In Miami, military parades send a different message

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Cuba staged a military parade in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which Cuba averted.
Cuba staged a military parade in 2011 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which Cuba averted. Getty Images

Across the country, President Trump’s request for a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue has sparked a debate on optics, cost and necessity.

But in South Florida, such a show of uniforms, medals and hardware likely will rattle the hundreds of thousands of Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans who fled homelands where such parades celebrated military might, but also made clear their governments’ repression of its citizens.

Though Trump says he wants a spectacle just like one he saw in France on Bastille Day — fingers crossed he doesn’t wear epaulets — such parades usually are part of the theatrical trappings of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes to show off their armed forces, not democracies where individual freedom, not military power, is celebrated. For all his saber-rattling at North Korea, Trump, who has his own authoritarian tendencies, likely bears a bit of tank envy toward Kim Jong-Un.

In Cuba, military parades usually are staged on the anniversary of the Cuban Revolution or the Bay of Pigs victory. They are national events. It’s a time to display the militia green of the revolution. It’s a time to declare murderous rebel leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara a national hero. It’s a time to show the gringos to the north the troops that would defend the homeland if they dared attack and to remind those within the country who oppose the regime that there is little they can do against such a military machine.

In the past decades similar messages have gone out loud and clear from Caracas and Managua. All three learned the military parade move from the marching-in-step Soviets. (And, the U.S. president has shown a certain affinity for Russia, hasn’t he?)

In Caracas, Castro disciple Hugo Chávez started, and now Nicolás Maduro continues, to show off military muscle against the imperialist Yankees. In Nicaragua, under the Communist-backed Sandinistas, military parades were staged annually in the 1980s to remind citizens, and the world, they were in power and thriving.

If you take Trump at his word, his intent is the exact opposite. He says that he wants to honor the men and women of the armed forces. Given the volunteer nature of our military, they deserve to be recognized — somehow.

Flaunting our military might is a ridiculously gaudy and expensive way to fulfill that desire, however. There are better ways, we think: By ensuring that fighting men and women have the resources they need to do what has turned into an endless job in troubled countries; by competently confronting the tragically high rate of suicide and PTSD among veterans; by helping provide local jurisdictions better targeted resources to address homelessness among veterans across the country.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump had asked the Defense Department to “explore” the idea. “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe. He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

Military parades just don’t capture the American spirit, unless they celebrate the end of armed conflict. Unfortunately, for too many traumatized vets, the war never ends.