After observing France’s Bastille Day Parade, President Donald Trump started musing about doing the same thing in the United States, only bigger and better.

Now both the White House and Pentagon acknowledge that they’re working on making it a reality. It would, of course, be a tremendous waste of money, but that’s not our chief concern. It’s that such a display sends the wrong message to Americans and to the world about what the United States stands for.

The Bastille Day parade in Paris is a tradition dating back to the 19th century that was cemented in the national culture as a commemoration of the French victories in the two world wars.

But mainly, such events have come to be associated with despots, dictators and totalitarian regimes. Military parades were a staple of the Nazi regime, and the spectacle of tanks and missile launchers rolling through Red Square is a defining image of the Cold War. Such events have taken on a newly ominous tone under the nationalistic and expansionist leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump has said he wants such a parade to display the dominance of American military muscle. That’s generally been the motivation of dictators like North Korea’s Kim dynasty, and more often than not, the shows have been an exercise in Potemkin fakery and over-compensation. Those who really do have unparalleled military might don’t have to put it on display. On the contrary, those who make a show of military parades often believe the key to maintaining power is through fear, intimidation and shows of force.

It is not totally unprecedented for the military to march through Washington, D.C.; such an event took place during George H.W. Bush’s presidency after the first Gulf War. And an American military parade has become mixed with presidential politics from time to time. Troops have marched in a handful of inaugural parades in modern times — mainly during the early days of the Cold War, including in Dwight Eisenhower’s first inaugural parade in 1953.

But Eisenhower, the supreme allied commander in World War II, was the president who warned America in his farewell address of the necessity for maintaining a strong military but also the dangers of allowing it to dominate the nation’s government, economic and spiritual life.

We celebrate those who have served in the armed forces, no question. But it is not their strength we venerate but their willingness to sacrifice to safeguard those principles we hold so dear.

Our national holiday is the Fourth of July, Independence Day. It is not the day our war to free ourselves from England began nor the day of our victory. On the contrary, it is the day when we declared our belief in our inalienable rights to freedom and self determination. That is what makes America a beacon to the world. Sending tanks down the streets of the capital to flaunt or might does not.

Editorial by The Baltimore Sun

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