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Friday, February 09, 2018
Stage a grand military parade? Absolutely – it’s overdue
Trump was, understandably, impressed
in a visit to France last July by the pageantry of the Bastille Day parade. The
parade dates back to the 1880s.
Nothing the United States comes up with will
match its resonance or its beloved, unifying nature.
Trump’s motivation for ordering up a
parade anyway is pretty obvious. He likes big, brassy displays, and he gets a
kick out of being the commander in chief of the most impressive military on the
The president’s impulse itself
shouldn’t be enough to roll the armor down Pennsylvania Avenue, but we don’t
lack for reasons to honor our military.
The Pentagon has already floated the
idea of a parade on Veterans Day to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of
World War I, an epic event by any standard. We’re also overdue to honor on a
large scale the sacrifice of our troops over the past 17 years in the war on
Trump’s critics sniff a dangerous
“We have a Napoleon in the making
here,” pronounced Rep. Jackie Speier. Of course, coming
to power in a coup, literally crowning himself emperor of France and conquering
a swath of Europe tell us much more about Napoleon’s political character than
any of his parades.
A columnist for the New York Daily
News harrumphed that Trump “has no sense of American exceptionalism.” It’s odd
to locate American exceptionalism not in the Bill of Rights or Declaration of
Independence, but in the (relatively recent) absence of military parades.
It’s not obvious when it became
untoward or dangerous for the United States to hold military parades. Are we
supposed to believe that the integrity of American character has depended on
having no military parades since 1991, when there were big honking ones in
Washington and New York to celebrate the end of the Gulf War?
In Washington, Patriot missiles,
M270 multiple-launch rocket systems and M109 self-propelled howitzers appeared
on the parade route, and a freakin’ Harrier jump jet landed on the Mall. In New
York, they dragged an A-7 Crusader attack jet down the Canyon of Heroes. The
The unsatisfactory outcomes of the
Vietnam and Korean Wars meant we didn’t have parades to mark those conflicts.
(We should have.) But it didn’t occur to anyone that it was inappropriate or
undemocratic to display military hardware. During World War II, there were big
military parades in New York City, and state-of-the-art self-propelled
howitzers drove by the New York Public Library with no one getting the vapors.
Dwight Eisenhower’s first inaugural
showcased an 85-ton atomic cannon, and the second, a Redstone ballistic
missile. They broke out four nuclear missiles for JFK’s inauguration, along
with an impressive battery of tanks, armored vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.
It’s true that leaders of Russia,
China and North Korea exult in military parades. But it’s not military parades
that make these regimes dangerous.
The parade controversy is another
sign that the place of patriotism in our national life, and what that
patriotism should consist of, is a Trump-era flashpoint.
Trump’s critics tend to think
patriotism itself is atavistic, or that its locus should be only in our ideals.
Trump’s patriotism is more grounded, and insists that we are a nation, not just
This is why a military parade once
in a while is a healthy thing: We should be proud, not just of our troops, but
of our military as such. We should be proud of our strength. We should be proud
of our weaponry, highly proficient machines fashioned by the most technically
adept society the world has ever known.
Ideally, everyone would realize
this. Once upon a time, we did.
But now the best argument against Trump’s
parade is that it will become a cultural-war flashpoint and “the resistance”
will try its utmost to ruin the affair.
Just imagine a protester in a pussy hat
in a Tiananmen Square-style standoff with an M-1 Abrams tank.
Meanwhile, on July 14, the Bastille
Day parade will in all likelihood come off once again without a hitch.