A Brief History
On May 9, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the German surrender in World War II, Russia, led by dictator (President of the Federation of Russia) Vladimir Putin, conducted the most massive military parade in the history of Russia/USSR, the likes of which could never be pulled off in the United States, undoubtedly to the chagrin of President Donald Trump!
After viewing an extravagant military parade in France honoring the anniversary of Bastille Day in 2017, American President Donald Trump developed a severe case of parade envy, and resolved to stage a spectacular military parade in Washington, D.C. in 2018, either for the 4th of July, Memorial Day or for Veterans’ Day. Veterans’ Day was chosen, as the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, which would give the event added attention and prestige, as well as provide extra time for planning and preparing. President Trump ordered military and civilian authorities to begin planning his grand parade, causing critics to moan about Trump’s proclivity to lust after the sorts of things dictators commonly espouse, such as military parades. (Totalitarian regimes are notoriously addicted to displays of military might.) Alas, the fact that 70 ton M1 Abrams tanks would destroy Washington’s streets and the ever escalating cost estimates finally conspired to doom President Trump’s grand plans, tragic for a guy that often revels in the military power of the United States at his fingertips, power that seems to give him a sense of personal power and importance. (Remember when he bragged to Kim Jong-un that “My button is bigger than yours.” Are military parades some sort of psychological contest of manhood measuring between world leaders? Please tell us!)
The Soviets and now the Russians are highly aware of their role in World War II, having lost more people than any other country during that struggle, the one they call “The Great Patriotic War.” For them it was a very real struggle for existence and survival, for had the Germans and their allies won, the goal of the Axis forces was to displace or exterminate the Soviet people entirely, after a suitable period of slavery. (An updated modern estimate of 27 million Soviet citizens, both military and civilian, lost their lives during World War II. (For perspective, the US lost 419,400 dead, Germany had about 7 million deaths and Japan suffered about 3 million dead.) Having had so many killed and their homeland invaded by genocidal fanatics, the Russians are predictably highly aware of the importance of military might to deter any aggression toward their country, and are politically astute enough to use such spectacles to intimidate other countries as well as their own population!
The 2015 parade was a Russian spectacle, but one joined by contingents from 13 other countries that sent military units to march with the Russians. After the military parade, a half million Russians marched through Moscow in honor of those that died in World War II. Across Russia, an incredible 12 million people took part in Victory Day parades. At least 30 leaders of countries and international associations also attended the massive parade, though about 3 dozen or so heads of state that had been invited declined to attend. A notable attendee was the representative of the United Kingdom, Nicholas Soames (Sir Arthur Nicholas Winston Soames), the grandson British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill. (A less notable attendee was actor/marital artist Steven Seagal!) Most countries that were invited to send a head of state sent other representatives such as ambassadors or foreign ministers. The 2014 annexation of the Crimea at the expense of the Ukraine cooled the interest of many nations in celebrating anything to do with the military in Russia. Of course, the very same annexation of the Crimea was underscored by the Russian display of military might.
Along with thousands of soldiers (about 16,500, many in World War II era garb) marching in step with their sparkling and creased uniforms, both from Russia and participating nations, the Russians displayed many historic vehicles from the World War II era, including the iconic T-34 tank, the most produced tank in history with over 84,000 examples built! Many Soviet era vehicles were included in the parade, as well as some of the latest Russian weapons and systems such as the T-90 tank, the T-14 tank (making its public debut), new fighting vehicles, new and updated mobile anti-aircraft missile launchers and a new ICBM mobile launcher system (the RS-24 Yars). Even Russian mounted troops riding horses marched and performed in the parade. Flying overhead was an air armada of military fighter, bomber and transport aircraft as well as a large sampling of Soviet/Russian helicopters.
(A bit of a fiasco did develop when the brand new, ultra-high technology T-14 Armata tank broke down, though it was up and running again in a while.)
One thing we have to note here, it that the Russians recognize May 9th as Victory in Europe (VE) Day, while virtually everyone else uses May 8th as the epic VE Day. Some people just have to be different! Massive military parades take many hours, probably hundreds or thousands, of planning and millions of dollars’ worth of transportation, preparation, practice and traffic control (police overtime and the like) expenses, and maybe serious wear and tear on road surfaces as well. Dictators such as Vladimir Putin can simply just order a parade and it is so, while in democratic countries limits on the power of the executive can reduce the grand scale of events or preclude them altogether. Do you think military parades are worth the time and expense? Let us know.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you ever watched a military parade? If so, tell us about it. Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Drabkin, Artem. Red Army Infantrymen Remember the Great Patriotic War: A Collection of Interviews with 16 Soviet WW-2 Veterans. AuthorHouse, 2009.
Rio, Phillipe. The Soviet Soldier 1941-1945. Casemate Publishers, 2011.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office (kremlin.ru) of the 2015 Moscow Victory Day Parade, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.