The Russians were the masters, with Red Square the dramatic stage for Moscow’s annual display of military might. The North Koreans then perfected it, with martial choreography that is almost balletic.
Now get ready for the Americans. The great civilian festival that was the July 4th Independence Day celebration will today have a military component. Donald Trump loves a TV show and - almost as if the day job isn’t keeping him busy enough - he has decided to be the executive producer of this episode which he has branded as a “Salute to America.”
But don’t expect this to rival Moscow or Pyongyang. The Pentagon has quietly ridiculed the idea of putting its military hardware on show for the masses. So we are left with a rather sad display: two Bradley fighting vehicles that are positioned in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, and a couple of stationary Abrams tank that are too heavy for the capital’s road system.
There will also be a flypast - including F-35s and Air Force One (actually, technically not Air Force One because the President won’t be aboard, he’ll be down below on the National Mall looking up). But you get my drift - this will not be the equivalent of Bastille Day in Paris or of Victory Day in Moscow.
But there is political purpose in all of this effort. President Trump will wrap himself in the American flag later today, extolling the values and valour of the US military. And what can Democrats do? Only complain that the commander-in-chief has hijacked America’s happiest day and used military hardware as a political prop. But in doing so, Trump’s critics may come across as less than patriotic, and will have taken his bait.
We can see the President’s re-election campaign unfold in front of our eyes. And the images on the Mall tonight - Trump framed by tanks, gazing up at the fly-past, with the iconic Lincoln Memorial as the backdrop to the fireworks - will be wonderful material for the Trump 2020 TV advertising campaign.
So in fact nothing we will see today has anything to do with July 4, 2019. Rather, it has everything to do with November 3, 2020.