When I was a kid, growing up during the Cold War days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, I remember seeing stories on the news about the military parades in the old Soviet Union, China, and other communist countries. To a 10-year-old boy there was a level of coolness about them -- all of the soldiers high stepping and in rigid formation, the tanks, guns and missiles rolling through the square. But as I grew older I realized those parades served several purposes. One, of course was to show the world that no country should think of messing with the nation whose might was on display. But another message was to that nation's own people, and that message from the leaders was "we are firmly in charge."
We didn't have those parades in America. Oh sure, maybe some National Guard or Army Reserve unit might fire up an old tank for the local Fourth Of July parade, and it's not unusual to see military bands or color guards on display, but in general the U.S. never countered Soviet arms parades with ones of our own. And as far as I'm aware, nobody ever suggested that we should. At least not until the dawn of the Trump era.
The Huffington Post is reporting that Donald Trump's inauguration team sought to turn the presidential inaugural parade into a military display. According to an internal Pentagon email Trump's inaugural committee asked for pictures of "military tactical vehicles" that could be included in the parade. The email backs up a January HuffPo story that reported on the rumor that Trump wanted the parade to include "heavy military equipment."
The unidentified Pentagon official who sent the email said he told the inaugural committee that "such support would be out of guidelines." He also told them that the associated costs would be "reimbursable," meaning the inaugural committee would get the bill. Eventually Trump's people dropped the idea, settling for a more traditional military flyover. But weather forced the cancellation of those plans as well.
Trump never served a day in the armed forces, but he has the same fascination with military things that I had as a 10-year-old. And, given his many authoritarian leanings, it's certainly plausible to believe that his desire to turn the inaugural parade into a Soviet-style military demonstration was intended to send the same messages that those Cold War era parades did -- don't mess with us, and "I'm in charge here."
We have seen any number of examples of military juntas ousting civilian governments, or of a right-wing, ostensibly civilian leader using the military to oppress and control his own people. But, while there are certainly some firebrands who would likely go along with a Trump initiated militarization of society, that appears to be something that would not sit well with most of the command structure as well as most rank and file members of the armed services.
It's ironic that the Pentagon appears to have been much less enthusiastic about an inaugural military display than the civilians who were requesting it. But it is also comforting to think that the one American institution that Trump could use in an authoritarian attempt to consolidate his power may just be the one that most strongly resists him.