Trump’s military parade isn’t as unusual as you might think

News that President Donald Trump has ordered the Department of Defense to plan a large military parade in Washington this year has generated a new wave of concern over Trump’s authoritarian instincts, especially given the huge costs of such an overt display of martial pomp. But the president’s desire for a large display of military might is not unique to Donald Trump. In fact, it is merely the culmination of the American public’s decades-long, uncritical embrace of the all-volunteer force.

This phenomenon, which began gathering pace in the decades after the Vietnam War, reached a crucial turning point in summer 1991, the last time the streets of Washington hosted a large military parade. These celebrations shaped not only the relationship between American society and its military in the long years of the “War on Terror,” but also foreshadowed Trump’s own particular brand of militarism. (Continued below.)


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Millions of Americans turned out to rejoice in the victory over Iraq and to venerate their armed forces as heroes. Gallup polling in the aftermath of the war showed that the military had become the most trusted institution in the country, a position it still holds, and politicians were quick to embrace the celebrations as an opportunity to advance t....

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