Fourth celebration turns to excess

Sunday voices: Susan Bigler

“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations, as the Great Anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemmnized 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.” John Adams, July 3, 1776. (The date reflects the fact that the Founding Fathers agreed on the declaration document on July 2, but put pen to it on the Fourth.) OK, he did mention guns — but tanks? Figuratively, a huge show of all the military paraphernalia of the era? No.

Up to now, we have been sticking pretty closely to the vision our second president held of our celebration of Independence day: parades focused on the people of this nation and our pride in each other with our marching bands, fire departments, organizations, and community representatives; worship in the churches of our choice in thankfulness for the freedoms we enjoy; games and sports, bonfires in backyard bbqs and picnics everywhere; and illuminations of fireworks that have become integral to the holiday.

Our day of independence has been repurposed as a campaign rally thinly disguised as a military salute, complete with chants from MAGA hats in the crowd and Republican donor rewarded VIP seats. It’s a wonder Mr. Lincoln himself didn’t get up and leave in disgust and disbelief. He was a Republican when they were a party who stood for unity and equality. Lincoln is one of many presidents who, because of their experience with it, would be loath to glorify war and would likely disapprove of it as a July 4th celebration.

Respected World War II general and President Dwight Eisenhower downplayed the need for parading the trappings of war. It is not impressive, it is oppressive, and it is compensation. Strength does not need to show off.

Our nation’s strength is its people. The credit should go to the men and women who serve and sacrifice for us, and whose expertise to control these high tech weapons is what really keeps us safe. Save our praise for them and not a poser who manages to read a speech prepared for him on a subject he is unfamiliar with (military history) in a performance aimed at getting votes.

Trump’s military show is reflective of that authoritarianism, not democracy. It mimics the dictatorships of the world that he admires. So far, our military has not been politicised, but this glorification of the military, although they deserve respect and support, is very suspect of Trump trying to coop some of their credit for himself. It is ironic that a multiple draft dodger wants to bask in military pomp and pagentry, to be flanked by generals. Going back to the compensation observation, it shows envy. Someone who is weak and wants to be perceived as a strong leader will surround himself with symbols of war, will glorify it while being personally afraid of it and will associate himself with dictators. Now that “baby” Trump (balloon reference) has gotten a good look at his toys, the fear is that he is going to want to play with them. He’s been playing games with Iran and leading up to an escalation where he might try out his toys.

Occurring during this distracting spectacle is a real war on immigrants, involving unlawful and inhumane confinement, child separation, and the threats of a wide-ranging sweep to round up immigrant families and removal of protection for immigrant families of military service members! We forget too easily that there was a dictator in Germany not too long ago that gave glorious military parades while rounding up unwanteds and sending them to camps.

Deter, it does not. It is an excuse to inflict cruelty. This is not an acceptable backdrop to a big celebration — one costing the National Parks Service alone an estimated $2.5 million, particularly after our national parks were hit hard and need to recover from the recent government shutdown and are being whittled for mining interests besides. All to wrap a display of heavy armor which challanges the infrastructure of a city not designed to support it around a small man who needs to be the center of attention. The cost of this extravaganza would better be put to use in support of veterans, wounded, their families, and the families of deceased and deployed soldiers.

Some may think this is an appropriate way to honor the day, that nothing about the usual BBQs and beer has anything to do with our founders. On the contrary, they liked their beer. Ben Franklin even gave it a godly status. They formed their plans in pubs and beer halls, they enjoyed each other’s company in discussions and celebrations, and their patriotic fervor was ignited! But our founders were wise. The opening quote was made before John Adams became president and it is important to realize that he probably would not have become our second president if George Washington had not had the foresight to step down when popular sentiment wanted to make him president for life. Washington’s precedent served us well. We should be acutely aware of that now.

When independence was declared, Washington was dealing with a ragtag bunch of patriots; he had no organized military yet. On July 4, 1776, they made their official declaration to seperate from Britain, but this was not the date they won their independence. If we want to celebrate our military victory, we should observe the date of September 4, 1783 when the Treaty of Paris formally ended the Revolutionary War. July Fourth celebrates the patriot rebels, not the victorious military. The signers of the Declaration of Independence pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor and most of them sacrificed it all. We should honor them by pledging to each other not to be led by tyranny and force or be awed by the might of war and to honor the Constitution that emerged from their struggles.

So, following in their footsteps were those of us who enjoyed the simple pleasures of picnics with family and friends, cheering neighbors in hometown parades, marveling at the fireworks — and, those who watched the televised Macy’s celebration from New York City were in the company of one of America’s most cherished symbols of all, her majesty, the Statue of Liberty.

Susan Bigler is a Sheridan resident. Send comments to editorail@observertoday.com