There’s nothing wrong with recounting stories of American military heroism and bravery. We even have an entire holiday called Veterans Day devoted to honoring the sacrifices and valor of the men and women who have served our country. And it’s perfectly appropriate to remember that the United States was born out of a revolution, in which both ink and gunpowder were powerful weapons against monarchism and tyranny.
It is another matter entirely, however, to call forward the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs and make them stand there during a cheerless reading of the exploits of each branch of the armed services while a military chorus sings their anthems and their various aircraft roar past — including the narcissistic insistence that Air Force One fly overhead as the president took the stage. (It was also silly, because Air Force One isn’t “Air Force One” unless the president is on board.)
Mining the glories of past military battles while flanked by defense chiefs is the kind of thing Soviet leaders used to do while droning from their reviewing stand in Moscow. It wasn’t patriotic or stirring; it was cringe-inducing. This is probably one of many reasons that former Secretary of Defense James Mattis and former Chief of Staff John Kelly — both retired generals — reportedly squashed this idea whenever it came up.