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Throughout my life whenever I would see a picture of a Soviet military parade on the Red Square, or in China on Tiananmen Square, or in Egypt, or archival pictures of the Nazi’s parading their military, I would think to myself “Thank God we don’t do that.”

It seemed like a ceremony specific to totalitarian regimes meant to send a message to the world, particularly to the United States, that “we are strong.” To me that meant they weren’t so sure themselves without seeing it.

The United States refrained from such grandstanding because our pre-eminent founding value was the defense of liberty, not displays of aggression. We seemed to know instinctively genuine strength was imbued with the resolve of noble principles and to parade the machinery of power was beneath us.

I still feel that way. But now there is popular talk of having such a military parade to strike awe not only in our enemies, real and perceived, but among ourselves as well. Is that necessary? Is this what I think it means? That we have succumbed to childish grandstanding.

It’s time to let the grown-ups back into the room.

I choose to be optimistic about upcoming talks with Kim Jong Un and President Trump, both of whom have defined a new foreign policy strategy, “Who can out-crazy the other?” But the rhetoric leading up to this moment has included threats to deploy nuclear weapons to get respect and submission from one another. That’s a tactic with an unfathomable risk.

And now the Napoleonic Vladimir Putin boasts of new ballistic technology that will make Russian nuclear weapons invulnerable to counterattack. True or not, it is frightening to consider. Should the United States response be to pound our own chest and flex our massive might believing Putin or Xi Jinping of China will back off their expansion? It’s as if we hope other superpowers will say, “We’re out. The U.S. is just too big.” They haven’t yet. In fact, Russia and China have increased the size and capabilities of their militaries.

So what do we do? De-militarize?

Of course not. We must continue to research new technology and develop our military capabilities. I wish human beings could live as peaceful, utopian village-nations, sharing grain and gardening tips, but in the real world where people fight over parking spaces, America must have the military to defend freedom and justice under any circumstances.

What we don’t need to do, however, is peacock and boast; that only leads China, Russia, North Korea and other nuclear nations to expand their own arsenals. It is a contest with no winner.

In 1984, President Reagan was succinct in his State of the Union Address: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Budget sensibility may prevail and such a parade may not take place in Washington, D.C., but that doesn’t solve the issue of adolescent leadership playing with dangerous toys without adult supervision.

The adults? That’s us.

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Gary Kroeger is a local business owner and advertising executive in Cedar Falls.

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