Trump Might Not Be Giving Us A Parade We Want, But It’s The One We Deserve

Opinion
Members of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing stand at parade rest during a special retreat ceremony at Bagram Airfield, May 19, 2107.
Air Force photo by Capt. Keenan Kunst

Desert Storm was one of the most lopsided conflicts in modern history. For several weeks in the spring of 1991, an American-led coalition of 32 countries pummeled the military of Saddam Hussein as it retreated from Kuwait into the heart of Iraq. Casualty estimates vary widely, but it’s safe to say that tens of thousands of Iraqis — soldiers and civilians — were killed in the offensive. Coalition ground forces stopped short of Baghdad. Commanders theorized (correctly) that taking out Saddam would plunge the country into a civil war. In the years that followed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis perished as a result of malnutrition, preventable diseases, and other causes attributable to the international sanctions that the United States advocated for to punish Saddam. We obliterated Iraq. Mission accomplished.


Every war has a unique set of stakes and challenges. What it takes to win one is not the same as what’s required to win another. That’s obvious. So is the fact that to win anything — a war, a sports match, a video game — there needs to be a clear objective. What had qualified as a victory for the coalition in Desert Storm was fairly straightforward: Drive Saddam’s army out of Kuwait. Every evening, millions of Americans, my 7-year-old self included, gathered in front of our televisions and watched our troops carry out that mission with awesome efficiency. The ground campaign was over within 100 hours. And when our troops returned home, we flooded the streets of New York City and Washington and celebrated their return. Of course we did. The fact that the operation was far more devastating for the Iraqi people than Saddam’s regime didn’t matter. We were the winning team and winners get to party.   

So then why, 27 years later, would President Donald Trump order the military to stage another parade through the nation’s capital — but this time in the midst of a conflict that America hasn’t won? Your guess is as good as mine. Competing theories abound. But here’s a question that everyone, including those who find the president’s order appalling, can help answer: Why hasn’t this country held a national military parade since 1991?

The youngest person who could have served with the U.S. military in the opening phase of the War on Terror would now be somewhere around 35 years old. The closest he or she has ever come to experiencing a big victory moment occurred on May 1, 2003, when President George W. Bush stood aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln under a banner emblazoned with the words “Mission Accomplished.” However, this time, there were no ticker tape parades in New York and Washington for the troops who crushed Saddam. Same goes for those who fought in the battles in Fallujah, and Sadr City, and Ramadi, and Marjah, and all of the other engagements the military has chalked up as “wins” over the years. Did those victories deserve to be celebrated? By the service members who participated in them, sure. But by the rest of us? That, it seems, would require something that our troops have not yet accomplished: a victory that all of us can call our own.

Soliders pay their final respects to two fallen Marines and a Navy Corpsman at Forward Operating Base Morales-Fraizer.Marine Corps photo

Commentators have been quick to point out that dictators and despots are fond of national military parades. However, that doesn’t mean that such parades are quintessentially un-American — and I don’t say that simply because we’ve conducted quite a few of them ourselves. For 17 years, we have leaned on our military with increasing pressure to pursue complex foreign policy objectives on multiple fronts around the world. To millions of people beyond our borders, America epitomizes the militant society we are pretending not to be when we gasp at the thought of Trump putting that dark little secret on a pedestal. At the very least, a multi-million dollar procession of tanks, fighter jets, and missile launchers rumbling through our nation’s capital might remind us that for nearly two decades those very same tools of death have been regular — and extremely destructive — fixtures in the countries where our troops are still fighting on our behalf.

Do I find the idea of forcing service members to perform a charade that will cost a lot of time, money, and resources and ultimately do nothing to make our country stronger or more safe repulsive? Yes, I do. But lest we forget, we’ve been treating them that way since 2001. We’ve sent them into battle after battle in a growing list of countries without a logical explanation for why they’re killing people, and why their buddies are dying, and why they’re getting their legs blown off. Until we come up with a clear definition of success — say, a hill to conquer or an army to vanquish — it’s just war for the sake of war. That’s a dog and pony show. Soldiers don’t go to war. Countries do. Trump might not be giving us a parade we want, but it’s certainly one we deserve.

I imagine that most of the soldiers who’ll participate in the parade are too young to have served in those battles I mentioned, which is probably a good thing. Few hearts would swell with national pride at the sight of a bunch of old mutts and hobbled clydesdales trudging down Pennsylvania Avenue. And, really, this isn’t about them. It’s about the people in the crowd and the big whigs in the viewing stands. They’re not there to hear war stories or listen to more complaints about the VA. They just want to see the troops march, and march, and march.

WATCH NEXT:

U.S. Army Astronaut Lt. Col. Anne McClain is captured in this photo during a media opportunity while serving as backup crew for NASA Expedition 56 to the International Space Station May, 2018, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. (NASA photo)

NASA is reportedly investigating one of its astronauts in a case that appears to involve the first allegations of criminal activity from space.

Read More Show Less
New York National Guard Soldiers and Airmen of the 24th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (CST) and 106th Rescue Wing prepare to identify and classify several hazardous chemical and biological materials during a collective training event at the Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility, New York, May 2, 2018. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Harley Jelis)

The Department of Homeland Security stored sensitive data from the nation's bioterrorism defense program on an insecure website where it was vulnerable to attacks by hackers for over a decade, according to government documents reviewed by The Los Angeles Times.

The data included the locations of at least some BioWatch air samplers, which are installed at subway stations and other public locations in more than 30 U.S. cities and are designed to detect anthrax or other airborne biological weapons, Homeland Security officials confirmed. It also included the results of tests for possible pathogens, a list of biological agents that could be detected and response plans that would be put in place in the event of an attack.

The information — housed on a dot-org website run by a private contractor — has been moved behind a secure federal government firewall, and the website was shut down in May. But Homeland Security officials acknowledge they do not know whether hackers ever gained access to the data.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Marine with Task Force Southwest observes Afghan National Army (ANA) 215th Corps soldiers move to the rally point to begin their training during a live-fire range at Camp Shorabak. (U.S. Marine Corps/Sgt. Luke Hoogendam)

By law, the United States is required to promote "human rights and fundamental freedoms" when it trains foreign militaries. So it makes sense that if the U.S. government is going to spend billions on foreign security assistance every year, it should probably systematically track whether that human rights training is actually having an impact or not, right?

Apparently not. According to a new audit from the Government Accountability Office, both the Departments of Defense and State "have not assessed the effectiveness of human rights training for foreign security forces" — and while the Pentagon agreed to establish a process to do so, State simply can't be bothered.

Read More Show Less
The Topeka Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Public domain)

The Kansas City VA Medical Center is still dealing with the fallout of a violent confrontation last year between one of its police officers and a patient, with the Kansas City Police Department launching a homicide investigation.

And now Topeka's VA hospital is dealing with an internal dispute between leaders of its Veterans Affairs police force that raises new questions about how the agency nationwide treats patients — and the officers who report misconduct by colleagues.

Read More Show Less
Jeannine Willard (Valencia County Detention Center)

A New Mexico woman was charged Friday in the robbery and homicide of a Marine Corps veteran from Belen late last month after allegedly watching her boyfriend kill the man and torch his car to hide evidence.

Read More Show Less