U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported plans to hold a wide-scale military parade in the fall have ignited fierce controversy, with some activists announcing that they would disrupt the demonstration by lying down before oncoming tanks. The Trump administration has pitched the parade as a celebration of the U.S. military, while critics believe that the president wants to use servicepeople to celebrate himself.
On Feb. 6, several U.S. military officials who requested anonymity disclosed that during a meeting on Jan. 18, Trump had ordered the Pentagon to mount a military parade. Trump reportedly was inspired by the Bastille Day parade that he personally witnessed during his diplomatic trip to France in July 2017.
“The marching orders were: ‘I want a parade like the one in France,'” one military official said. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the directive, stating: “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members … He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
On Feb. 8, Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said that the potential parade was still in the planning stages and might not be held in Washington, D.C. The Department of Defense has reportedly floated the idea of staging the event on Nov. 11 to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
“There are options and we will explore those and the president will ultimately decide,” White told Reuters.
Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters: “We have been putting together some options; we will send them up to the White House for decision.”
The last time that the U.S. held a national military parade was in 1991, when former U.S. President George H.W. Bush welcomed home American soldiers returning from the Persian Gulf War.
Democratic lawmakers blasted Trump’s idea, while Republicans offered a mixed reaction.
The ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, released a statement noting that previous military parades were only held after the conclusions of major U.S. wars.
“A military parade like this — one that is unduly focused on a single person — is what authoritarian regimes do, not democracies,” Smith said, according to The New York Times.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told CNN: “I believe that spending millions, maybe more, on the president’s amusement is a colossal waste of funds that should be spent to make sure our troops are ready for battle and come home safely, their families receive all the support they deserve and that the waiting lines at VA facilities be reduced.”
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a veteran of the Air Force, said that he was open to a parade on the condition that it was explicitly about honoring service members.
“I think a parade showcasing our military and the sacrifices they make to our country would be appropriate as a way to say thank you,” Graham said. “But I am not interested in a military hardware display that would be cheesy and project weakness.”
GOP Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi suggested: “If it would save money not to do it, we probably ought to look at that.”
Activist Arn Menconi, who unsuccessfully ran as a Green Party candidate in the 2016 Colorado Senate race, announced on social media that he was seeking volunteers to join him in disrupting the parade route, The Wrap reported.
“We would go to Washington, D.C., if such a crazy and insane act occurred and we would lay down in front of the tanks, just like the heroes and the courageous students did in China in 1989,” Menconi said, referring to the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing.
On Feb. 7, Politico contributor Matt Latimer, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, asserted that Trump’s parade order was a clever political maneuver and that critics’ opposition would backfire.
“The president is overtly tying his administration to the most popular institution in our nation — perhaps the only popular institution left — the United States military,” Latimer wrote. “More to the point, he’s daring Democrats, and their allies in the media, to stand apart and oppose it … All in all, it’s a pretty clever trap.”
Latimer predicted that the parade would provide Trump with “hours of free airtime while men and women in uniform visibly salute him.”
On Feb. 8, former U.S. Navy SEAL Robert J. O’Neill, who has said he personally killed Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden during a 2011 raid, took to social media to slam the parade plans, The Hill reported.
“A military parade is third world bulls**t,” O’Neill tweeted. “We prepare. We deter. We fight. Stop this conversation.”
Retired U.S. Major Gen. Paul Eaton offered a scathing condemnation of the potential military parade in a statement released through VoteVets.
“The military is not Donald Trump’s to use and abuse in this way,” Eaton said. “Our military is the very best in the world — they are not to be reduced to stagecraft to prop up Donald Trump’s image. Any commander in chief who respects the traditions of the military would understand that.”
Eaton asserted that the parade “isn’t about saluting the military — it is about making a display of the military saluting [Trump].”
Sources: CNN, The Hill, The New York Times, Politico, Reuters, VoteVets/Twitter, The Washington Post, The Wrap / Featured Image: James N. Mattis/Flickr / Embedded Images: IIP Photo Archive/Flickr, David Valdez/Wikimedia Commons