Trump, who fondly refers to “my generals” and espouses a decidedly militarist agenda, now thinks it's his turn. “We're all aware in this country of the president's affection and respect for the military,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday. “We have been putting together some options. We will send them up to the White House for decision.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters that a parade aimed at specifically demonstrating American military might was “kind of cheesy and a sign of weakness.” Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), added that, “America is the most powerful country in all of human history, everybody knows it, and we don't need to show it off.”
“France's Bastille Day parade, which has persisted through two world wars and a Nazi occupation, has also been used to emphasize a very different message, which could be summarized as: We are only strong together,” Noack wrote. “What Trump may have missed while watching the Paris parade last July was that its organizers have frequently invited foreign troops — from Morocco and India to the United States, Britain and Germany — to march alongside French soldiers or to even lead the procession. Instead of the French flag, French soldiers sometimes wave the European Union flag, even though the political bloc does not have its own army.”
The modern tradition of military parades probably stems from the crack, regimented marching of the 19th century Prussians, whose methods were copied around the world. In 1865, at the close of the American Civil War, the victorious United States staged a two-day Grand Review of the Armies involving some 145,00 troops. National military parades followed victories in the World Wars and even in 1991, after troops came home from Operation Desert Storm. But given the indefinite U.S. commitment to wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, there's not much of a groundswell now for a giant march.
Such parades, after all, are more the preserve of nations such as North Korea, Russia and China, whose leaders still need these sometimes surreal displays of military strength to buttress their own rule. In many other parts of the world, military parades are quaint anachronisms, cloaked in remembrance of the past with little relevance for the future. In the United States, the world's unquestioned military superpower, respect for the military and its members is so ubiquitous that it's somehow become easy to overlook. An eye-catching parade is hardly necessary to honor the troops.
Orwell was writing in 1941, at a time when Britons faced the prospect of defeat and conquest by the Nazis. He decried the fascist “goose-step” as “one of the most horrible sights in the world,” and saw in it “an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren't laugh at me’, like the bully who makes faces at his victim.”
This led Orwell to conclude that, “beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army.”
For Trump, the army certainly is no laughing matter — and he has picked a series of political battles with any domestic critics he claims are disrespecting the military. But while most Americans dare not laugh at their army, the reaction to Trump's parade shows that quite a few are laughing at him.