President Donald Trump has a vision of tanks rolling, planes flying, and troops marching down Pennsylvania Avenue as he stands erect surveying “his military” on the reviewing stand with the White House in the background. Now he has instructed the Pentagon to explore such a parade, the White House confirmed this week.
The uniformed men and women will render him military honors as American flags wave behind him, the Trumpian jaw jutting forward in Mussolini-like fashion. No doubt the president will experience a power surge as soldiers parade in unison before him – a human testament to self-aggrandizement, a sort of living monument to his ego, not unlike the concrete monument to himself he hopes to build on the on the Mexican border.
The military is duty bound to follow the orders of the commander in chief, no matter how stupid. Congress, however, is not bound by the same constraints.
Trump reportedly got the idea from the grandstand during France’s Bastille Day parade. He believes a show of military might will inspire Americans to recognize the value of the military, much as North Koreans are inspired by the grand parades staged in Pyongyang for their Great Leader.
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In fact, other than keeping the president away from his Twitter account and Fox News, this military parade will provide little value for Americans.
Parades to honor those killed in the service of our country on Memorial Day or those who have served on Veterans Day are welcome American traditions, but one reason they are enjoyed by millions every year is that they are for a greater purpose than stroking the ego of some “Great Leader.” We Americans don’t feel the need to show off our obvious military superiority in this way, to resort to what psychologists call compensation. That’s for lesser nations with something to prove.
I spent lots of time as a cadet preparing for, marching in and complaining about parades. Soldiers will march if commanded; troops will drive military vehicles overnight if told, and even transport tanks hundreds of miles so they can tear up Pennsylvania Avenue when requested. They will do so at the expense of training, fighting or spending time with their families and will do so in a smart fashion.
However, if given a choice between spending countless hours practicing for a parade, getting their equipment ready and uniforms prepared so they can demonstrate their fealty to the president or simply sending the commander in chief a Valentine’s card expressing their devotion, I am guessing they would go the Hallmark route.
The military is legally and morally bound to disobey illegal and immoral orders. Otherwise they are duty bound to follow the orders of the commander in chief, no matter how stupid.
And that’s how it should be. Congress, however, is not bound by the same constraints.
There should be a bipartisan movement to stop the president from using the military for an expensive and painful presidential self-esteem exercise. If Congress won’t stop this folly, I have another suggestion.
Senior officers should request parade volunteers from the ranks and then invite the president to lead the march down Pennsylvania Avenue himself. As in the past, his bone spurs might prompt him to defer the invitation when the marching is being done on his own time, on his own two feet.
Thomas Umberg is a former California Assemblyman and retired Army colonel who served in Afghanistan. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.