My response to Sam Roggeveen yesterday was a bit tongue-in-cheek. So to clear up any misunderstanding, Roggeveen is suggesting that France is an exception to the “Roggeveen Rule,” in that it is a civilian democracy that also exhibits a passion for “Red Square-style” military parades. And I was suggesting that the civilian leadership is indeed firmly in control here, as far as I can tell, but that French political culture has been deeply marked by at least two generals: The modern French state is essentially the product of Napolean Bonaparte, and the Fifth Republic the product of Charles de Gaulle. Which might account for the fascination with military pomp and circumstance.
I’d also add that the Bastille Day parade is invariably used for deeply symbolic political purposes relating to France’s foreign policy agenda. So last year, at the outset of France’s EU presidency, the “guest of honor” was Europe, resulting in the first overflight of French territory by Soviet-made MiG fighter jets (from the Eastern European EU nations). And this year’s guest of honor was India, with whom France is very eager to develop a strategic (read: civilian nuclear) partnership. I’m not sure whether next year’s guest of honor has been announced yet, but off the cuff, I’d lay even odds on Brazil.
I’m not sure whether this is a common feature of some of the other “military parade” nations Roggeveen lists (China, Turkey and Russia, for instance). But in France, the yearly military procession says as much about France’s gaze on the world as it does about its national pride.