Trump Wants a Military Parade. But Not Everyone Is in Step.

President Trump’s dream of a military parade in Washington is on hold, for now. But military parades come loaded with history — yes, they can be celebrations, but they’re also used by dictators to strike fear into civilians.

WASHINGTON — Tanks, jets and other killing machines painted olive-drab and tan could be rolling the routes of the nation’s capital later this year for a peacetime parade inspired by President Trump.

The Pentagon is in the planning stages for an event that was last held in Washington in the summer of 1991, after the end of the roughly 41-day gulf war was celebrated with a $12 million dollar victory parade. But on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis avoided the word “parade” when tersely responding to reporters at the White House who asked about the possible show of force.

“We’re all aware in this country of the president’s affection and respect for the military,” Mr. Mattis said. “We have been putting together some options, we will send them up to the White House for decision.”

With the Pentagon plagued with readiness and budget issues, a massive display of military spectacle won’t come cheap or easily. It also very likely runs contrary to Mr. Mattis’s priorities.

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Credit...Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

The Washington Post first reported the Pentagon’s planning for a parade on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump and his advisers first floated the idea of a parade of military convoys through Washington soon after he was elected. The committee planning his inaugural ceremony reportedly explored, but rejected, the idea of highlighting military equipment in the traditional parade, from the Capitol to the White House, after Mr. Trump was sworn in.

The full potential and grandeur of a military a parade was on full display for Mr. Trump last July, when he watched — and by all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed — a Bastille Day celebration in Paris. Once he returned home, Mr. Trump said he told President Emmanuel Macron of France that he was considering the idea of a similar spectacle in the United States.

“I came back and one of my early calls were, ‘I think we are going to have to start looking at that ourselves,’” Mr. Trump recounted of his conversation with Mr. Macron months later, at the United Nations in September. “We are actually thinking about Fourth of July, Pennsylvania Avenue, having a really great parade to show our military strength.”

On Wednesday, few lawmakers — if any — said they loved the idea of Mr. Trump’s parade. Some shrugged it off. Others called it undemocratic. Many lamented the use of the military’s time and money.

“He’s the president of the United States,” Senator David Perdue, Republican of Georgia and an ally of Mr. Trump, told reporters at the Capitol. “Personally, I would prefer not to do it. But he’s the president.”

Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, noted that past military parades in the United States marked “major national events such as the gulf war or the end of World War II, as achievements by the American people who fought in and supported those efforts.”

“A military parade like this — one that is unduly focused on a single person — is what authoritarian regimes do, not democracies,” Mr. Smith said in a statement.

Military parades in the United States have traditionally followed the end of wars, such as the Civil War and the two World Wars as well as three presidential inaugurations during the Cold War. Small town festivities are also sometime replete with armored vehicles and their neighboring military units.

It is unclear, however, when the parade would take place and what exactly it would celebrate. Independence Day in Washington is wrought with its own medley of festivities; that makes Memorial Day and Veterans Day logical front-runners for the parade’s host holiday.

There have been few national celebrations for the decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of most American combat troops from Iraq in December 2011, St. Louis was the only major city that held a “Welcome Home” parade for Iraq veterans in the weeks that followed. Thousands of people lined the Missouri city’s streets for the procession of antiquated military vehicles, the Budweiser Clydesdales and much flag-waving.

Given the initial lackluster response to the president’s proposal, the plans for a military parade may well be shot down. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said he wasn’t averse to a parade, so long as it honored the military itself — the sacrifice of troops and service of all personnel.

“I’m not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That’s not who we are,” Mr. Graham told CNN. “It’s kind of cheesy. I think it shows weakness, quite frankly.”

Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, was just as blunt. “I think confidence is silent and insecurity is loud,” Mr. Kennedy told reporters. “America is the most powerful country in all of human history, everybody knows it, and we don’t need to show it off.”

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