Donald Trump’s vainglorious desire for a military parade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC, could result in millions of dollars in damage to streets, Washington Metro, and other key elements of the nation’s capital’s infrastructure. Trump recently tasked the Department of Defense to come up with a plan for a military parade that features armored vehicles, aircraft flying in formation, and marching military personnel. Trump got the idea after watching the French military parade held in Paris on Bastille Day while visiting Paris on July 14 last year.
The last time a military parade was held in Washington was after Operation Desert Storm in 1991. From a reviewing stand between 17th and 15th Streets, President George H. W. Bush viewed parading armored vehicles, mobile Patriot missile launchers, and troops dressed in camouflage combat uniforms. However, that parade was held along Constitution Avenue and consisted of two M1-A1 Abrams tanks, each weighing 67-metric tons, and two 33-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The parade route was along Constitution Avenue, south of the White House Ellipse, and a safe distance from underground Metro stations and parking garages. However, there was still disruption to the capital’s infrastructure, with street lights having to be removed and then re-installed and the armored vehicle treads from the tanks and Bradleys tearing up the asphalt along Constitution Avenue and side streets. Connecticut and Pennsylvania Avenues, as with many of DC’s streets, are designed for a maximum of 30 gross weight tonnage per vehicle.
Another casualty of the 1991 parade was the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden. The only thing the attack helicopters over the Mall managed to “attack” with their rotor wash were sculptures in the outdoor garden. Pebbles kicked up by the helicopters strafed the sculptures, many of them priceless, with gouges. The total cost of parade damage for Washington was $12 million, not counting the destruction caused to the Hirshhorn. The Pentagon refused to pay the Smithsonian for the damage caused by its helicopters.
It does not take much in the way of seismic vibration or shaking to dislodge the hundreds of sheet-metal acoustic panels located in Metro stations underneath Pennsylvania Avenue between the U.S. Capitol and the White House. These include the Orange/Blue/Silver Line’s Federal Triangle and the Yellow/Green Line’s Archives-Navy Memorial stations. In November 2010, construction above Farragut North station on the Red Line resulted in the ceiling tiles collapsing onto the subway platform.
According to various news reports, Trump desires a parade much more extensive than the 1991 affair, with a number of armored vehicles and missiles. The annual French Bastille Day parade in Paris does feature armored vehicles along the Champs Elysees but they are put on display to assuage the personal whims of the French president. Since World War II, the French have honored their annual French Revolution commemoration with a military parade to mark France’s victory over Nazism.
Washington has seen military parades in the past, but these, like the 1991 parade, were to mark the end of wars. Parades in Washington were held following the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.
Trump originally wanted military vehicles, such as tanks, featured in his inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20, 2017. Because of inadequate time to plan for such a display, only fighter plane flyovers were scheduled for the parade but they were canceled due to rain.
While there is bipartisan opposition in Congress to Trump’s military parade, Defense Secretary James Mattis claimed that the Pentagon has been “putting together some options” for the parade. Although some of the “options” include holding the parade outside of Washington, Trump is intent on Pennsylvania Avenue. The city recently repaved the street following the 2017 inaugural parade. DC Mayor Muriel Bowser said Trump would have to pay for the parade. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) summed up the feelings of many congressional Republicans and Democrats about the proposed parade, “I don’t think it’s a particularly good idea. Confidence is silent. Insecurities are loud.”
In a poll conducted by Military Times, which is largely read by active duty and retired military personnel and their families, 89 percent of the 51,000 respondents felt that the parade is “a waste of money,” adding that “troops are too busy” for such an event. Many critics feel that such displays of military might are what can be expected from authoritarian regimes.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).