In contrast to celebrations that are held to welcome home troops or celebrate the successful end of a war, the parade idea that the Pentagon confirmed this morning would be a show of military might.
The Washington Post, which broke news of the preparations Tuesday, quoted an official as saying Trump called for the parade with memories of Bastille Day, which he observed last year in a visit with French President Emmanuel Macron, in mind.
“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” an anonymous official told the Post.
And while military celebrations are not unheard of here, University of Tennessee professor Daniel Feller could not recall any instance where one was held outside the context of a war victory.
“To hold a big official military parade without any particular reason for it – not to celebrate a victory or commemorate an event but simply to glorify military might – is, to my knowledge, unprecedented in American history,” Feller, a historian of the Jackson presidency and the 19th century, said in an email.
News of Trump’s parade plans also fell flat with a group that advocates for military families.
“Service members and their families deal with a lot of stress and uncertainty, Besa Pinchotti, a spokeswoman for the National Military Family Association, said in an email. “Of course NFMA believes highlighting their sacrifice is important. But what military families would rather see is budget action that would give our military the resources and training they need to defend our nation. That would be a true show of military might.”
For Pinchotti, “asking military families who are fighting to protect us, to stop everything and plan their own party is just plain wrong.”
Though displays of military prowess like the one Trump is organizing have been more common in countries Russia and North Korea, America did hold a two-day celebration after the Civil War and another parade in New York at the close of World War II to celebrate the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
President George H.W. Bush was in the White House when America held its last military parade in 1991. Celebrating a victory in the Persian Gulf War at the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm, the parade ran down Constitution Avenue in Washington.
Prior to that, both Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy featured military equipment in their inauguration parades.
Pentagon emails released to the Huffington Post through the Freedom of Information Act confirmed that Trump also inquired about including military vehicles in his inaugural parade, sparking alarm from military officials.
Though the White House decided instead to incorporate flyovers from fighter aircraft, this too was shelved because of poor weather conditions.
The Post said Trump broached the subject again during a Jan. 18 meeting with top generals at the Pentagon, but a representative for the Defense Department offered little insight Wednesday to what Trump has planned.
“We are aware of the request and are in the process of determining specific details,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We will share more information throughout the planning process.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also confirmed the president’s request after the Post broke the story.
“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” Sanders said in a statement. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spoke about the parade as well at a White House briefing this afternoon.
“I think we’re all aware, in this country, of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” Mattis said. “We’ve been putting together some options. We’ll send them up to the White House for a decision.”