When did patriotism become militarism? The dictionary definition of militarism is “the tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military.” It seems that many Americans are content to define patriotism as nothing more than supporting the military.
As we commemorate the Fourth of July, Independence Day, it should be a celebration of freedom, not military power. Freedom is the greatest possession we have because of our citizenship. Preceding generations fought wars to secure and preserve that freedom, but that doesn’t mean we celebrate the warfare.
The last war fought in order to maintain our freedom was World War II. All the wars we have fought since then have done little to preserve that freedom. In my lifetime, we fought a war in Korea to keep one country from invading another. In Vietnam, we fought against the feared “Domino Effect” of losing a country to communism. Desert Storm was for the purpose of protecting our oil interests in a small country. Beginning in 2001, we have fought the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can say that Afghanistan was retaliation against an attack, but Iraq served no purpose at all. After nearly two decades, this war still rages with no end in sight.
Yet, Independence Day arrives, and we celebrate the war machine as if it’s the only thing worth celebrating. Patriotism is now measured by how much we appreciate the military. If you suggest any improvement that needs to happen in our country, then you are considered unpatriotic, but most importantly, you don’t support our troops. When athletes chose not to stand during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks, they were accused of hating soldiers. Their protest had nothing to do with the military.
I remember when the Fourth of July was America’s birthday, and we celebrated the life of our nation, not our killing ability. The biggest celebration planned this year is a massive military parade in Washington where our President, like a dictator, can require “his army” to parade before him in a show of force.
Everyone already knows our military is the most powerful. It should be. We spend more than the rest of the world combined to make it possible. But a powerful military is not what makes being an American special. Our country has been at war for half my life, yet not once has our freedom been threatened. Millions of people have died in these senseless wars, and I find it difficult to celebrate the fact that our military can do it all again without missing a beat.
It’s time to celebrate the good things about the United States—things like freedom of speech, a strong resilient economy, a beautiful country with vast open spaces and sprawling cities. It’s time to celebrate our neighborhoods where people gather in ethnic clusters and create eclectic communities. We can celebrate the fact that the United States is a melting pot, a hodgepodge of cultures, lifestyles, appetites, and preferences.
The thing that holds us together is not our military, it’s our freedom. The freedom to be whoever we are or the freedom to be like everyone else. The freedom to say whatever we want or to blend in with the majority. The freedom to go it alone or stay with a group. The freedom to vote however we want without having our patriotism challenged.
And perhaps, most importantly, the freedom to say thank you to our military without acknowledging that they are the most important element of America. Some will be quick to say that if it were not for the military, then we would not have freedom. While that’s probably true, it’s also true that if it were not for freedom, having a military would not be worth much. When you go to a child’s birthday party, you celebrate the child, not the parents who provide and protect, not the teacher who educates, not the policeman who guards. You celebrate the child. All are important, but on the child’s birthday, you celebrate the child.
On America’s birthday, let’s celebrate America, not the military that protects us.