I've been a reporter in countries that hold military parades. There seems to be a formula, whether it's in the old Soviet Union, Ethiopia under the dictator Mengistu, Cuba under any Castro or China and North Korea today.
Immense, menacing missiles roll by. Mammoth tanks with heavy treads shake the streets. Thousands of soldiers march in synchronized step to laud and salute a dear leader.
The parades proclaim military might. But I always got the impression they were mostly meant to intimidate their own people: to remind citizens that if they challenged their government, they'd be turned back with fire and steel.
Planning has already begun for the United States to have a military parade by order of President Trump, who was impressed by the annual Bastille Day parade he saw last year in France.
"We're going to have to try to top it," he told reporters. But does the president really want a military parade like the one in Paris?
It's the annual celebration of a nation that was shattered by the humiliating surrender of the French army to Nazi Germany after just six weeks in 1940. General de Gaulle restored the parade in 1945, to renew pride in the French military. But he included soldiers from Britain, Canada and the U.S., to recognize how they risked their lives to win France's freedom. And today soldiers from all nations of the European Union — including Germany — march in the Bastille Day parade, as do units from France's former colonies. The parade is a show of unity and respect, more than sheer power.
If the president really wants to see a U.S. military parade roll down Pennsylvania Avenue, why not leave missiles in their silos, and tanks on their staging grounds, and ask veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Vietnam and Korea, to march? Some might limp. Some will be in wheelchairs. But they will finally receive some of the acclaim and thanks they deserve. Their march might remind us of the costs we ask them to bear, during and after a conflict.
Some other marchers might include the soldiers who protect the United States from attack with codes and keystrokes; support personnel — mechanics, drivers, clerks, cooks — who make up most of the armed forces, but are rarely glorified in films; or nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and medics who try to put healing hands on the wounds of war. All of those brave soldiers would make an inspiring parade.
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