The New York Giants’ Super Bowl victory is spurring a parade down Manhattan’s “Canyon of Heroes,” that stretch of lower Broadway whose narrowness and enclosure by tall buildings gives it something of a canyonesque feel. Ironically or not, the latest canyon fodder were the Occupy Wall Street protesters encamped in Zuccotti Park, which sits along the route.
But in response to the official end of American military engagement in Iraq, various groups have called for a ticker-tape parade for returning Iraq War soldiers in New York, as has been done in smaller cities like St. Louis. If we can honor a football team in this way, they say, how much more ought we to celebrate the achievements of our armed forces?
What these people might not be understanding is that nothing about the Iraq or Afghanistan wars makes anyone feel like celebrating. And while we can talk all we want about honoring those who serve their country, celebrating is what a parade is all about.
Yes, military personnel deserve gratitude for the sacrifices they make. The accomplishments of a winning football team are trivial in comparison. But the key difference in a socio-psychological sense is that a sports victory is a cause for celebration. Sure, it’s only entertainment, but – hell yeah, our team won! Can New Yorkers, or the New Jerseyans who have good reason to claim the Giants as their own, say anything like that about Iraq or Afghanistan?
While there may have been a torn ACL or two, no one died at the Super Bowl. War, on the other hand, is a grueling slog in which many people die and a great many more suffer terrible injuries. To turn that into a cause for celebration, we’d better damn well win. If we don’t, or if we lack a sense that the war was justified or sensible, we’re not going to feel like having a parade for our returning soldiers, however brave and deserving they may be.
I’m not saying it’s right that a bunch of guys who play with a ball get a parade while actual warriors don’t. But it’s easy to understand why a community wants to fête one but feels icky about the other. Sports are fun. War is hell. And who wants to look hell in the eye?