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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