Parades and precedents

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The sound of horns rang through the air over Pyeongchang, South Korea, calling us all back to our television screens. Admittedly, the last winter games in Sochi and the summer games in Rio de Janeiro had their oddball moments the packs of wild dogs, the oiled-up Tongan flag bearer (who returned this year by the by), Russian doping accusations, the backflipping weightlifters, the South Korean speed skater turned Russian citizen Victor Ahn, the needless killing of a jaguar mascot, even a Kenyan track coach taking a drug test in hopes he wouldn't be caught using his athlete's ID card in the Olympic Village to get a free meal. I could go on. It's not hard to find oddities when you get a majority of the world together to compete in sporting events. But, this year it's hard to find team Russia.

Or so we would think.

Though the ban on Russian athletes over state-sponsored doping has been upheld, athletes from Russia (which is how they'll be referred to apparently) will compete under the Olympic flag, rather than the red, white and blue of mother Russia. Now, that situation seemed familiar. As the summer Olympics approached in 2016, the topic of refugees was a pretty hot one. Some refugee athletes were unable to compete for their home country because of various circumstances, so the Olympic committee agreed to allow a team of refugees to compete under the Olympic flag, rather than some amalgam of their respective countries.

Then the Pyeongchang games roll in. Russian athletes unable to compete under their nation's flag want to follow in the footsteps of the refugees. I'm not sure the Olympic committee was hellbent on punishing Russia and its athletes, considering competitors from Russia had to provide sufficient evidence they had not taken performance enhancers, but I'm sure the committee members were powerless to deny the request, having set a precedent during the Rio games.

And, of course, once a precedent is set, it's difficult to reverse. The Russian-trained athletes marched in the opening ceremonies sans their national colors but parading none the less.

Speaking of parades, we may be seeing more of those in our own country. While North and South Korea are dropping their prefixes to compete as a unified symbol of international peace during the Olympics, our commander in chief wants to show off some military hardware, saying we need to top France's Bastille Day parade. In other words, we need to prove our military superiority over a country often associated with military failure. Yet, if it happens, a precedent will be set, just as it was with the Olympic Committee's decision. And the consequences may be unavoidable.

Believe it or not, Donald Trump will not be our president forever. Whether in his fourth year, his eighth year or anywhere in between, he will cease to be the leader of our country's military and someone new will take the baton potentially ending the parades.

Or so we would think.

Trump's predecessor will be faced with a difficult choice. The next president could potentially say emphasis on the country's servicemen is something that should never stop and the Cold-War-era displays of power will continue under a veneer of patriotism and national pride. The next president could also say the displays are an unnecessary expensive exercise in political posturing and be called unsupportive of those in uniform. Let me tell you, I don't expect any president or presidential candidate to say they don't support the military. No one seems to ever win elections that way, so politicians stay miles away from such statements.

If parades come, I think they'll be here to stay.

Yet, I don't think our country truly has need of them. Again, like it or not, our military is one of the most powerful in the world. But we didn't become that way by holding military parades to show off the rivets, shells and muscles of our military. We didn't resort to gaudy displays intended to instill fear in the populace abroad.

A caption from the work of one of Iowa's famed editorial cartoonist Jay "Ding" Darling perhaps said it best, "A good candidate never needs to resort to it, and a poor one has to."

Now, that cartoon was printed in 1908 and was referring to proverbial mudslinging, but I think the concept still applies. What's more, it's the sensible Iowan in the panel who is moving to stop the nonsense, knowing nothing good can come of it. Let's hope Mr. Darling's view of Iowa's sensibilities is just as true today.