William Astore on Military Parades and Super Bowls

Trump, inspired by the French, wants his own military parade

News that President Trump favors a military parade in Washington D.C., perhaps to coincide with Veterans Day in November, has drawn criticism, and rightly so. The president has a juvenile fascination with parades and other forms of pomp and circumstance, but more than anything I’m guessing he relishes the thought of posing as “The Leader,” reviewing and saluting “his” troops and generals as they pass in review. If only “Cadet Bone Spurs,” the telling nickname that Tammy Duckworth has pegged him with, could don a military uniform for the occasion — his fantasy would be complete.

The idea of a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, complete with tanks and jets (and maybe some big missiles and bombs too?), sounds radical. But is it really that different from other militarized celebrations that America has been witnessing and applauding since 9/11?

Consider this year’s Super Bowl. It was played in a domed stadium, yet there was the obligatory military flyover (featuring A-10 attack planes, which the Air Force ironically wants to get rid of). Fifteen Medal of Honor recipients were celebrated on the field, with one (a Marine) performing the coin toss for the game. A video link showed U.S. troops watching from overseas. In past years, troops featured were usually in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan. This year the troops were in South Korea, perhaps because NBC wanted a link to the forthcoming Olympic games, hopefully not because the Trump administration is foreshadowing a “bloody nose” strike against North Korea that would turn that region into a combat zone.

Such patriotic (read: militarized) hoopla has become standard, not just at the Super Bowl and other NFL events, but at many other sporting events. At last year’s US Open tennis tournament in New York, prior to the men’s final played on 9/10, there was a ceremony to mark the 9/11 attacks, complete with the usual jumbo-sized US flag, with uniformed troops joined by officer cadets from West Point, climaxed by a military flyover. The ceremony was timed for maximum TV exposure.

As a retired military officer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve saluted the colors and sung the National Anthem. I have no objection to military color guards and proud renditions of our anthem. It’s all the other hoopla — the flyovers, the video links, the gigantic flags, the increasing size of military contingents on playing fields and tennis courts and elsewhere — that I find so exaggerated. It’s as if I sat down to watch a football game or a tennis match and a military parade broke out instead.

Give President Trump his due: he knows his audience. His supporters will revel in a military parade in Washington. So too will Trump. The rest of us? Why should we complain: we’ve been watching over-the-top military celebrations for nearly two decades. A big parade down Pennsylvania Avenue is the logical culmination of all this, especially with Trump in charge.

Like many other aspects of American culture, Trump is just bringing our love of the military into higher relief. Don’t blame him (or only him) if you don’t like what you see.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.