By Capt. Alex Gallo
Mark me down. I am in favor of more military parades — not fewer.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not the biggest fan of participating in military parades. As a West Point graduate and former military officer, I’ve been in my fair share of parades and ceremonies. So, to my brethren who would theoretically have to bear the burden of the perspective I am advancing, I apologize.
However, this is not theoretical. President Trump recently directed the Department of Defense to conduct a parade, which will occur in Washington D.C. on Nov. 11th, 2018 — Veterans Day.
Many have criticized this idea, arguing that military parades reflect the proclivities of a dictator and the trappings of an authoritarian nation. But this analysis fails to contemplate one crucial difference: What our military is dedicated to protecting — the “self-evident,” democratic ideals of equality, freedom and liberty that are the very essence of our nation.
And, no American leader has expressed this essential insight better than President Abraham Lincoln.
On Nov. 19th, 1863, President Lincoln gave a speech that we now know today as the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s oratory on that day — only 273 words in length — was delivered at the dedication of the Gettysburg Cemetery of Pennsylvania — not more than four months after one of the bloodiest and most decisive battles of the Civil War in which 23,000 Union and 28,000 Confederate gave their last full measure. A speech that also asserted a radical concept for the time: the Declaration of Independence — not the Constitution — was the Founders’ true expression of their intent and vision for the new nation.
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
On the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg, Lincoln argued that it was up to the living to re-dedicate themselves to essence of our nation’s founding:
“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we 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…”
And, certainly, we can achieve much of this through remembrances at our military cemeteries — these heroic monuments of honor, dedication, and selfless service to our nation.
But, as Lincoln admonished us, it is up to us — the living — to actively carry forward the ideals of those who gave their last full measure of devotion in the noble pursuit of protecting the idea that which is our nation.
Military parades can be these living monuments.
From the streamers on the service flags — a testament to the democratic origins of our nation as well as our nation’s commitment to the cause of freedom in such far-flung places as: Lexington to Ticonderoga, Antietam to Appomattox, Somme to Meuse-Argonne, Guadalcanal to Normandy, Kuwait to Kosovo, Afghanistan to Iraq.
To the uniforms — both a reminder of the American people who the military serves as well as a homage to those who came before us.
These can help renew a nation.
The military and our nation’s history can serve as a touchstone for where we have been and can help rededicate ourselves to the essential spirit of our nation’s founding, connect us to those who came before, and serve as our azimuth in turbulent times — just as it was for Lincoln.
I believe military parades can do this and perhaps one more thing we desperately need in our time — reflected in Lincoln’s hope for the future at the end of his meditation at Gettysburg:
“…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.”
Let us — the living — not only contemplate Lincoln’s profound words within the context of his time. But let us also actively pursue them in our time.
We must reconnect to our nation’s ideals; we must rededicate ourselves to the essential purpose of our democratic experiment; and we must renew our nation through an institution that was uniquely interwoven into the origins of our nation and has protected our great democratic experiment throughout: our military and veterans.
Let’s have more military parades.