I Oppose the Parade of the Grand Armies of the Republic

I Oppose the Parade of the Grand Armies of the Republic
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In recent days, news has emerged of potential plans for a military parade in the style of France’s annual Bastille Day défilé. Perhaps the spectacle of the French military parading through Paris inspired our Commander-in-Chief to investigate the possibility of a similar event here.

As an active duty officer in a sea command, I ask you, as my appointed leadership, to respectfully decline this request.

Our fleet faces a readiness crisis. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer has said that every readiness question must start with the mention of our 17 dead shipmates on the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and Fitzgerald (DDG-62), and this proposed movement of people, parts, and equipment must be considered through the same lens. Our reasons for rejecting this proposal fall into three categories: The fiscal, the material, and the philosophical.[1]

Fiscally, this undertaking will require hours of labor and planning, distracting staff personnel from their assigned duties in a time of war. Our ships at sea and our aircraft above them are carrying strike power to the enemy; this must be the focus of our fleet, whether on the sharp end of the spear in Bahrain, or as the whetstone in Washington or Millington. From the Pentagon to local commands, people will be diverted from the mission of manning, training, and equipping forces for combat to scrounging enough bodies to present a pretty picture on Pennsylvania Avenue.

For the past several years, the U.S. military has operated through sequestration and without a budget under continuing resolutions; the money to pay to move people and aircraft to Washington, D.C., likely will come from command budgets already stretched thin.

The second reason to oppose any suggestion of a parade is materiel. Although our fleet will be saved from having to move ships to Washington, it’s reasonable to assume that there will be a requirement for Navy aircraft in addition to personnel and other equipment. This at a time when fleet aircraft readiness is at an abhorrent low.[2]

To remove assets required for training in order to conduct a flyover is an irresponsible use of our country’s limited assets. Furthermore, our Marine Corps brothers and sisters suffer similar problems with aircraft readiness and would have the added burden of moving vehicles to Washington. Is moving a platoon of Abrams tanks to roll through D.C. really the best use of those assets?

The third reason to oppose this proposal is a matter of philosophy. We are the guardians of a free people; we are volunteer citizen-sailors who have willingly taken on the burden of defending our great nation. Our military already occupies a place of honor and trust.[3]

I have witnessed more than one Bastille Day parade. The parade, for all its pomp, is a “military appreciation” event for a French populace that consigns the Armeés to the margins. French military personnel do not give their names in media interviews from operational security concerns. Since World War II, the French people have seen their military capitulate to Germany, attempt a near-coup in Algeria, and police their own streets in full combat uniform. Although I love our great ally and her people, it is no wonder that the French government seeks to reassure les Français with a grand parade. In America, we should have no need of such a display, and long may it be so.

The flamboyant military parades of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China are better left to those nations who must remind their citizens of the sword ready to inflict wounds on a restless populace, not to the military of a free and independent people. How much better to live in a nation where parades are made of beauty queens, civic organizations, and high school marching bands? Those civilian representations of our freedom are guarded by a band of quiet professionals, the big stick that will march to the sound of the guns, not one that will trumpet its own accomplishments in the capital city.

Furthermore, our work is not complete. After 16 years of continuous war, our military is not in a place to ask for a ticker-tape parade or the glimmer of sunshine on bayonets through Washington. We have work still before us, and until our shipmates are home from Iraq and Afghanistan, we should humbly execute the mission we’ve been assigned.

I will obey the orders of the Commander-in-Chief and the orders of my seniors in accordance with the oath I swore. That includes participating in any parade ordered by our President. But I ask that Secretary Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson say no to any proposed parade. It is too expensive, too draining on our people and equipment, and unfitting of the military of a free people.

Lieutenant Commander Neptunius is an officer on active duty in the U.S. Navy.

This article appeared originally at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog.


[1] Sydney J. Freedberg,Jr., “Overburdened Navy Must Just Say ‘No’: Spencer”, Breaking Defense (September 20, 2017) https://breakingdefense.com/2017/09/overburdened-navy-must-just-say-no-spencer/.

[2] Hope Hodge Seck, “Navy Cutting Maintenance, Cannibalizing Planes Amid Readiness Crisis”, DoD Buzz (November 9 2017), https://www.military.com/dodbuzz/2017/11/09/navy-cutting-maintenance-cannibalizing-planes-amid-readiness-crisis.

[3] Gallup’s 2017 poll of American institutions shows that 72% of the American people have either “A Great Deal” or “Quite A Lot” of trust in the US military, see: http://news.gallup.com/poll/1597/confidence-institutions.aspx

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