We’re starting to see some push back against the almost universal condemnation of the idea of holding a military parade on July 4th. Since the current administration first floated the idea, it has mostly been derided by Democrats, Republicans, mainstream media, even the military itself. Even readers of Military Times are vehemently opposed to holding a military parade, with 89% of surveyed readers saying it’s a bad idea.
But the last day or so has seen quiet advocacy for holding a parade in Atlantic and USA Today. The basic argument in favor of having tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of tanks and missiles march before Donald Trump and other high-ranking U.S. officials, saluting while they passed, fighter jets flying in pattern overhead, is that the military parade is an old tradition that should be revived. Supposedly it will bring the military and civilian populations closer together and help civilians understand the important role the military plays in protecting our society from internal and external threats. That might—might—work for those civilians who watch the parade in person or on television, a group likely to be outnumbered by those who protest against the parade, either in Washington or at one of the dozens of satellite demonstrations that will assuredly take place across the country.
Most people recognize that the demonstrators in the anti-military parades will for the most part not be protesting either the military or any of the three (or more) wars we will be fighting as of this July 4th. No, the protesters will be raising their voices against militarism and Donald Trump, who Americans rightly sense has proposed organizing the parade for his own self-aggrandizement.
Apart from where you stand on the Donald, there are six very good reasons for the United States not to hold a large military parade at this time:
- There’s no good reason to parade
Most of the military parades we have held over our history have been to commemorate victory in war. The last time was in 1991, when we commemorated winning the first Gulf War—you know, the one in which we stopped short of overthrowing Saddam Hussein because we didn’t know who would run the country without him. We have no victory to declare in any of the wars we are currently fighting.
- It does not honor our soldiers
To the soldier, marching or driving a tank in a parade is another day’s work. Whereas veterans who march in Veterans’ Day parades do so by choice, it’s going to be a job to the doughgirls and doughboys in the Trump spectacle. The ones really being honored are those in the main reviewing stand, the ones all the soldiers salute when they march by.
- Only autocratic countries hold military parades when there is no victory to celebrate
All the examples of military parades when there has been no victory in war that we see in the mass media involve autocratic countries—Red China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, Chile and Argentina under dictatorships. The exception is France, the democracy that gives the most power to its executive.
- Holding a military parade projects weakness to the rest of the world
Years ago, the military parade communicated strength, but no more. Now it tells the world that a country is insecure about its ability to defend itself. Remember that France is the one western country to hold annual public parades of the active military and it hasn’t won a war in more than 200 years, unless you count those two wars of the last century that the United States and the Soviet Union won for France.
- It will subject us to more ridicule by the world
The rest of the world has been laughing at us since the current administration took over, and they will snigger all the louder if the most powerful country in the world starts to imitate small-time dictators. Because the basic action of a military parade is a regiment saluting a leader, the world will see the parade as a glorification of our current president, who is generally considered an ill-mannered and ignorant buffoon by the rest of the world. A parade of soldiers in front of Trump will fulfill Marx’s paradigm that history unfolds twice, first as tragedy (the fascists) and then as comedy (Trumpty-Dumpty). That protests will undoubtedly draw more attendees than the parade itself may serve to raise the esteem in which the rest of the world holds America, but only at the expense of making our government and its current leader look all the more ridiculous.
- It represents an unnecessary militarization of society
A military parade expresses that the military is important to our society, which is in fact what supporters of it are saying. I live in New York City, which has dozens of parades a year—Gay Pride, German Day, Puerto Rican Day, Israeli Day, Veterans’ Day, Thanksgiving. Each parade pays homage to a different value—our ethnic heritages, our diversity, the sacrifice soldiers have made in the past, the importance of community. A military parade puts the focus on fighting—our enormous current army, military technology, sophisticated equipment. It expressed militarism as a core value. I, and many other Americans including lots of soldiers and generals, believe that the military is a necessity, not a core value that defines America. A July 4th parade featuring high schools, 4H clubs, youth groups, ethnic societies, veterans associations and LGBTQ groups shows our Americanism. A march of soldiers and implements of warfare does not.
- It costs a lot of money
People are throwing around the figure of $20 million, which is the cost of the 1991 parade in 2018 dollars. But isn’t Trump going to want something bigger, flashier, with more soldiers and more military toys than ever before? We must also figure in the hidden cost of preparing the soldiers for their roles in the parade and the logistics of getting everyone and everything to Washington. My own guess is that a parade that will please the Donald will have to cost at least $100 million, or roughly the salary of 1,200 school teachers.
And make no mistake about it. The only reason to throw this monstrosity of a parade is to please the Donald, to make him feel all powerful because he commands what he is sure to call the greatest fighting machine in the history of mankind. Not something of which we should really be proud, as I’m sure a lot of generals past and present would agree. Whatever you may think of the military of our current or past wars, very few Americans other than Donald Trump has ever valued militarism as a positive trait. Our myth is to be the reluctant warrior, the quiet sheriff who does his job only when he has to do it. Gary Cooper picking up the guns he hates because he knows there is no longer any other choice. A military parade, unless it comes to celebrate the end of a victorious war, does not fit that image.