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Thursday, July 04, 2019

Independence Day is not military

The President has added military elements (including tanks that may damage the bridges into the district) to the Independence Day celebration on the National Mall. Many argue that this reflects the ostentatious military parades staged in the former Soviet Union, North Korea, and other authoritarian regimes trying to convince their people and the world of their power and greatness (which they usually lack in reality).* Unfortunately, these are the governments and leaders the President likes and respects and wishes to emulate.

 [*] As Tom Nichols puts it in The Atlantic, Trump "has blown through the romance of Bastille Day and past the stodgy opera of the Soviet May Day reviewing stand, and is now squarely in the North Korean 'Because I feel like it' mode." 

I want to offer a different criticism: A  military display does not reflect what we commemorate and celebrate on Independence in the U.S. The signing of the Declaration was an expressive and political act. And it was nominally grounded in theoretical and philosophical terms of consent of the governed, the law of nations, the purposes of government, and human rights--all decidedly non-militaristic ideas. This holiday should not be celebrated in militaristic terms because it does not mark an historic military action.** I reacted the same way several years ago when the m.c. at the small-town celebration I attended announced that the day was about the men and women in the military.  The evolution of the world from 2011 to 2019 can be seen in the evolution of this militaristic conception from the uninformed remarks of the speaker at a celebration at the Delaware beach to the President commandeering the Capitol concert and fireworks for his own display of military force, while threatening to ignore court orders.

[**] France's historic act of independence was a military event, so it makes some sense to celebrate with a parade. The equivalent for the U.S. might be commemorating Yorktown, the culmination of the military force that was necessary to secure what we mark on the 4th of July. But we do not do that. Or it might be Lexington and Concord, somewhat analogous to the storming of the Bastille. But Boston celebrates that by running a long race and playing a baseball game.

Rather than tanks and planes, the best move would be to return to Mark Twain's suggestion that public celebrations include a reading of the Declaration.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 4, 2019 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Law and Politics | Permalink

Comments

We should have tanks because they are cool.

I was just at a small town's parade and they had fire engines, police cars, huge tow trucks, and antique cars in the parade, and helicopters at the park at the end of it. Those have nothing to do with Independence Day, either. Why were they there? Because they are cool. Why do we eat hot dogs and watch fireworks? Because it's fun. You celebrate something by having a good time. Not by being a killjoy.

As to your broader point about July 4 not being fit for militaristic celebrations (and Thomas' Paine's), John Adams, for one, didn't agree with that sentiment:

A day earlier, John Adams had written to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July 1776 ... ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
(via Wikipedia)

Posted by: Biff | Jul 4, 2019 2:15:11 PM

Just illustration:

"Treasury Sanctions Eight Members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court of Justice"

https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/sm0090.aspx

Posted by: El roam | Jul 4, 2019 12:18:35 PM

Important. I have read with great pleasure that article of Tom Nichols, by itself pretty funny I must admit. Yet, this is all wrong to more than some extent:

First, Trump is attacked personally. This is legitimate. Yet, we tend to forget, that his primary goal, has always been, to restore the greatness of the US. Now, can one claim that only in military terms ? Wrong ! He is fighting for example, the Chinese for hacking and stealing scientific information or knowledge from US institutions.

Second, such parade, meant not only for scholars ( typically would criticize it ) but also for the broader public. For laymen. For ordinary people. The latter, don't have much, but the pride, huge pride of being part of the greatest Super power, the world ever new. It has pretty serious spiritual and moral benefits.

Third, the greatness of the US, is founded on that unique mixture, of human right values, backed up by military might. Not to forget it. It is the US, that have saved the world from the greatest monster the mankind ever new ( Second world war ). It is the US, up to that day, that sanctions dictators all over the world, abusing the rights of citizens. Up to that day. Trump personally, initiated and imposed sanctions on Venezuela ( including personal sanctions on the judges of its Supreme court ) due to violation of human rights.

But we won't stay young no more here....

Thanks

Posted by: El roam | Jul 4, 2019 12:13:16 PM

July 4th is first-and-foremost about separation of church and state. What's most important is that government-directed patriot celebrations are secular and devoid of all references to deism, monotheism, etc. See Justice Ginsburg's dissent in American Legion v. American Humanist Association.

Posted by: Thomas' Paine | Jul 4, 2019 10:31:39 AM

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