Trump Plans $92 Million Military Parade While 40,000 Veterans Remain Homeless
This piece was adapted from a February 2018 Rantt article.
Amid major budget deals and stock market volatility, President Trump somehow managed to again put his ego at the top of the news cycle in February, after it was revealed that he had ordered the Pentagon to plan a military parade for Veteran’s Day. It’s since been pushed back to at least 2019. He got this idea after seeing the Bastille Day celebrations in France and decided he wanted one for himself.
After the initial revelations, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement that Trump had ordered the Pentagon “to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation” for the armed forces. The parade is estimated to cost taxpayers $92 million, up from the initial $12 million estimate. How Trump plans to pay for this parade is anyone’s guess.
Like most of what Ms. Sanders says, this statement is pure fiction. Trump has repeatedly shown a hollow reverence for the military, and this parade is nothing more than a massive stroke of his own ego.
Some context regarding this story is needed. First, France’s parade is not necessarily about the military. It is essentially a celebration of the beginning of the French Revolution. The US has also had military parades in the past, but they have been to celebrate a military victory (the last one was at the end of the First Gulf War), never to explicitly show off military might.
In fact, the type of parade Trump desires goes against American tradition. The military has never been venerated in this way in the US, not least because they are not a separate branch of government, but rather subservient to it. Nor have the armed forces ever requested such pomp and circumstance. President Eisenhower, the last American military president, saw such parades as a show of weakness when asked if the US should hold them in response to Soviet ones during the Cold War.
Instead, the US honors the military with two holidays already on the calendar: Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. This country can scarcely be accused of not acknowledging their armed forces enough: they are always featured at sporting games and other major events and given preferential treatment at many venues. No other civil servant aside from soldiers is ever thanked for their service.
So Why Do We Need Another Military Celebration?
Trump’s idea was met with some sensible support. NPR interviewed several people working for veterans groups who saw some value in the idea. John Hoellwarth of AMVETS, a veterans’ advocacy group, believes Trump’s plan might be a good way to boost declining military recruitment numbers. Joe Davis, of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, supports a parade if it were to celebrate the centennial of the end of World War I (and in line with past tradition.)
Most politicians and military members, however, saw no tangible benefit to a parade, including Robert O’Neill, the man who claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden:
A military parade is third world bullshit. We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation.
Trump’s idea has also received complaints from local and federal officials, and several Democratic lawmakers on the Hill have made moves to ensure the parade gains no traction.
On Trump’s Hollow Respect For The Military
Much has been made of Trump’s deference for generals. He has repeatedly gushed over how much he respects them and appointed several to his cabinet. A repeated draft dodger himself, the spoiled billionaire made a strange bedfellow for military men, but appointments like Generals Mattis and Kelly were initially taken as a signal of stability amidst the other hopelessly inadequate staffing choices.
However, his treatment of the families of the armed forces indicates his professed respect is a facade. On the campaign trail, he openly mocked the family of Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in action during the Iraq War. As President, he further traumatized Myeshia Johnson, the widow of U.S. Army Sergeant La David Johnson during a bereavement call then openly criticized her reaction to his insensitive tone. And, of course, there’s his continued disrespect of decorated veteran Senator John McCain.
Nor is his treatment of American troops any better. In July 2017, Trump attempted to ban transgender recruits from joining the armed forces and remove current transgender military members, an action that has since been blocked by two judges. In the second ruling, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis wrote that the President’s directive would not only harm future transgender military members if enacted but that the policy was already harming active duty transgender soldiers as well.
As Commander-in-Chief, he has yet to visit active combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan. Such visits are crucial for boosting troop morale, especially after more than 16 years of war. After repeatedly criticizing President Obama’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, Trump has yet to communicate a coherent strategy to end these current wars and bring these troops home to their families. His support for veterans is also in name only; his administration aimed to cut funding for homeless veterans programs, but has since backed off.
The Military Needs A Lot Of Things — A Parade Is Not One Of Them
Mr. Hoellwarth is right to worry about the military’s declining recruitment numbers. With the economy still riding its Obama-fueled spurt, demand for military jobs will not be high for some years. Moreover, the armed forces will increasingly find it difficult to compete for the most skilled workers with the likes of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and other high-end industries. However, it is very arguable whether a parade will move the needle much; $92 million could finance a much more effective recruitment campaign, for example.
The US top military brass are facing a host of other critical issues. The Department of Defense must confront major obstacles: increasing nuclear deterrence in the face of North Korean aggression, beefing up cybersecurity defenses, upgrading major hardware and infrastructure, addressing troop training lapses, and dealing with non-deployable units, to name a few. Sexual assault within the ranks of the armed forces is also still rampant and remains largely unaddressed.
To say nothing of the many issues faced by America’s veterans and their families. Veterans comprise about 10% of America’s homeless population (about 40,000 at any one time) and 20% of its suicide victims. The trauma soldiers bring back from serving their country can often create many difficulties in leading a normal life. While services are afforded to them in theory, this often involves waiting in enormous backlogs as a result of bureaucratic and technological inefficiency.
Instead of spending time on any of these issues, the Pentagon must instead devote time and energy to placate President Trump’s senseless whims.
Let’s Be Clear: This Parade Is About Nothing But Trump
Trump’s parade poses no tangible benefit to this country in general, nor its armed forces in particular. It goes against military tradition, does not make the US safer, nor help the military address core issues. In short, this is a $92 million waste of money from the man who promised to “drain the swamp” of government excess.
The only person to gain from this is Trump himself. A parade putting the military on display is, by extension, a veneration of their leader, the Commander-in-Chief. This is what Trump wants: to be praised, despot-style.
This is not an unfamiliar sentiment. As mentioned previously, Soviet leaders put on grand military parades to show off their might and boost nationalistic sentiment. It is a tradition countries like North Korea carry to this day. It is a tradition Trump wants to replicate because that is the type of leader he aspires to be.
President Eisenhower recognized the folly of such parades sixty years ago. He recognized that the true power of the United States lies not necessarily in its military might but in its democratic institutions. He was proved right. After all, it was those very institutions, and not military force, that defeated Communism.
Ah, how reasonable Republicans used to be, back when they weren’t bowing to bigots.