The parade is a grand display of power, prestige and patriotism that dates back to 1880 and the consolidation of the third Republic.
For many, it is part of France’s national identity. Others see it through a political lens; France is the only democratic country to organise a military parade on such a scale. The nearest equivalents are in China, Russia and North Korea.
The day itself marks the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, a pivotal moment in the French Revolution.
In 2011, European politician and Green Party member Eva Joly, declared that the parade should be replaced with a citizen’s parade, provoking backlash from then-Prime Minister François Fillon.
We asked two experts about the pros and the cons of this sumptious parade.
Major Jean-Christophe Pastor, Paris military cabinet member
The role of the military parade is to create a moment of communion with the nation.
It is an opportunity for the army to present their everyday actions to the population it defends.
It is designed to be informative, structured via a series of reports that are broadcast on television before and after the parade. These show people what the army does to keep them safe and explains where taxpayers’ money goes.
We are not demonstrating our military force, as is the case with military parades in some authoritarian countries. We could not be further from such aims.
There is an opening ceremony, a closing ceremony and a musical, choreographed element to the parade.
It is by no means a glorification of military strength. Some people can find the presence of the military vehicles in the parade aggressive but the act of putting such machines on the Champs-Élysées shows that our army can respond to threats.
We also explain to people how the machines work.
While recruitment is not the primary objective, young people are inspired by the aura of the event and its prestige.
The people who come to stand along the Champs-Élysées are naturally those already with an interest in the army.
Following the terrorist attacks in France, people realised the importance of having military forces who are trained and ready to intervene in times of need.
The number of people signing up to the army has increased as people feel more patriotic.
The parade also costs much less than people think. As it is a national holiday, the soldiers march at no extra cost and they sleep in the barracks in Paris.
The vehicles are owned by the army and, as for the planes, every pilot is required to complete a certain number of flights per year so the parade acts as a form of training.
The only real expenses incurred by the city of Paris are food for the regiments and maintenance of the flags but every mairie has extra reserves for the national day. It is important to pay respect to those who defend our country.
Alain Refalo, Co-Founder of The Centre of Resources for Non-Violence
The military parade every July 14 aims to show off the grandeur of France through its army and technology of war.
It creates the illusion that France is still a ‘great’ country.
The parade is against the values of the French Republic, especially that of fraternité (brotherhood).
How can we teach fraternité to children if the biggest display on our national day is a military parade and, therefore, a vindication of war?
This parade is particularly offensive because it gives values to tanks and missiles, weapons of destruction which are built to kill. It is immoral to applaud machines of death. It is an instrument of propaganda to promote military values.
We can defend our country without being a soldier. In the history of our country, it is first and foremost the citizens who have defended the Republic.
Therefore it is the citizens, not the military, who should parade on July 14. We can have a national celebration without the need for a military parade.
A celebration should be about conviviality, culture and meeting people. Our national celebration should be an occasion to return to the founding principles of living together in France.
France is one of the only countries in the world to organise this type of parade and it constitutes a financial waste that is unacceptable in the context of other budgetary restrictions. Why not spend the money on education or healthcare?
As a celebration of war, it comes as no surprise that it interests the President of the United States. The other countries where this type of parade still takes place are dictatorships.
As far as recruitment goes, young people are susceptible to joining the army but representing your country is about flying the flag for solidarity in ways that help people, everyday.
Above all, the military parade symbolises the culture of violence and of war which increasingly dominates our societies.
Beyond worshipping the arms trade, we are perpetuating for generations the ideas that violence and war are the only defenders of justice and peace, even while they contribute to human unhappiness elsewhere in the world.