While Trump passed on the opportunity to see tanks rolling through cities during the Vietnam War, he decided to bring the tanks to Washington DC for his 4th of July event. As with all things Trump, this event is a matter of great controversy. As with most controversial things in these partisan times, opinions tend to split along political lines. As such, it is tempting to dismiss this as a tank tempest in a teacup that has been magnified through political lenses. However, there do seem to be some meaningful issues here.
One obvious point of concern is that this event is going to be very expensive—although the exact cost is not yet known. Transporting tanks and other hardware is not cheap, nor is operating combat aircraft. There is also the cost of the damage that is likely to arise from rolling tanks through the streets. While Republicans used to pretend to be fiscal hawks, they have long abandoned their avowed principles here—hence it falls to others to make the fiscal argument: spending millions on a single event when there are so many better ways to use the money (such as paying for better care for veterans) is a huge waste and fiscally irresponsible.
A second area of concern is the role of the military in the event. While armed forces were obviously critical in the American revolution, July 4th is not a military holiday. Rather, it is a holiday that celebrates the declaration of Independence. To be fair, the 4th has been celebrated in Washington with military elements in the parades but having an explicitly military event on the 4th is odd and goes against well-established tradition. Part of this is because the symbolism of military events on holidays that are not explicitly honoring the military or veterans is linked strongly with dictators, most especially Communist dictators. This is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with the military; rather the problem lies with putting on such a display to appease the ego of a man who wishes he was dictator.
It could be countered that the military is present to honor the military. As noted above, the revolution was an armed conflict. One easy and obvious reply is that the 4th is not a military holiday—we have Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Another easy and obvious reply is that a better way to honor the military is to use the money to pay for useful things, like care for veterans and addressing problems. Allowing these soldiers to spend the day with their families would also be good.
A final, and perhaps the most serious, concern is that the United States has striven to maintain a professional, non-political military. That is, our military does not serve a specific person or party, their oath is to the Constitution. While I am not worried that the soldiers will spontaneously rally for Trump, I am worried that Trump will use the event as a campaign rally and thus use the military for political purposes and propaganda. Defenders of Trump might contend that Democrats would do the same thing; but even if this were true, it would obviously not make it right.
Trump might stay within the law and not use the public’s money for partisan propaganda. After all, he did manage to stick to reading the script during the D-Day events this year. However, there are many problems beyond this one—enough to indicate that tanks on the 4th is the wrong thing to do. Yes, I will say the same thing if President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decides to roll tanks through DC to celebrate Socialism Day.