President Donald Trump’s plans for a White House-backed military parade are beginning to take shape.
The president has directed the Department of Defense to organize a parade that would take place on Nov. 11 – Veterans Day – according to an unclassified Feb. 20 memo written by National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.
The memo, which was summarized to POLITICO by a senior administration official, was sent from McMaster to Secretary of Defense James Mattis. It says that Trump wants Mattis to brief him on “concepts of operation for this event.”
The memo also said that the parade route should begin at the White House and end at the Capitol.
Really? We’re really going to do this, because Trump saw them do this in France and liked it? It could cost up to $50 million to stage this thing. I agree with my US Senator:
“I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) last week to reporters in the Capitol. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history; you don’t need to show it off.”
But Donald “Five Draft Deferments” Trump is a spectacularly insecure man, so he has to show it off.
A few days ago, I visited some World War I battle sites in the Somme. The Battle of the Somme was a 1916 battle between the Allies (French and British) and the Germans, fought along a 15-mile front at the River Somme, in northern France. It was one of the most brutal battles in human history, with over one million casualties on both sides, including over 300,000 dead. Imagine that every man, woman, and child in St. Louis, or in Pittsburgh, were killed over a five-month period. That was the Somme.
You can visit part of the remains of the little village of Fay, which was on the front lines. There was nothing left after the war (the village was rebuilt nearby after the armistice). In fact, my hosts told me that nearly every building in their area was built after the war, because everything else had been leveled in the Battle of the Somme. They pointed out an empty field where a chateau had once been. A young man who lived there, and who was serving under arms at the front, returned to check on his place, and was surprised that he couldn’t find it. He did not even recognize the rubble.
I’m reading British historian Peter Hart’s history of the battle, which is based in part on oral histories given by soldiers who fought in it. Men like Private Thomas Jennings, who remembers the July 19 attempt to capture Delville Wood.
As we crouched against the bank there came from out of the blue a terrific explosion, the air was thick with black smoke and a thousand bells rang in my head. When everything cleared I saw in front of me a soldier lying on his back in a pool of blood from a gaping wound. He called out, “Mother, take ’em away, take ’em away!” He died a few minutes later. I then realised that another chap in front of me didn’t move. I almost touched him and I could see that his water bottle was dripping water tinged with blood. A further look at him told me he was dead, indeed I heard his last gasp. My feelings were awful; this was just plain murder. To make things even worse a dozen or so soldiers were crying and staggering about with shell shock.
Hart’s book is full of stories like that. That’s how war is, even wars that are just and necessary.
We have had military parades in the US to celebrate victories in battle. That’s the right thing to do. But to have a military parade just to beat our chests? This is what Soviets and North Koreans do. The French started including soldiers and military apparatus in their Bastille Day celebrations back in the 19th century. It has never been part of America’s tradition — not even when victorious generals (Washington, Grant, Eisenhower) were president. Washington beat the British: no military parade to celebrate American martial strength. Grant beat the Confederacy: no military parade to celebrate American martial strength. Eisenhower beat Nazi Germany: no military parade to celebrate American martial strength.
Trump beat Hillary Clinton: he’s going to have a parade, to swell himself up.
This parade is not for the military. It’s for Trump. No good will come from this militarism. I know that come November, anybody who opposes this gesture will be denounced as unpatriotic — especially given that the parade will be scheduled for five days after the November election. Still, it’s a bad idea.
UPDATE: Sorry, I wasn’t clear. Of course we had parades to celebrate particular military victories (e.g., the victory of the North over the South in the Civil War). That’s fine — indeed, it’s the right thing to do. I mean that Grant didn’t suddenly order a parade to celebrate military strength itself (as distinct from a particular victory). Nor did Washington, nor did Eisenhower. It’s the chest-thumping for no particular reason that rankles, and strikes me as a bad thing for us to do. We’re the strongest nation in the world. Why brag? Because Trump wants a parade, is why.