On the way to the Coronado 4th of July Parade with my family, my wife put on the “God Bless America” Pandora channel. We were immediately bombarded by a stream of country music that mostly included sappy tales about soldiers and loved ones separated by war. Combined with the endless calls on social media to thank our troops for our freedom on the day we set aside to observe American independence, it triggered some thoughts.
It’s not obvious that the existence of our military played the paramount role in our Independence. In fact, it’s likely that what mattered most was that land owners who controlled substantial resources decided that they no longer owed allegiance to the King and took the risk that they could walk away from that agreement with minimal friction and still maintain their property. That bet paid off.
For a long time after that, it’s also likely that geography, most specifically the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the Canadian winter kept us safe for nearly a hundred years before we ever managed to raise a substantial standing army. Even then, it was just to fight ourselves.
Time and time again what has saved America has been our productive output and technological innovation; industry. As a nation of immense resources and effective market institutions, we’ve been able to organize and produce in times of dire need like no other. We lost nearly every ship in the Pacific fleet when Pearl Harbor was attacked. We built them back several times over without breaking a sweat.
From there, it’s mostly been our nuclear arsenal keeping us truly safe.
I’ve struggled with the late phenomenon of equating America with the military. It strikes me as a certain type of value signaling that I think passes over the core values of liberty and equality of opportunity that are truly the foundation of American independence. Shifting our appreciation to the physical protection that enables those things feels strange to me.
If there is a spirit of America, it’s the spirit of industry. It’s possible the shift towards America=The Troops comes as a result of the cultural backbone of agriculture and high paying manufacturing jobs of 20th century America eroding. There’s a physical toughness and self determination that comes from that work that screams America. We’ve shifted to a services and consumption economy that doesn’t though. Perhaps all that’s left of American ruggedness is the military and first responders. And we just don’t know how to appreciate anything else any more. Or perhaps its just one way to line up and take sides in the culture war that is modern America.
To my original point though, when it comes to loving America through music, how about some Motown. Or the Doobie Brothers. Or some Bluegrass…
What’s more American than Muddy Waters or Johnny Cash or Prince?
By all means thank a vet. I am one after all and it feels damn good. I think we need to work on figuring out something else that America’s about these days though. 99.6% of Americans aren’t serving. And that’s a narrow lane of appreciation that I think we’re better than.