Sainati: The U.S. doesn’t need a military parade

Leo Sainati, Assistant Opinion Editor

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After witnessing the Bastille Day parade in France last year, President Donald Trump said he wanted to bring the festivities, notably the excessive displays of military power, to the United States. Remarking that the parade “was military might,” Trump declared that “we’re going to have to try and top it.” While Trump was not trying to replicate France’s national holiday, a celebration of democracy and citizens’ rights, he did surely seem more interested in displays of military strength, which are characteristic of dictatorships and not democracies. Whether or not Trump truly wants a full-scale military parade or whether it will even happen, his attraction to it and the underlying messages nonetheless merit attention.

Parading military strength to the world stems from the need to assert a country’s dominance and power to its citizens, allies and enemies. Eliot A. Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies program at John Hopkins University, writes that “military parades with lots of hardware appeal to countries that have something to prove. For Israel in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was that the tiny state had the muscle to survive; for France in the late 19th and 20th centuries that defeat and ruinous victory had not dimmed her martial prowess … ” A parade in the U.S. seems out of place — what do we have to prove?

Under pressure from a rapidly developing China and an aggressive North Korea, it is understandable that Trump may want to assert dominance, but it would send a message contradictory to US foreign policy goals. The U.S. has built its role as a global superpower through economic clout and the ability to provide economic and military security. Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes that our military power and ability to maintain open trade routes are essential to a stable international order. Kagan’s claim is not a unique one, but it highlights an important point that U.S. military superiority is already ingrained in the current world order, and we don’t need a parade to go about touting this. A hegemonic U.S. is essential to maintain a stable order of liberal trade. A military parade will diminish the U.S.’s image to a country constantly reaching for global influence, and would be counterproductive to its ability to act as a global power.

Military parades can be held to honor troops, but this is also flawed. The parade’s superficial role as an event to portray a certain national image would undermine an authentic appreciation of service. As Cohen articulates, “parades say more about those who order and watch them, than those who participate in them.”

Ultimately, Trump’s desire for a military parade is representative of a larger problem. From exaggerating his own inauguration crowd size to taking credit for an already upwardly destined economy, his presidency has consistently demonstrated a need to prove. Whether Trump feels the need to stave off China’s rise to dominance or to counter North Korea’s threats, a military parade is far less effective than a simple acknowledgment of the U.S.’s role in the global economy. Trump certainly seems to favor the ostentatious, but in this case the subtle is much more powerful.

Leo Sainati is a SESP freshman. He can be contacted at If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.