By Patrick Howell, S.J.
President Trump is now planning a military parade extravaganza. One has to ask why, and what underlies this yen for a military display? His touchstone is the annual military parade in Paris, Bastille Day, July 14, which the French mark as the beginnings of the French Revolution in 1789.
I was there in Paris for Bastille Day in 1970 when the President of the Republic Georges Pompidou, 1969-1974, led the parade. The military celebration had hundreds of tanks rolling down through the Champs Elysee towards us in la Place de la République with its statue of Liberté in the middle. Another thousand uniformed troops marched, and jeeps and armored vehicles in all shapes and sizes rolled on. Suddenly several blazing jets roared over the crowd. Great show. A formidable display of militarism.
I said to a friend, "Well, this could never happen in the United States. If we exulted the military like that, we would have even more riots." (it was 1970 after all). I thought that this brand of militarism was a distortion of what a republic or democracy should be about. I still think that.
Of course, we should honor, respect, and admire our dedicated military men and women. But excessive devotion to militarism is more characteristic of Hitler's Third Reich, Stalin's Soviet Republic, and Spanish Franco's iron hand of absolutism. More often, it’s a display of weakness, rather than of genuine moral strength, civic responsibility, and a deeper love of country. President Dwight Eisenhower knew the costs of war and the sacrifices endured by men and women in battle. And so in a farewell address at the end of his term as president in 1959 he cautioned to beware of the “military-industrial complex.”
So once again from the perspective of our Jesuit-inspired education, we might ask questions such as these:
What's the best way to honor the sacrifices of men and women in military service?
Many men and women in the military are now trained in peace-keeping strategies, not just in marshaling military might. Can we build on this larger vision? How might we advocate for a national peace institute and offer alternative service for young people seeking to serve their country as advocates and implementers of peace?
Patrick J. Howell SJ is a Professor of Theology and Ministry and Seattle University and Distinguished Professor in Residence at SU's Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture. He is also the Chair of the Seminar which publishes Conversations Magazine. Currently, Howell is the Interim Director of the Loyola Institute for Spirituality in Orange, CA.