In an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll from January of this year, the U.S. military was the only institution for which a majority of respondents (53%) expressed “a great deal of confidence.” When considering favorability—either with respect to “a great deal” of confidence or “quite a lot” of it—that rate soars to 87%. Compared to the other institutions named in this survey, the military stands head and shoulders above the rest. The next-best choice, in terms of highest confidence, is the FBI, garnering only a 24% mark of great confidence, and in terms of overall favorability, the Supreme Court is the top also-ran at 59%. Also striking about these polling statistics is that approval rating for the U.S. military has increased markedly over the last 40 years, rising some 30% (57% to 87%) in that time, likely in response to the draft being abolished and fewer Americans knowing someone or having a direct connection to someone in the Armed Forces.
Perhaps no institution, then, inspires the same kind of knee-jerk defense as the military. For evidence of this, we need look no further than the seemingly never-ending kerfuffle over the National Anthem protests in the NFL. What began as a statement by Colin Kaepernick and other players as a response to racial injustice in this country, especially as it intersects with the treatment of blacks at the hands of police and the criminal justice system—a protest that was discussed with Nate Boyer, former NFL long snapper and Army Green Beret, as a more respectful alternative than sitting during the Anthem—was quickly co-opted by Donald Trump and other people of a conservative mindset and turned into a commentary on the military and supposed disrespect for men and women in uniform. To borrow from football parlance, Trump and Co. ran an end-around, changing the conversation from a topic they actively try to suppress and dismiss in civil rights and racial equality, to one with which they and the jingoists among us could take and run.
Since last fall, reports have surfaced of President Trump’s desire to hold a military parade in the United States akin to France’s celebratory display for Bastille Day after witnessing it first-hand last summer; in fact, Trump inquired with the Pentagon about the use of armored vehicles for his Inauguration, and expressed desire to see the military on parade during his tenure back in January 2017. Now, apparently, he’s getting his wish. According to multiple new reports this week, the Pentagon has agreed to hold a parade to coincide with this year’s Veterans Day celebrations.
If estimates provided by Office of Management and Budget director and interim Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director Mick Mulvaney are accurate, the cost for this big show could run anywhere from $10 million to $30 million, with the higher price tag attributable to Trump’s vision of tanks being driven down Pennsylvania Avenue. There won’t be tanks, according to a memo from Navy Capt. Hallock Mohler, executive secretary in the office of the Secretary of Defense, to Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but there will be aircraft and period uniforms. In other words, for the big baby in the White House, there’ll be plenty of toys on hand.
As with the Anthem protest to-do, here is a situation that is liable to be divisive depending on your feelings toward the military and the U-S-of-A. I’m sure many will see this planned parade as a wonderful show of admiration for our great nation and for the men and women who serve and have served for its ideals. Don’t get me wrong—I love this country. This is United States of Joe, not, say, Canada of Joe. At the same time, though, I and others of a like mind are left to question whether it’s worth it to hold a military display such as this. Ryan Sit, writing for Newsweek, tells of a recent analysis by the publication that finds, for the same money to be spent on this parade, the nation’s homeless veterans could be fed three meals a day for two weeks. While acknowledging the difficulties in making calculations based on the estimated costs associated with the parade and the transient life that many homeless veterans lead, Sit also reports that even by conservative counts, these figures tell an important story about the priorities of the Trump administration.
But don’t just take my word for it. Let’s look at the numbers, as cited within the Newsweek piece. The most recent statistics of homeless veterans in the U.S. compiled by the Bureau of Housing and Urban Development from the end of 2017 puts the overall tally at just over 40,000, up 1.5% from the previous year. As per the non-profit hunger relief organization Feeding America, as well as information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other agencies, the average cost of a meal is $2.94 in the United States (as of 2015, the source of the latest-updated data), with the lowest tally identified as $2.04 and the highest $5.61. Using Mick Mulvaney’s $10 million estimate, which is on the low end of the cost spectrum, and the highest cost of a meal, that’s three meals a day for 14.8 days, or two weeks. Keeping with the $10 million amount but using merely the average cost per meal figure, homeless veterans could eat three meals a day for roughly twice as long, 28.3 days.
Though all of Donald Trump’s public statements should be taken with a grain or two or 100 of salt, the President said the parade wouldn’t be held if the cost were “exorbitant.” Meanwhile, the memo sent to the Joint Chiefs of Staff specified that the military showcase to be integrated with the annual Veterans Day parade will emphasize “the price of freedom.” While we’re questioning the ultimate worth of these proceedings, in light of what else the money could be spent on—Lord knows there are any number of things on which it could be spent, but let’s keep the conversation within the purview of those who have served—the very meaning of the phrase “price of freedom” merits scrutiny. If we’re talking purely financial costs, the implication here is that we need a strong military to protect us and our freedoms, so that’s just the cost of being the greatest military force on the planet. Then again, it’s sort of Trump’s thing to run up a bill on someone else’s tab. Just thinking about his umpteen trips to Mar-a-Lago is enough to make my blood boil.
If we’re talking the human price of freedom, however, how many homeless veterans is too many? Is 40,000+ (and rising) an “exorbitant” cost, as if you can put a price on a human life? And this concern about the fate of those who have served the United States only scratches the surface of the true nature of our ongoing armed conflicts and “peacekeeping” missions abroad. How many lives have been lost since we became embroiled in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and how many more stand to be lost in pursuit of al-Qaeda, ISIS/ISIL, or in the fight for a free Syria? Speaking of Syria, how many more civilians must be killed as a result of military operations for a larger audience to understand the types of atrocities residents of war-torn lands must face? Or are we supposed to care less because they are Muslims or brown or what-have-you? To borrow from the words of Bob Dylan, the answer is blowin’ in the wind.
What makes the concept of a multi-million-dollar military parade all the more egregious is the notion that most Americans don’t seem to want or need one, especially those connected to the military in some capacity. Back in February, Military Times, a news outlet that reports on the Armed Forces for service-members and their families, launched a poll on its website soliciting users’ thoughts on the question, “Should there be a parade showing troops and military equipment in Washington, D.C.?” Within a day of the poll’s launch, it garnered over 50,000 responses, and an overwhelming majority (89%) answered, “No, it’s a waste of money and troops are too busy.” And this is coming from people who are arguably the best-qualified to comment on these matters.
Assuming you are not someone who falls within Military Times’s key demographic, odds are you agree that the time, money, and effort to be allocated for the purposes of a military showcase could well be used more constructively. Granted, the Department of Defense has not exhibited a penchant in recent times for managing its money very efficiently—and I’m being kind with my diplomatic language here. Still, it’s frustratingly odd that the Pentagon would seemingly acquiesce to the whims of one man, even if he is President of these United States, and carry out a whole military display that costs tens of millions of dollars.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis notably dodged a question in a press briefing last month about why resources should be diverted for this purpose by reiterating the need for Congress to commit to fully funding the military and speaking to Donald Trump’s “fondness for the military.” So Pres. Trump is fond of the military. Children are fond of ice cream, but that doesn’t mean you should allow them to eat it for dinner. In this context, #45 is dining on a sundae full of ice cream, and it costs upward of $10 million for that one sundae. No amount of cherries, sprinkles, and whipped cream can make that palatable for those of us watching at home.
Now that it’s evidently a done deal, what makes this military parade all the more unnerving is the kind of images it invokes. As numerous critics have suggested, military showcases like the one planned for this November are of the sort that you would be more apt to see in China, North Korea, and Russia, nations noted for their authoritarian leadership style. The United States is obviously not at this point yet, and aside from the lack of tanks or ICBMs on hand, a major difference is that the members of the military on hand for America’s celebration, which coincides with the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, will feature servicemen and servicewomen who enlisted voluntarily, as opposed to the conscripts in those foreign armies.
That said, this is not the first time Donald Trump has done or said something which would lead one to believe he is a would-be dictator, leading some to make allusions (however overblown) to Adolf Hitler. He’s made the media, an institution which routinely gives him the attention he seeks—and one which is among the worst in terms of inspiring confidence, hearkening back to the aforementioned NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll—an enemy to be threatened and undermined. He and his shameless Republican supporters have attacked the credibility of the country’s intelligence community. Aided and abetted by Mitch McConnell, he’s gotten his pick of the conservative justice Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court to fill the void left by Antonin Scalia. He’s aligned himself with people who are renowned anti-Semites, homophobes, and/or racists, and plays to people’s fears about immigration and terrorism, as well as their dislike of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Heck, he even suggested Xi Jinping’s recent move to end presidential term limits in China is a “great” idea. The parade set to kick off in roughly eight months to appease Trump is just another bullet point on his autocratic checklist.
While we commemorate those who died while serving the United States specifically on Memorial Day, Veterans Day is nonetheless a time when solemn reflection is encouraged. Returning to the concept of the “price of freedom,” that the date of its celebration coincides with the cessation of hostilities in World War I, a conflict which easily saw over 10 million deaths between soldiers and civilians, should only further communicate an understanding of the profound loss attributable to war. For someone like President Trump, however, who has never served and whose remarks about Democrats being “treasonous” in refusing to clap during his State of the Union address prompted Sen. Tammy Duckworth to derisively refer to him as “Cadet Bone Spurs,” one does not get the sense he comprehends that sacrifice or the very meaning of the word. Not when he belittled John McCain’s time as a prisoner of war. Not when he verbally attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of Humayun Khan, a captain in the United States Army killed while serving in Iraq. Not when he reportedly told Myeshia Johnson, widow of Gold Star Army Special Forces Sgt. La David Johnson, that Johnson “knew what he signed up for.” Trump doesn’t understand the depths of these emotions behind these events, because he can’t.
Nor can he grasp the gravity of the homelessness faced by thousands of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, not that you or I can likely fully appreciate this either. Regardless, the numbers don’t lie, and anyway you slice them, Trump’s military parade is a colossal waste of money when considering where else the money can be spent.
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