Posts Tagged ‘Military parades’

I LOVE A PARADE—SOMETIMES

Have you ever marched in a parade? I don’t mean strolled with a crowd down Main Street on July Fourth or behind Dykes on Bikes during San Francisco’s Pride Week. I mean marchedas part of a military unit? I have. But I’d be ashamed to see our troops march down Pennsylvania Avenue this Veterans Day. (Fortunately, they won’t.)

I can’t remember being in a parade during basic training (Fort Dix, New Jersey) or Advanced Infantry Training (Fort McClellan, Alabama) during summer and autumn 1966. But in May 1967, my student company at the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School (Fort Benning, Georgia) paraded for our graduation and commissioning as second lieutenants.

We rehearsed a lot. Two hundred men took 30-inch steps in unison while a band played traditional marching music. Each of us corrected the rifle position of the candidate in front. Drudgery? We had all volunteered for the six-month OCS program and took it seriously. We also enjoyed marching. Yes! There’s something about marching to music with a couple of hundred men (no women then)—it could be thousands—that stirs up testosterone and just feels good.

Passing the reviewing stand, the acting student company commander saluted. The platoon leaders and fellow candidates presented arms. The guests on the reviewing stand included the post’s commanding general, the head of the Infantry School, and our battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Bert Bishop. (I owe a lot to Col. Bishop’s sage, man-to-man advice to the company prior to graduation.)

What made that parade at Fort Benning so important? Like all OCS classes, we celebrated something real—our graduation after a rigorous six months. For Mr. Trump? A parade in Washington is all about ego—being the one saluted by “his” troops. He also sees the opportunity to boast to world leaders that the U.S. has a potent military and thus Donald Trump possesses a big stick (othermen’s and women’s lives being placed at risk) along with a big mouth (he, having never served, remains safe).

I suspect that North Korea’s Kim Jung-un, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin—all of whom love parades—comprehend the power and reach of American military might. So does French President Emmanuel Macron, who invited Trump to the 2017 Bastille Day parade in Paris that seemed to spark Trump’s obsession with military pomp and circumstance.

So, what purpose would a Washington parade serve? To drum up support for more American tax dollars going to the Pentagon? The Pentagon’s annual budget exceeds $700 billion. “B” as in boy!To frighten the Taliban in Afghanistan? We remain at war there 17 years after our post-9/11 invasion. To honor America’s active duty military and veterans? Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, put it best.

The money required for the parade—estimated at up to $90 million—said Rohan would be better spent providing services to troops and vets “until such time as we can celebrate victory in the war on terrorism and bring our military home.”

Still, Trump lusts after the salutes of a stream of military personnel and with it TV exposure. Only he’d rather not be commander-in-chief but king. Along with the many tens of millions of dollars such a parade would waste, you can take that assessment to the bank.

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IL DUCE LIVES

In 1900, Theodore Roosevelt, then governor of New York, wrote in a letter what became his presidential philosophy: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” If only Donald Trump had the judgment to heed TR.

Trump wants to hold a grand military parade in Washington. The U.S. last held one in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I suggest that the parade under the auspices of President George H.W. Bush sought not only to honor our troops victorious in a 100-hour war but also make amends for the terrible treatment of American military personnel during and after the Vietnam War.

Why a parade now? Trump was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last summer. But France long has been a secondary military power. In 1914, Germany overran much of France. In May 1940, Germany outflanked the heralded Maginot Line. France fell in six weeks. In 1954, the Vietnamese defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu. France bid adieu to its Indo-Chinese colonies. French forces have fought well in Afghanistan, Iraq and its former African colonies. But French military parades honor ancient glories.

What other countries hold military parades? Dictatorships and autocracies. Vladimir Putin loves seeing soldiers, tanks and rockets roll through Moscow’s Red Square. Kim Jong Un shows off the same in Pyongyang. China also gets in on the act. And Iran, under supreme leader Ali Khamenei, showcases rockets and missiles to menace America and Israel.

All draw on precedent. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler loved military parades and being worshiped at enormous theatrical rallies. So, too, Josef Stalin. Dictators believe in speaking loudly and brandishing their big sticks. This enables them, they believe, to both cow other nations and intimidate internal opposition.

All of which paints Donald Trump as something of a junior Mussolini. Like Il Duce, Trump struts, glowers and preens. Hurls insults with abandon. And equates dissent with treason. Duce Jr. demands personal loyalty at home while disdaining America’s allies and eschewing diplomacy. This provokes hostile nations and troubles our friends, all of whom understand that America’s stick is very big indeed.

Still, even the biggest (read nuclear) stick can be challenged. Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq taught us how critical it is to know when to hold back. And that small nations and non-state actors can vex us with asymmetric warfare and terrorism.

But Duce Jr.’s bloated ego demands showing off his big stick—a sign not only of U.S. military might but of his own manliness. When the troops pass the reviewing stand, Trump will applaud not them but himself. He will believe that the troops are saluting him personally. And he will, again, be wrong. They will salute his office. That’s how the Constitution rolls.

A lover of our military, Trump never served (military school doesn’t count) unlike Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), whom he publicly disparaged as a prisoner of war. During Vietnam, Trump received five deferments—four for college and one medical deferment after graduation.

Last Saturday, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) referred to Trump as “Cadet Bone Spurs.” She earned the right, having lost both legs flying combat helicopter missions in Iraq. I might rephrase that, “Cadet Bone Spurious.” This all would be funny if it wasn’t so frightening.

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