The Washington Post reported Tuesday that on Jan. 18, President Donald Trump told a meeting of generals in the Pentagon’s tank — a room reserved for top-secret discussions — that he wants a huge military parade:
“‘The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,’ said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. ‘This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.’”
We fervently hope the White House will announce, as it often does after the president is mocked or a childish idea is leaked to the press, that this is all “fake news” — or better, a joke. The president was just joking about a military display more often seen in third-world countries by insecure autocrats trying to impress superpowers with a showing of their military hardware.
We can hardly wait for the response from disabled veteran Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who has blasted “Cadet Bone Spurs,” or from military families who have had to endure longer deployments, or from patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals who still endure long lines, or from those injured in non-combat accidents. (“The recent injuries in non-combat accidents follow several years where … troops have seen a rise in accidents and crashes that have prompted operational pauses in the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Navy,” The Military Times reported.)
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The notion that the Pentagon should spend a moment or a penny on an exercise more befitting a Gilbert and Sullivan production rather than attending to the multiple battles it is fighting, or to suicide prevention among vets, or simply to the daily challenges of managing the military reveals how clueless and self-reverential the president is.
A parade along the lines Trump has ordered up would make the military look like Trump’s props, which perhaps was the idea. Now that the notion has been leaked (kudos to whoever understood the quickest way to kill this was to tell the press about it), let’s hope it evaporates like so many other silly Trump wishes.
But France does it! Yes, and the United States generally does not, with the exception of welcome-home festivities at the end of wars. We are the world’s only superpower and do not need theatrical presentations to demonstrate our power. Trump’s elevation of generals and newly-retired generals to high civilian posts has already inverted the normal relationship between civilians and the military. We’ve already seen the downsides of the militarization of White House personnel and the president’s disturbing tendency to consider the military his personal (“my generals”) fighting force obligated to follow any order, no matter how contrary to the laws of war it may be. A Trumpian hardware display would complete the disturbing portrait of an administration out of touch with our traditions and norms.
The incident is illustrative in two respects. First, apparently no one has the ability to deter Trump from making wasteful, embarrassing and self-defeating requests of the military. The favored tactic seems to be simply to wait for it to leak or slow-walk a bad idea (like banning transgender troops) until the courts or something else intervenes. Ironically, learning to ignore the commander in chief may be the military’s highest obligation.
And second, is Trump unaware of the existing holidays — full days of tribute — that the country uses (Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Armed Services Day) to honor the finest fighting force the world has ever known? Surely he must recall events held on these days during his first year in office. His attendance at a series of these celebrations in each year of his presidency would surely call the public’s attention to these fine men and women.
Our military and their families deserve a much better commander in chief who understands democratic values, American traditions and the reasons for civilian control of the military. Unfortunately, they have Trump.