The Sunday before last marked the beginning of the NFL season, and I attended my adopted hometown team’s opener. As I waited among a mob of people to enter the stadium, our collective eyes looked upward as we heard the roar of five U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft above our heads when the national anthem being sung inside FedEx Field came to an end. The response from the crowd waiting outside was immediate: a loud cheer followed by, “USA! USA!” At halftime, a U.S. Air Force drill team performed (always an impressive spectacle). And Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein personally inducted a group of new recruits into the service to further cheers.
Not long after, President Trump made news when he said after seeing a French military parade in Paris on Bastille Day that he would like one in Washington, D.C. to mark the Fourth of July. Most pundits and national security commentators think this is a bad idea.
Boston Globe staff writer Alex Kingsbury seems to be the exception. On Wednesday, Kingsbury argued that a parade of military equipment tearing apart the asphalt on Pennsylvania Avenue could prove beneficial in better understanding the U.S. military and how much it costs:
If President Trump gets his way, a grand military parade will tromp down Pennsylvania Avenue on the Fourth of July. Tanks. Bombers. Rocket launchers.
Maybe such a display is exactly what Americans need — just not for the reasons Trump imagines. American should take a look — a close look — at what they’ve bought.
Tanks rolling past the White House this summer would indeed be watched in foreign capitals. But they would also be watched by a domestic audience that’s viewed actual war as a distant abstraction for far too long.
Several million Americans have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — a lengthy line to march in front of a reviewing stand. Yet the burden they’ve borne has been disproportionate: Only one-half of one percent of adults have served on active duty. Combat-style weapons sell out quickly, but most people don’t sign up for actual combat.
Color me extremely skeptical. I doubt any of the more Americans will look up the cost of an M1A2 Abrams tank—or the politics surrounding its assembly line—than will understand the per unit price tag on a B-2 bomber just because they saw one one fly over a stadium.
While far from full-blown panic mode, I have become more concerned in recent years about the disconnect between the U.S. military and American society. I worry about its implications for the use of military force and the potential to deform our politics. If I had to venture a guess, a military parade will not help shrink that gap one bit. I’d put money on the reaction from broad swaths of the American people will be the same as those fans outside FedEx Field: USA! USA!