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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InMilitary.com and InCyberDefense.com
Military parades are nothing new. Quite the contrary – the very word “parade” comes from the ancient tradition of close order formation combat. Soldiers would fight in an organized formation that was effective against less organized opponents.
The strict discipline of the Roman Legions used this tactic well enough to conquer much of the known world. Until the invention of firearms, which made formation fighting suicidal, this form of combat had been replicated by countless nations. It still exists today in the form of ceremony.
Today, professional soldiers in modern armies use drill and ceremony to instill discipline and esprit de corps. In addition, military parades are often used to celebrate a military victory, exhibit strength or honor a leader.
The last time the United States held a military parade of significant size was in June 1991. That parade celebrated the U.S. military role in the liberation of Kuwait.
At the request of President Donald Trump, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is assembling military parade options in preparation for White House approval. A fan of France’s Bastille Day parade, the President has tasked the Department of Defense with estimating the cost and providing options for an American military parade. That parade would be of significant scope and size, and would be held sometime later this year.
News organizations around the nation from the left, right and center have made their opinions clear. Reactions range from admiration to mockery.
I recently sat down with two U.S. military veterans with vastly different opinions. John is all in for Trump’s parade and Mike is against. Let’s look at both sides of the argument.
John: I’ll start. I don’t see what all the uproar is about. America has held military parades many times before. Honoring our military is a proud U.S. tradition.
Mike: True, but the last U.S. military parade was to honor the troops returning home from Gulf War I. America is a country that doesn’t need to show off like other countries. We don’t need brute displays of military force to convey power.
John: Yeah, but this is Trump’s way of showing his support to the troops. He is very pro-military. It’s also a great opportunity for the general public to show their appreciation of our all-volunteer force.
Mike: First of all, Military Times just polled 100,000 active-duty servicemembers; 88% of them said Trump’s parade would be a waste of time and money. Second, the military enjoys almost universal adoration from the American public. We’ve come a long way since Vietnam.
Having said that, there are people who will protest the parade just to protest Trump. This will be the first time in 40 years that Americans will be protesting the troops, albeit inadvertently.
John: The troops don’t have to support it; we do what we’re told, remember? [Laughter from everyone present.] But seriously, cut the guy some slack. Trump is an entertainer turned politician. With this parade, he’s actually accomplishing two things: providing a grand spectacle and rewarding the people who helped get him elected. Trump enjoyed wide support from the military in the 2016 election.
Mike: Okay, let’s talk cost.
John: Oh man, here we go.
Mike: Mick Mulvaney [Director of the Office of Management and Budget] estimated that the cost could soar upwards of $30 million. The 1991 Gulf War parade cost $25 million in today’s dollars. Then you have to move people and equipment around the country unless you and Trump plan to do this with just the Old Guard. [The Old Guard refers to the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, based at Fort Myer in Arlington, Virginia, who participate in special ceremonies and events. They are the warriors that guard the Tomb of the Unknowns and provide escorts for military funerals at Arlington Cemetery, among many other duties.]
John: Now that would be a small parade. Sharp, but small.
Mike: So these troops have to come from somewhere. You’re either pulling them off deployments or interrupting their rest/training cycle. Imagine getting this call: “Hi, Commander Snuffy here. I know you just got back from the sandbox and went on leave to see your family, but we’re going to need you back at the unit ASAP for a parade.”
John: You can’t complain about $30 million for a parade. Have you seen the stuff our government spends money on? Private contractors alone cost the U.S. $12 million per day in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that went on for years!
Mike: Doesn’t the parade give you a creepy feeling, though? It puts us on an equivalency with China, North Korea and Russia which need authoritarian symbols to keep their people in line.
John: Do you know who else has military parades? Almost every one of our European allies in NATO!
Wes: Gentlemen, last words. Go.
Mike: The parade is a bad idea. Most Americans think it is unnecessary. Most servicemembers think it is unnecessary. As [Senator] John Kennedy (R-La) said, “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud.” Even reports from the Pentagon are that senior military leaders are rolling their eyes. Veterans are killing themselves. We are in the middle of an opioid crisis and a mental health catastrophe in this country. We should be focusing on fixing those problems, not flexing our muscles.
John: I see the parade as harmless. It will provide patriotic Americans an opportunity to come out and visibly show their support to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to keep us safe. Not just sacrificed their lives and limbs, but that includes other sacrifices like missed birthdays, putting careers on hold and constant relocations. This is a way for both the government and the public to make manifest their affection for our beloved armed forces.
Wes: Thank you, gentlemen, for your thoughts on this. I have to agree with Mike on this one. I don’t find a military parade necessary, practical or in good taste. Trump doesn’t have a lot of experience with the U.S. military, despite his affection for us. On his way back from watching France’s military parade, he was recorded as saying “Why doesn’t the United States have parades like that?” His understanding of our traditions and values is limited, despite the fact that he is learning quickly.
If a parade is to take place, and it sounds like it is, I would suggest a parade to honor all of the veterans that served in the military since 9/11/2001. Or perhaps a parade honoring just Vietnam veterans; they never received a proper homecoming. If the parade’s theme goes beyond just a raw display of power, I will support it. Otherwise, I will have a hard time justifying the massive headache that’s about to befall the capitol. The logistics alone are a planner’s nightmare made manifest.
Not counting the removal of streetlights up and down the parade route to make room for tanks and the damage to roads that will need to be repaved, Popular Mechanics states a “parade would also create logistical problems up and down the Eastern Seaboard, as U.S. troops and hardware would have to be trucked in from bases in New York, North Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere.”
Maybe I’m wrong… After all, everybody loves a parade.