Is it necessary? No, it’s really not. It’s not like twenty-first century America’s lacking for pageantry when it comes to war and the military. Is it responsible? We’re in year 17 of an endless war on terror and extremism, and estimates peg this parade in the area of $30 million. It is decidedly irresponsible. Will it be fun? You know, even this crabby Irishman has to admit it’ll probably be a really good time.
We’re still months away and I already know I’ll use it as an excuse to get away from the family for a weekend and drink too much with friends and former brothers and sisters in arms and wake up on my brother’s couch wondering why and how there’s a bruise shaped like the state of Missouri on my leg.
Tanks and artillery guns and polished infantry soldiers rolling down Constitution Avenue may prove a strange sight, but something similar happened post-Gulf War and the soul of the republic didn’t immediately go black. We’ll be okay. (That we clearly and definitively won that earlier war is an aside perhaps worth noting. Anyhow.) What unsettled me most is the parade’s scheduled date: Veterans Day, on the centennial of the end of World War I.
Parades remembering the past (even a nostalgic past) can convey the complexity, the mix of pride and sadness that war should conjure in a citizenry.
Veterans Day, of course, grew out of Armistice Day, an old holiday that honored the same World War I anniversary in an ultimately futile attempt to keep human beings from killing each other for resources and power. Having an inaugural tribute to a military mired in perpetual conflict on the centenary of that seems… vulgar is one word that comes to mind. Dense is another. Here’s World War I vet and writer Robert Graves with some thoughts on the subject, from his poem “Country At War”:
“And what of home — how goes it, boys/ While we die here in stench and noise?”
A hundred years later, it shouldn’t be about us. It should still be about them.
Then there’s the whole Veterans Day overlap.
In theory, I get it. We have three main patriotic holidays in America. One — the Fourth of July — is reserved for fireworks and good times, while another — Memorial Day — is for honoring the fallen… and holding mattress sales. So when Pentagon chief Jim Mattis and others got tasked with the new parade, their options were limited. But there’s a not-insignificant difference between veterans and active service members, and it’ll be interesting to see how that difference is navigated in the planning and at the event.
By honoring veterans and Veterans Day, society is paying homage to a fixed past — things that cannot be changed or altered, but perhaps learned from and studied. Something occurred, sometimes just, sometimes not, unfortunately, and now it’s in the annals of history. Men and women who were part of that history serve as living touchstones for those annals — walking connective tissue in a way. It can’t be said enough that war, no matter how just, is not glory. It’s state-sanctioned violence. Who knows that best, and can speak to it personally? Vets.