The Corner

National Security & Defense

A Bit of Perspective on ‘Trump’s Tanks’

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House, June 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

On the matter of the Abrams Main Battle tank, I freely admit that I’m biased. I served with the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment in Diyala Province, Iraq during the Surge (I was attached to Sabre Squadron as a JAG officer), and I never tired of seeing those magnificent machines. In their own way they’re just as impressive as the fighter jets we’re used to seeing fly over everything from football games to golf tournaments. Moreover, the few tanks that the Trump administration is bringing to Washington represent a tiny fraction of the military might on display during Fleet Weeks or similar events featuring naval vessels. This thread is instructive:

Some might argue there’s something particularly ominous about tanks — given their role in coups worldwide and their memorable and terrifying role at Tiananmen Square. In fact, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe tweeted that very comparison yesterday after viewing images of the (few) tanks on their way to Washington:

Yet tanks have had their own very benign role in Washington parades for a very long time. Tanks have rolled through the streets during inaugural parades for presidents Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. This picture, from Eisenhower’s second inaugural, shows tanks in motion in a way that would lead to a Twitter meltdown today:

It’s certainly fair to critique the cost of any given public display, and disruptions like temporary shutdowns of Reagan National Airport can certainly annoy travelers, but the use of tanks in an Independence Day celebration is simply no big deal. There is nothing ominous about their presence, especially given the fact that our military is (rightly) one of the last trusted institutions in America. It does not threaten our Constitution; it protects our founding principles.

In reality, I suspect that many thousands of Independence Day visitors will enjoy seeing the tanks. In fact, the sight of military equipment is a time-honored recruiting tactic. They fire the imagination of young people who could see themselves in command of a magnificent machine, performing noble and heroic service to our country.

Finally, as an Army veteran, I for one am glad to see our vehicles get their due. The Navy and Air Force hog the public glory. Let’s give the tank its moment in the sun.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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