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Trump Wants Pentagon To Stage Military Parade Down Pennsylvania Avenue

Feb 7, 2018
Originally published on February 7, 2018 7:30 pm

Updated at 4 p.m. ET

President Trump, apparently inspired by the Bastille Day parade he witnessed last summer during a trip to Paris, has asked the Pentagon to look into staging something similar — but naturally bigger and better — for Washington, D.C., the White House confirmed Tuesday.

A U.S. official confirmed the request to NPR. On Tuesday evening, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders shared in a statement that "President Trump is incredibly supportive of America's great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe." She added, "He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation."

On Wednesday at the White House briefing, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis addressed the president's request for a military parade:

"I think we are all aware in this country of the president's affection and respect for the military. We've been putting together some options. We'll send them to the White House for a decision."

U.S. presidents have long shied away from such displays of military prowess — which typically include tanks, missiles and, in some cases, goose-stepping soldiers — for fear of being compared to Washington's Cold War adversaries, where such displays have traditionally been potent symbols of state power. Those countries include Russia (and, formerly, the Soviet Union), China and North Korea.

"To have a military parade without the end of a war or an inaugural or some big reason in Washington, D.C., that is out of our tradition," presidential historian Michael Beschloss told NPR.

Beschloss points to the 1950s, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev presided over large military parades showing off the latest in Soviet military might. Beschloss says some in the White House approached Eisenhower, himself a decorated military general, suggesting the U.S. do the same, to show off American might.

"Eisenhower said absolutely not, we are the pre-eminent power on Earth," Beschloss says, recalling Eisenhower's response. "For us to try to imitate what the Soviets are doing in Red Square would make us look weak."

While the U.S. puts on various annual July 4 and Veterans Day parades, as The Associated Press notes, those typically do not include such "gaudy displays of military hardware."

The parade takes shape

The president's wish, first expressed months ago, seems to have gone from a "seemingly abstract desire" to something closer to a presidential directive at a meeting between Trump and top generals last month, according to The Washington Post.

At the Jan. 18 meeting at the Pentagon that included Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., "The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France," a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity was quoted by the Post as saying. "This is being worked at the highest levels of the military."

Back in September, at the start of a bilateral meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, Trump praised the Bastille Day parade and said he was hoping "to do something like that on July 4 in Washington, down Pennsylvania Avenue."

Trump added, "We're going to have to try and top it," explaining that one of his earliest calls upon returning from France last July was to get the wheels turning on an American version, "having a really great parade to show our military strength."

"I'm speaking with Gen. Kelly and with all of the people involved, and we'll see if we can do it this year," Trump said.

Although Trump talked about July 4, a date for such a parade has reportedly not been determined and the Pentagon prefers Veterans Day in November, according to the Post. The location also has yet to be decided, but the newspaper says the president wants it to proceed along Pennsylvania Avenue, a route that would send it past the White House, the Capitol and the Trump International Hotel.

Not without precedent

The last U.S. military parade, in 1991, celebrated victory in the Gulf War. Some 8,800 veterans of Desert Storm, led by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, marched down Constitution Avenue in Washington. Street lights were removed along the parade route to make it easier for tanks to maneuver. At least 200,000 people gathered to watch.

Both of Eisenhower's inaugural parades and the parade for John F. Kennedy included missiles and other military hardware, a practice that has fallen out of fashion.

Trump's request has already drawn criticism — especially on Twitter — from people voicing concerns about how much the parade will cost, the message the parade will send and what it says about the president's priorities.

Others support Trump's request, saying that a military parade is a great way to honor service men and women.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump wants a military parade. He wants a show of might in the middle of Washington, D.C. Big showy parades with tanks and missiles are more commonly associated with Russia, North Korea and China. But the White House insists if one happens here, the goal will be to honor U.S. troops. In a moment, we'll have reaction to this from veterans. First, here's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

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TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: During the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris, President Trump sat next to French President Emmanuel Macron as jets flew overhead and heavy military equipment, troops and marching bands passed by. It was, Trump said, one of the greatest parades he had ever seen.

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KEITH: Even two months later, he was still talking about it when he met with Macron in New York.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: To a large extent, because of what I witnessed, we made do something like that on July 4 in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue.

(LAUGHTER)

TRUMP: I don't know. We're going to have to try and top it.

KEITH: People in the room laughed. But it turns out, Trump wasn't kidding.

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TRUMP: I came back, and one of my early calls were, I think we're going to have to start looking at that ourselves.

KEITH: Planning remains in the early stages. It's still not clear when it would happen, what military hardware would actually be part of it or how much it would all cost.

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JIM MATTIS: We've been putting together some options. We'll send them up to the White House for a decision.

KEITH: That's Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis speaking today in the White House briefing.

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MATTIS: The president's respect, his fondness for the military, I think, is reflected in him asking for these options.

KEITH: Trump, who attended a military academy growing up, got multiple deferments during the Vietnam War and didn't serve. But as a candidate and now as president, he has wrapped himself in the military, pushing for more funding and talking about the troops and veterans with great reverence. He frequently refers to military leaders and aides with military backgrounds as, quote, "my generals." If such a parade were to happen, it would be the first since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: During the inaugural parades for Harry Truman all the way to John Kennedy, you had tanks, you had Pershing and Nike missiles and things like this. And at the end of many of our wars - Civil War, World War I and II, Gulf War - you would have parades in Washington and sometimes in New York. But to have a parade like this in Washington without an event like that, that's a little bit outside our tradition.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Korean).

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KEITH: It is more in the tradition of countries like North Korea, which held a parade showing off its newest ballistic missile in April. In the 1950s, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev presided over large military parades flaunting the latest in Soviet military might. Beschloss says that prompted White House aides to go to President Eisenhower, himself a decorated former general, and suggest perhaps the U.S. should do the same.

BESCHLOSS: Eisenhower said absolutely not. We, the United States, are seeking peace. We are the preeminent power on Earth. For us to try to imitate what the Soviets are doing in Red Square would make us look weak.

KEITH: And there's another concern, one that Beschloss says Eisenhower was acutely aware of - the risk that in glorifying the military, it slips into glorification of the president in his role as commander in chief. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.