George Boardman: Trump’s parade of our military might is only limited by the imagination
Observations from the center stripe: Post-Oscar edition
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Donald Trump, who went to great lengths to avoid military service during the Vietnam War, has become a big fan of our military services since becoming president.
Now, he wants to honor them by throwing a big parade.
Trump got the idea last summer when he was guest of honor at the Bastille Day parade in Paris during his visit to France. He was impressed with the pageantry of the event — if France is good at anything, it’s pageantry — and suggested the U.S. may try to one-up its ally.
(Left unsaid was that while the French can put on a flashy display, the results they get on the battle field have been less than satisfactory since Napoleon was handed his hat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. That’s a long slump for anybody.)
The cost of staging a parade in Washington, D.C. — maybe on the Fourth of July, maybe on Veterans Day — has been estimated at $10 million to $30 million.
The idea was met with almost immediate ridicule by his political opponents. Rep. Jackie Speier, who used to represent my interests in Congress, proclaimed: “We have a new Napoleon in the making.” Others were equally unkind.
But this country does have a long history of military parades, just not recently. Such parades were common in the early days of the country and perhaps the biggest one ever staged in the country occurred in 1865, when 200,000 Union soldiers marched through Washington, D.C., to celebrate the end of the Civil War.
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy — both vets — had military parades to mark their inaugurations, but the practice was stopped during the years of the anti-Vietnam War protests. The last parade held in Washington was to mark the end of the Gulf War in Iraq in 1991.
Details on Trump’s involvement have yet to be worked out. Would he take in the parade from a reviewing stand with his closest sycophants at his side, in the manner of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin at the annual May Day parades?
Kremlinologists would carefully study who was on the reviewing stand with Stalin and how close they stood to Uncle Joe to determine who was in and out of favor with the dictator. (Being “out of favor” was not conducive to longevity in those days.) Given Trump’s mercurial nature, such a setup would be useful in determining who’s currently on his good side in the White House.
But Trump tends to be the kind of guy who wants to be in the middle of the action, particularly when everybody would be looking at him. He may want to adopt the custom of leaders of numerous African dictatorships and Latin America banana republics and ride in the parade. His good friend, China President Xi Jinping, has done so in the recent past, and is about to become China’s leader for life. (Trump has suggested that a consolidation of power might not be a bad thing for this country. You don’t suppose…)
If Trump were to ride in the parade, we would have to address the issue of what he would wear. There is no formal uniform for the commander-in-chief and the typical baseball cap and jacket most presidents wear at military events probably wouldn’t do — certainly not for somebody as theatrical as Cadet Bonespurs.
He may want to look to former Libya strongman Muammar Gaddafi for inspiration. While he liked to refer to himself as “colonel,” the only military action he engaged in was the coup that overthrew King Idris. But that didn’t stop the self-proclaimed “Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution” from creating a series of elaborate military outfits festooned with medals.
Medals could be a problem for somebody who has no military service, and the Pentagon is slow to come up with new ones. The last such attempt was 2013, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, created the Distinguished Warfare Medal to recognize military achievement in cyber warfare or combat drone operations. This was quickly ridiculed as the “Nintendo Medal” and ditched. Maybe we can revive the award and rename it the Twitter medal for the president.
Just to enhance the image, Trump may want to dress the uniformed guard contingent of the Secret Service in special outfits for the occasion. As luck would have it, there’s precedent for this. Richard Nixon decided to dress the White House guards in special uniforms, but they ended up looking like extras in some schmaltzy Victor Herbert production like “Babes in Toyland.” The White House abandoned the idea and sold the uniforms to a high school marching band.
Trump may also like to have his own personal cheerleading brigade, much like Kim Jong Un’s “army of beauties” who were a big hit at the Winter Olympics. The Donald would probably want his cheerleaders to have more of a Vegas showgirl look. Maybe Stormy Daniels could help him assemble such a group, although they may be on the outs now that she’s suing him.
Your imagination can run wild when you envision the possibilities for such an event.
What you don’t have to imagine is the reaction of soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors who would have to give up a day off to march in such a parade.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at email@example.com.
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