Are Tanks Necessary?

I love the Fourth of July. This year that patriotic day broke sunny and warm and — as has happened for many years — I was pedaling to the Corte Madera/Larkspur Fourth of July parade and festival by 10:30 in the morning, an American flag taped to the back of my bike.

I arrived in time to check out the street dancing (always fun) and the festival in Town Park (intriguing art). However, I wasn’t pleased with the police motorcycles, patrol cars and monstrous fire engines leading the parade. Even in sunlight, their pulsating blue and red lights were irritating. Moreover, when the stern-faced drivers cranked up their sirens to near deafening decibels, I couldn’t help thinking: What do fear and authority have to do with Independence Day? A little girl running crying to her mom and a senior plugging her ears while giving a disapproving look made me feel I wasn’t alone.

And after watching a slightly out-of-step American Legion color guard pass by, followed by two bright red vintage fire trucks, half a dozen Little League teams and the Corte Madera Town Band playing a spirited John Philip Sousa march, I was my Yankee Doodle Dandy self again.

Then into sight lumbered a seemingly endless procession of gray-green military vehicles. There were tanks sporting menacing cannons; General Patton’s World War II jeep; a half-track personnel carrier from the Korean War; and a huge truck with a sleek Nike Missile mounted in its bed. There must have been two dozen vehicles, the last being, ironically, an ambulance. Small signs identified them as all coming from Joe Garbarino’s Military Vehicle Museum in San Rafael.

Mr. Garbarino, 77, is an owner and the manager of Marin Recycling Center. For several years, I’ve noticed his tanks and other military vehicles in the Corte Madera/Larkspur Parade, and I understand they’ve been a mainstay in Novato’s annual parade. People admire him for it. “Mr. Garbarino is a local hero and deserves more recognition for the efforts he’s made for these parades,” emailed Scott Stitham to the Marin Independent Journal prior to Monday’s event.

I hold an opposing viewpoint. I’ve met Joe Garbarino. He is a well-intentioned, nice man. I respect the work he and his staff do at Marin Recycling. In addition, as a child of World War II and a Navy veteran, I appreciate his collection of more than 65 military vehicles — they stir many memories. Nevertheless, they are also symbols of war — and I much prefer he keep most of them in his museum during next year’s parades.

This year, according to Mr. Garbarino, due to a dwindling number of veterans who usually volunteer as drivers, many vehicles, tanks included, were piloted by young men. On the lumbering trucks, giggling young girls waved American flags and threw candies to the crowds. I may be in the minority, but I found this very discomforting.

“Yes, we fought a war to win our independence from England,” says Alan Barnett, longtime antiwar activist and director of the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition, “but to glorify war, as is done in many parades, only adds to our culture of violence. It encourages solving problems through military muscle, which, in recent years, has killed not only thousands of young Americans but tens of thousands of people in lands far from our shores.”

I question if Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — many physically and emotionally scarred for life — or their families, would choose to ride on one of Mr. Garbarino’s war machines. Without a doubt, war is a horror for those who have experienced combat firsthand.
Our nation needs adequate defense, and when necessary, wars must be fought and then, save for Memorial Day and individual memorials, efforts should be made to keep them out of sight and mind. Since World War II, America’s veneration of its wars and militarism has only caused the country — and the world — great harm. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?
P.S. Fireworks also glorify war, bringing to mind “bombs bursting in air.” This year’s Sausalito show intensified that with a rumbling sound. No one who’s experienced a bombing would find that entertaining. Think about it.

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