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Peggy Noonan writes today in the Wall Street Journal that the US needs a military that acts swiftly and doesn’t brag. I agree with that first point — especially with the suggestion that we should have cut to the chase and sent in the troops to rescue the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls. The military would have been delighted to execute such an assignment, a good thing would have been accomplished, and we would have demonstrated that America hasn’t completely forgotten how to flex its muscles. Nigeria’s not going to declare war on us. And is the international community likely to get on their high horse over the rescue of innocent girls? And so what if they do?
I wasn’t as convinced, however, by her assertion that great militaries shouldn’t brag. I understand the principle behind it: don’t showboat and let the guns do the talking. But I suspect the truth is that pomp and ceremony have always been a component of military might — and probably for good reason. Triumphalism is actually pretty effective at producing the “shock and awe” factor that great militaries like to inspire in civilian populations, both at home and abroad. I myself tend to react reflexively against propaganda, so the flag-waving jingoism often misses with me, but there’s no denying that plenty of people like it and it tends to make an impression. Compared to missiles and tanks, flags and musicians are cheap and safe. If there’s a chance of forestalling a war with a parade … throw the parade.