President Trump may want tanks rolling through Washington, D.C., and fighter jets flying in formation overhead, but it’s hard to find anyone else who thinks a military parade is a good idea — not veterans, not Democrats, not Republicans, not even “Fox & Friends.”
Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has largely avoided major displays of military power “in part to emphasize that contrast, because this has been so commonplace in authoritarian countries,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer told the Associated Press.
Trump's been interested in a parade for a while now, inspired by the one he attended on his visit with President Emmanuel Macron for France's Bastille Day last July. But the U.S. hasn’t had a military parade since 1991, when more than 8,000 troops marched in Washington to commemorate the end of the Gulf War. That parade cost $12 million, according to the Smithsonian, and it followed a clear end to a military conflict.
As another presidential historian Michael Beschloss told NPR, “To have a military parade without the end of a war or an inaugural or some big reason in Washington, D.C., that is out of our tradition.”
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While Secretary of Defense James Mattis says Trump just wants to show his “affection and respect for the military,” veterans have largely pushed back, saying this is not the way to appreciate American military might.
“This parade is a charade,” Will Fischer, an Iraq war Marine Corps veteran and head of government relations at veteran organization VoteVets, told VICE News. “It has nothing to do with dignity and respect.”
“The thing that people need to remember and realize is this has nothing to do with Donald Trump saluting our military but everything to do with our military, very publicly, being forced to salute him,” Fischer said.
At a time when the Department of Defense faces serious budget woes, which Mattis himself on Tuesday told Congress limits training and readiness, some believe the millions of dollars could be spent on more useful things, like funding veteran healthcare or modernizing equipment.
“A parade of this kind would represent a significant waste of tax dollars,” Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, a Marine veteran, said in a joint statement with Rep. Ted Lieu of California. “At a time when Congress is wrestling with how best to recapitalize our military and better protect the force after 17 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, resources should be deployed to enhance military readiness and war-fighting, not wasted on such a pointless display.”
The U.S. has the largest military footprint in the world and spent roughly $598 billion in fiscal 2015 on defense alone. Retired military leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle don’t believe a parade will be a show of strength. In fact, it may be the opposite.
“The United States doesn’t need to show off its hardware to show off its strength,” said retired U.S. Navy Adm. John Kirby. “This is not how a superpower behaves.”
Similarly, Republican Sen. John Kennedy told reporters Wednesday, “Confidence is silent, and insecurity is loud. America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”
If the military community’s rejection of the parade isn’t enough to dissuade Trump, well, even "Fox & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade said the parade “seems like a waste of money.” And Fox News anchor Shepard Smith separately mocked the idea of a parade.
“He could go see the tanks at a military base if he wanted to,” Smith said. “Or they could give him replicas. Little mini replicas. I mean, he wants to see what he has. I had some of those when I was a kid.”
Cover: Newly inaugurated U.S. President Donald Trump (in red tie), first lady Melania (L), Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen (R) preside over a military parade during Trump's swearing-in ceremony in Washington, January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar