President reportedly seeks parade in model of France’s Bastille Day celebration, prompting one veterans group to call him ‘a wannabe banana republic strongman’
David Smith in Washington
Donald Trump has ordered the Pentagon to plan a military parade that would see soldiers marching and tanks rolling down the streets of Washington, it was reported on Tuesday.
The move was instantly criticised, with one veterans’ group comparing the president to “a wannabe banana republic strongman”.
Trump is seeking a grand parade similar to the Bastille Day celebration in Paris, according to the Washington Post. He outlined the plan at a meeting at the Pentagon on 18 January that included defense secretary Jim Mattis and joint chiefs of staff chairman General Joseph Dunford, the paper said, citing an unnamed military official.
“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the official told the Post. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”
The White House confirmed that an event is in the works, though it did not offer further details. “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
Trump, who did not serve in the Vietnam war after receiving five draft deferments, has long spoken of his admiration for tough military figures such as General George Patton and frequently makes reference to “my generals”.
The president was deeply impressed by a parade in Paris on 14 July last year. American and French soldiers marched together on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees to mark the centenary of America’s entry into the first world war and France’s annual Bastille Day holiday. It included tanks, armoured vehicles and a flyover of US and French military jets.
Trump told reporters in September: “To a large extent because of what I witnessed, we may do something like that on the Fourth of July in Washington down Pennsylvania Avenue. We’re actually looking into it.”
But not for the first time in Trump’s short political career, such a display is likely to prove divisive. On Tuesday retired general Paul Eaton, senior adviser to VoteVets, a progressive political action committee for military veterans, said: “Donald Trump has continually shown himself to have authoritarian tendencies, and this is just another worrisome example.”
In the past, Eaton noted, Trump has praised the tactics of autocrats such as Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin. He added: “Unfortunately, we do have a commander in chief right now as much as have a wannabe banana republic strongman.”
Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer for George W Bush, tweeted: “Cool. Just like in North Korea and Russia. But what do we do about those traitors who don’t clap during our Dear Leader’s speech?” – a reference to Trump’s criticism of Democrats who did not applaud during his state of the union address.
And journalist Joy Reid wrote on Twitter: “Oh my god … he wants to be Kim Jong Un.”
A date for the event has not yet been chosen. Options include Memorial Day on 28 May, Independence Day on 4 July and Veterans Day on 11 November, which would coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the first world war. If the route includes Pennsylvania Avenue, it would pass by Trump’s controversial hotel.
But the Post added: “The cost of shipping Abrams tanks and high-tech hardware to Washington could run in the millions, and military officials said it was unclear how they would pay for it.”
Thomas Crosson, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said: “We are aware of the request and are in the process of determining specific details. We will share more information throughout the planning process.”