According to the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has requested that the U.S. armed forces stage a parade in the nation’s capital to feature America’s military might. The timing and source of the request has drawn a mixture of opinion from high-ranking individuals.
While opinion over the prospect of a military parade in the near future divides along partisan lines, there are some important distinctions worth considering—and recalling the place of the military in the life of a nation, for better or worse.
Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers laments the image such a parade would create and that we seek to imitate France in “military domain”, a joke at the expense of French military history.
I’m all for the US flag and totally behind the US military. I loathe those who favor cosmopolitanism over patriotism. But military parades bespeak a leader’s insecurity not true patriotism. Why, in military domain, are we trying to emulate France?
— Lawrence H. Summers (@LHSummers) February 7, 2018
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said parading troops is a fine expression of pride in America's service men and women but that the display of large weaponry would cross the line of good taste.
My hope is this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You” to those who protect our nation.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) February 7, 2018
Louisiana Senator John Kennedy repeated, in so many words, Teddy Roosevelt's maxim of 'talk softly, carry a big stick':
Sen. John Kennedy on Pres. Trump's proposed military parade: "I don't think it's a particularly good idea. Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud." https://t.co/pcAA0fj2hD pic.twitter.com/Vs6qnq4f42
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 7, 2018
The unverified opinion of an American soldier in an Amry subreddit gives an interesting boots-on-the-ground perspective.
The Army subreddit is looking forward to the military parade. pic.twitter.com/hjTzBRUtKp
— Soldier Jane (@sgtjanedoe) February 7, 2018
The tradition of military parades
Ticker tape parades featuring brass bands, American cars and confetti were held in U.S. cities after its troops returned triumphantly from World War II. But military parades were held in Washington D.C. and New York City as recently as 1991 when George H.W. Bush celebrated operation Desert Storm, the 43-day long military action that pushed Iraq's army out of Kuwait. The parade cost $12 million in 1991, or $22 million in today's money.
Desert Storm was hailed as the biggest American victory since the Cold War—and biggest military victory since World War II. The parade in its honor featured stealth fighter planes, tanks and Patriot missiles, and 8,000 battle-clad troops marching through Washington D.C.
Washington DC June 8-1991: A flag-waving crowd of 200,000 Saturday cheered veterans of Operation Desert Storm as the nation's capital staged its biggest victory celebration since the end of World War II. Stealth fighter planes zoomed overhead, tanks and Patriot missiles rolled by and more than 8,000 battle-clad troops marched past a beaming President Bush in a display of the American military might that crushed Iraq in 43 days of combat. (Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
The tradition of military parades, to be sure, has deep roots in western civilization. Rome's armies famously re-entered the city through its arches after successful military campaigns, uniting Romans in celebration (and teaching leaders eager for public support one effective way of winning it).
The President's desire to display American military muscle, however, apparently comes from his viewing of France's Bastille Day military parade, an annual event which commemorates the storming of a Paris prison to gain stocks of weapons and gunpowder at the start of the French Revolution.
In the American consciousness, military parades are more likely to recall the Soviet Union and despotic nations like North Korea which held its own military parade recently as the 2018 Winter Olympics are set to begin in South Korea.
This April 15, 2017 picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 16, 2017 shows Korean People's howitzers being displayed through Kim Il-Sung square during a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)