Mercenary or not, the 4th of July is always a poignant moment for us military veterans. In my experience, soldiers do not fight and die for ideas. Leave the ideas to those with “other priorities.” Soldiers fight and die for one another.
I have been a military leader in and out of uniform. I have led elite US Army units and I have led African conscripts. It is relatively easy to lead highly motivated, trained, and equipped elite forces. The real test is leading untrained, poorly equipped, unmotivated, soldiers – ordinary people asked to do extraordinary things – who frequently are given the most dangerous jobs. It is one of war’s timeless axioms.
Today, it is the leaders of the Army National Guard/Reserve who get my vote for best leadership. They have to convince plumbers, school teachers, and others, for whom war is not a chosen calling, to stand on a checkpoint each night and become ambush bait. Each night.
For me, the 4th of July is not noisy fireworks or jingoistic flag-waving. It is a time for quiet appreciation, in a special American sort of way. No one captures this mood better than American composer Aaron Copland, in his music for the film Our Town, adapted from Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play. It is a quiet, humble piece on a grand scale.
Some may gripe that the London Symphony Orchestra's playing is less than pristine, however Copland is his own best interpreter of his work. However, others may prefer Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's tighter, faster (2 minutes!) version.