely go on.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat observed recently that even though the U.S. succeeded in dethroning the ISIS caliphate without the misadventures many feared, “nobody seemed to notice.” Why? Douthat explains “the media is not adequately reporting an important success because it does not fit into the narrative of Trumpian disaster in which our journalistic entities are all invested.”
Whatever “narratives” the press or anyone else may want to propound about a particular politician shouldn’t dictate how—or even if—our apolitical military is honored for its warfighting prowess. This is an opportunity for all Americans to set aside, at least for a day, the bitter political “narratives” that are dividing the country.
Of course, no parade could possibly solve America’s endemic polarization. Still, if Americans can show themselves that they can come together for this kind of celebration, perhaps we can start the journey to close the partisan divides which are hampering this country from being what Americans want and need it to be.
Isn’t it worth a try?