Allow me to rain on the president’s parade.
I’m a military wife. And while I’m sure there are many military families who think President Trump’s military parade is a grand idea, there are plenty of us grimacing at the very thought of such a grandiose display. (In an informal Military Times poll, 89 percent of that site’s readers — loads of whom are connected in some way to the military — opposed the parade idea.)
President Trump has instructed the Pentagon to organize this parade for Nov. 11, Veterans Day, according to an unclassified memo released to Politico last Friday. Trump intends for the parade route to begin at the White House and end at the Capitol. And while he seemed to back off the idea a bit in a Fox News interview on Saturday night (“We’ll see if we can do it at a reasonable cost,” he said. “If we can’t, we won’t do it.”), it’s obvious that the president very much wants to see America’s military might march before him.
He was inspired by a parade he witnessed in France on Bastille Day last summer, which he called “one of the greatest parades” he had ever seen. That event involved military vehicles, a military aircraft flyover, and cavalry procession. “It was a tremendous day, and to a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on July Fourth in Washington,” Trump said two months afterwards, during a visit from French President Emmanuel Macron. “We’re going to have to try to top it.”
This exercise in parade one-upmanship would be exorbitantly expensive, at a time of massive national debt (now more than $20 trillion). Shipping tanks and military hardware to Washington could cost millions of dollars. Our last military parade took place in June 1991, when President George H.W. Bush held a military parade to mark U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf War. That parade cost $12 million — once adjusted for inflation, $21 million.
Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, defended Trump’s plan during an interview earlier this month, stating, “I’m not sure that honoring our military is a waste of money,” he said. “This is not about a dictatorship. This is about the president wanting to honor the military.”
It is indeed very important that we honor American servicemembers and appreciate the sacrifices they make for this country. As a military wife, I am always proud to see military men and women well represented at local and national events — such as the presidential inauguration, which my husband has marched in, or local Fourth of July, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day parades.
But honoring the military means more than dignified parades and pomp and circumstance. It also means making sure that military personnel are paid well, that they receive good benefits, and that their families are well cared for. It means caring for retired military personnel, and fighting the alarming rate of suicides, unemployment, and homelessness among veterans in our nation. It means honoring our commitments.
Is there some value in holding these parades for the larger inspiration or edification of the American public, to remind them of the debt they owe to our military? Such displays can definitely inspire such feelings. But we already have many such events, albeit on a smaller scale. The massive amount of money required for a national event like Trump’s parade seems neither advisable nor necessary. One cannot help but wonder if this parade is all about Trump, rather than all about the military and American public.
For the most part, major world powers do not stage regular parades of martial power and strength. The U.S. has only held large military parades following wartime victories. Few other countries parade their military regularly — such displays were more common during the Cold War among Communist countries, and were meant to inspire fear rather than healthy admiration or honor. Russia, China, and North Korea are the primary countries to still conduct regular military parades. France hosts an annual Bastille Day military parade — but the tradition is 138 years old, and a highly symbolic event.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address that “in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. … Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Having a powerful and well-trained military is necessary for national security. But in cautioning against a large military establishment or military-industrial complex, Eisenhower was warning America against the propensity to place one’s faith and security in arms, rather than in the political process and branches of government empowered by us via the Constitution — as well as against the growth of a martial power that could disrespect or flout the larger will of the people.
The original news of Trump’s plan for a military parade came just as North Korea — an authoritarian state that Trump has threatened with “fire and fury like the world has never seen before” — held a military parade of its own, complete with a display of its recently tested intercontinental-range Hwasong-15 missiles. One wonders whether Trump’s demand for a military parade is motivated solely by his respect for the troops — or whether he wants to send a message to foreign leaders overseas as well. After Kim Jong Un alleged that “he had a nuclear button on his desk and that the entire United States was within range of his weapons,” Trump responded in kind on Twitter, boasting that “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
One must question this man’s motives in wanting a grand military parade.
We should honor our troops for their many sacrifices, but we should try to do so in ways that do not involve hubristic displays of pomp and power. Ominous processions of tanks and missiles — such as those put together by North Korea — hardly inspire thoughts of peace, stability, and unity.
Is this parade really about honoring America’s troops? Or is it about displaying American might to our foes overseas? The former goal is lofty and admirable, even if a national military parade is not the best means to implement it. But the latter motivation could be dangerous indeed — to our national security, to our diplomatic relations with key allies like South Korea, and to the safety of our military personnel.
It is also, of course, quite possible that this parade is neither about America’s troops nor our overseas foes, but instead about the glorification of our commander in chief’s ego. Obviously, this would be a very poor reason for a parade.
Let’s not march tanks and weaponry down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, let’s honor soldiers’ lives by keeping them safe at home and only sending them abroad when U.S. security, our prosperity, or our way of life are at risk. They deserve far more than a parade.