WASHINGTON — There will be a military parade, at President Donald Trump’s request — but when, where, how big and what will be displayed is to be determined.
Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday said the Pentagon has been putting together options for a parade — but skirted a question about why the Pentagon should spend time and money planning a military parade.
Mattis told a White House press briefing that the parade request is an example of Trump’s “respect” for the military.
“I think what my responsibility is is to make certain I lay out the strategy and make the argument for the oversight of Congress to make the determination of fully funding us. As far as the parade goes again, the president’s respect, his fondness for the military, I think is reflected in him asking for these options,” Mattis told reporters.
Military planners will now look at dates, locations, costs, logistics and whether it is feasible to hold a parade displaying large weaponry such as tanks on Pennsylvania Avenue. One option being considered is to hold the parade in November in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I on Nov. 11, 1918.
Trump has said the idea for the parade came to him after he witnessed France’s Bastille Day parade, which is held annually and is deeply rooted in the country’s history and values. He reportedly conveyed his desire for the parade when he met with Pentagon officials in January in the Pentagon’s “tank” — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — according to the Washington Post.
France is one of the few democracies that regularly has parades that include military hardware. The sprawl is more akin to places like North Korean, Russia, Libya and China. Military parades were a staple of the Nazi regime and the spectacle of tanks and missile launchers rolling through Red Square is a defining image of the Cold War.
North Korea is set to hold a military parade on Thursday that is expected to feature thousands of soldiers and weapons.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said on Twitter that he supported the idea, but added that his “hope is this parade will not focus on military hardware, but on military service, sacrifice, and saying ‘Thank You’ to those who protect our nation.” He said on CNN that such a parade risks being “kind of cheesy and a sign of weakness” if it’s all about showing off military hardware.
Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill.) called the idea a “fantastic waste of money to amuse the president.”
“Take the money that the president would like to spend on this parade [and] instead, let’s make sure our troops are ready for battle and survive it and come home to their families,” Durbin, the Democratic minority whip, said on MSNBC Wednesday morning.
“We have a Napoleon in the making here,” Rep. Jackie Speier, (D-Cal.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.
France’s Bastille Day military parade is an old tradition, going back to 1880. Its longevity and popularity have many historical reasons. “Probably different from Trump’s motivations,” wrote Sylvie Kauffmann, an editorial director and columnist with the French newspaper Le Monde.
The parade stresses reconciliation and pacifism, and 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 carry the European Union flag, even though the political bloc does not have its own army.
“Especially the decision to invite German troops to the Champs-Elysees involved a lot of symbolism,” Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations, said in a press statement. “In the collective French memory, German troops last marched on the Champs-Elysees in June 1940.”
The militarization of U.S. public spectacles shifted long ago from weapons on parade to salutes to veterans — a practice now funded by the Pentagon — flyovers at sporting events, such as the one this past Sunday at the Super Bowl, and displays by flying groups such as the Blue Angels or Fleet Week program that showcase Naval assets.
The last major military parade in the United States marked victory in the Gulf War in 1991, under President George H.W. Bush, taking place in New York City and Washington, D.C. In Washington, Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles rolled by as stealth fighter planes flew above and helicopters buzzed by the Washington Monument.
Eight thousand Desert Storm troops marched in the national parade. It cost $8 million, which adjusted in today’s dollars would be around $13.8 million. CBS News correspondent Eric Engberg covered the June 8, 1991, national parade and said there was “so much military hardware moving, at times it seemed as if Washington was under attack.”
Two World War II-linked parades were held in New York City — the “At War Parade” on June 13, 1942, as a showing of solidarity for U.S. troops who had entered World War II, and then again in 1946 to celebrate the Allied Powers’ victory over the coalition of Axis Powers.
After the Civil War, a two-day celebration that included a military procession known as the Grand Review of the Armies occurred on May 23 and 24, 1865, with President Andrew Johnson presiding just weeks after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. More than 145,000 Union soldiers paraded down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.
After World War I, parades in New York, Washington and other cities greeted “doughboy” soldiers as they returned home from the battlefields of Europe. Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing led thousands of soldiers through the streets of New York on Sept. 10, 1919. Pershing then did the same about a week later in Washington.
Those were the only parades celebrating military victories. There were no grand parades to honor veterans from the Korean or Vietnam wars. After the last combat troops left Iraq in 2011, a parade for the war was squelched since the war in Afghanistan was continuing. “We simply don’t think a national-level parade is appropriate while we continue to have America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way,” Col. David Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said in 2012.
Military hardware also was on display in presidential inaugural parades held during the Cold War.
One of the longest parades in U.S. history was President Eisenhower’s first inauguration in 1953. That parade had 73 bands, 59 floats and military hardware, including what was then considered one of the advanced weapon in the pieces of American arsenal– an 85-ton atomic cannon that could fire a shell 20 miles.
There were also tanks in the 1953 parade, as there were for Ike’s second inaugural parade in 1957. The 1957 fete also included thousands of troops marching with military hardware, including the 69-foot-long Redstone — the first ballistic missile successfully fired by the United States.
President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in 1961 also featured military hardware, including the Nike Zeus — the Army’s first missile designed to intercept ballistic missiles. Navy boats were towed down Pennsylvania Avenue; the boats resembled the PT boat he commanded during World War II that was rammed by a Japanese destroyer.