JOHN KIRIAKOU: Not the Year for Fireworks

For so many reasons, this Fourth of July left me cold.  

By John Kiriakou
Special to Consortium News

It wasn’t the usual July Fourth. I spent it with just a small group of friends and we wore masks and kept our distance from one another. And watching the fireworks wasn’t the same either. 

Many displays were cancelled, but thanks to President Donald Trump, the ones here in Washington, D.C., were preceded by flyovers of vintage war planes, military helicopters, more F-16s, F-18s, and F-23s than I could count, an old B-52 bomber, and finally a B-1 stealth bomber.  It was all pretty impressive or intimidating or wasteful or offensive, depending on your point of view.

We celebrate July 4 with fireworks because John Adams, our second president and first vice president, told us to.  In a letter to his wife dated July 3, 1776, he said the holiday, “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival” and “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”  It all sounds so wonderful and festive. 

But this year, July 4 left me cold.

Divisive Problems

Air Force Thunderbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform a White House flyover, July 4, 2020. (White House, Andrea Hanks)

All I could think of were the problems we face, the problems that divide us now more than at any time in the past two generations.  I thought about the militarization of our police forces and the ease with which the police kill African-American men and women with impunity.

Sure, there has been a long overdue uprising after the murder of George Floyd and there may be some reforms in the offing.  But what about those Americans murdered by police for whom there has been no justice?  What about Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray, and the hundreds of other African-Americans murdered by police without consequence?

Sign at demonstration against police violence in Washington, May 30, 2020. (Twitter)

I thought about the president of the United States describing Confederate monuments, those memorials to the traitors who took up arms against their own country in 1861, as “our statues” and describing the confederacy as “our culture” and “our heritage.”  Sorry, but that’s not my history.  

And it’s not the history of most Americans.  In fact, those monuments are symbols of hatred, of oppression, and of tyranny.  They should never have been erected in the first place.  Their destruction is long overdue.

I thought about our country’s endless wars.  We’ve been fighting in Afghanistan for 19 years, in Iraq for 16 years and in Syria for nine.  We have special forces in multiple African countries (although we’re not supposed to know that), and our navy is ready for battle in the South China Sea.

I thought about my fellow Americans incarcerated across the country, especially those serving draconian sentences for non-violent drug offenses.  The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prison population.  That doesn’t make us any safer.  It just makes us more heavy-handed.  It destroys families.  It encourages recidivism.  And it disenfranchises millions of people.

Inmates in an Orleans Parish Prison yard, Louisiana. (Bart Everson, Flickr, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

I thought of my cousin George Culetsu and my friend Alan Rude, both of whom died of Covid-19, and the utter lack of national leadership that likely contributed to their deaths.  Just six years ago, Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa, told CNN that President Barack Obama exhibited “failed leadership” in his approach to the Ebola virus.  At the time, there were 11 confirmed cases and two deaths from Ebola in the United States. 

Now, with some 130,000 Americans dead from Covid-19, Ernst lauded Trump’s response to the pandemic, saying that the president had “stepped forward” to tackle the problem.  It’s outrageous.

I thought about the immigrant families forcibly separated at the Mexican border, unable to apply for asylum, their children kept in cages.  Many of them are sick and are unable to receive appropriate medical care in the richest country in the world and in the middle of a pandemic.  Many are destined to be forcibly returned to some of the most dangerous countries in the world, where they face violence and death.

I thought about the complete lack of moral leadership that we have in our country.  I thought of our president holding up a Bible like a cheap prop, our president surrounded by evangelicals “laying hands” on him, our president bragging that “nobody knows the bible” as well as he does. 

This is the same man who has mocked the disabled and progressives, and who has said the most vile things about women.  This is the same man who has been married three times and who has cheated on all three of his wives.

I didn’t enjoy the Fourth of July.  I was distracted.  I had a feeling of dread.  I am worried about the country.  I only hope that it’s not too late for us.

John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act — a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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17 comments for “JOHN KIRIAKOU: Not the Year for Fireworks

  1. TonyWatchesClosely
    July 8, 2020 at 21:38

    Aurora Colorado..Elijah McClain. I agree wholeheartedly with all that you have said though but Please not only was he killed by cops, they raided his vigil one year later and took mocking selfies at the site his memorial was placed. Don’t forget to mention him. It’s all I’m asking and thank you for you contribution with this.

  2. July 8, 2020 at 01:02

    Thanks John.

  3. July 7, 2020 at 15:13

    I experienced the same dread, like my daily nightmare…Thank You for the excellent article, John…

  4. Susan
    July 7, 2020 at 14:42

    This government is holding back citizens stimulus checks which would help them feed their kids but, by god, let’s show how wonderful and mighty this nation is by spending taxpayer dollars on flyovers. This country is such a farce!

  5. July 7, 2020 at 12:33

    The Fourth of July has always been a bizarre “celebration” of getting drunk, eating dead animals and emulating war.

  6. Aaron
    July 7, 2020 at 12:31

    “With countries, just like with people, it’s easy to let the best of yourself slip away” – Bruce Springsteen. We were supposed to be the place where we could all believe “this land is your land, this land is my land”. John Adams wouldn’t stop throwing up if he could see what his ideal has evolved into. The exact opposite of that ideal. This land was made for….the 1%, they have a lot to celebrate. For the 99 percent, there’s nothing as cold as appalling injustice everywhere you look. And with the covid crisis, which primarily attacks the lungs, we are literally a citizenry living the mantra “I can’t breathe” as all of our cherished hopes and dreams for this land are being choked out.


  7. VallejoD
    July 7, 2020 at 09:46

    In the Bay Area the streets were almost empty. It felt like a fitting July 4th – nothing to celebrate. However, the evening sounded like D- Day with 4 or 5 hours of “bombs” going off all over town. It felt less like a celebration than acts of defiance.

  8. July 7, 2020 at 03:19

    I recently read of a man arrested for robbing someone of $60.00, because it was his third offense he was sentenced to one year for every dollar which was stolen.. In other words the man was sentenced to 60 years in prison !

    It is unbelievable and sadly very true.

    • VallejoD
      July 7, 2020 at 09:49

      My husband was a criminal defense attorney for 40 years. One 3-strikes client was sentenced to life for stealing an $11 piece of meat from Safeway. In America, justice is spelled “just us.”

  9. Rob Hurns
    July 6, 2020 at 21:00

    Great. What we all need. More sulking and blaming Trump for decades long problems. Just install the next DNC puppet so the psychotics can sweep every issue under the rug again.

    Me and my compatriots will always celebrate. And we will always build before destroying. God bless America.

    • Annie
      July 7, 2020 at 11:17

      I didn’t have a good fourth, too much noise, no lights, and I needed to comfort two dogs through it all, and it had nothing to do with Trump sleeping around while married, or the number of his wives. Lost a friend’s mother to covid-19, 2 weeks in an ice truck,  and my friend never thought to blame Trump, she’s a nurse, and brought it home. I also beg to differ with Mr. Kiriakou that those confederate soldiers, democrats, are not his  history, they were and thank goodness we stayed united and moved on. I had a cousin, a cop, who needed  triple bypass, never killed anyone, black or white, but his doctor slipped during the operation and cut his aorta, and he died at 54 a week later of an aortic dissection. I don’t want to get rid of cardiac surgeons, although some of them definitely have to go.    

    • Skip Scott
      July 7, 2020 at 13:42

      I think God will bless America when we finally come to terms with our decades long problems, and have a government “of, by, and for the people.” God will not bless us while we murder innocents in a quest for Empire. Let me know when you and your compatriots start solving America’s problems and I will join you in your celebration.

      “Where is your God? That’s what my friends ask me. I say it’s taken him so long ’cause we’ve got so far to come.”- Stevie Wonder

    • robert e williamson jr
      July 7, 2020 at 17:55

      Wow! Seriously Rob Hurns? Are we doing some Projecting here are we.

      I’m thinking you got something wrong here. The DNC ranks of puppets are no doubt filled with psychotics. No argument there from me. But, surely you are not implying that the Mango Mussolini is of sound mind.

      I had him figured as sociopath with a severe psychotic tendencies. His niece who has just released her book on her Uncle is an expert on the subject. So heads up. And by the way, just in case you missed it, there is no room left under the rug.

      Besides wouldn’t you and your friends much rather have Tucker Carlson at your fearless leader.

      “Dog” give me strength!

  10. Jeff Harrison
    July 6, 2020 at 18:07

    Sorry, John, it’s too late for us.

    • AnneR
      July 7, 2020 at 09:57

      And, Jeff, I would say that it has been far too late for us (morals, ethics, humanity) since at the least 1945 and our dropping of the two Atom Bombs. On civilians. To show off to the Soviets.

      Of course, this nation was well on the way downward morally before it became a “nation,” from the moment the first Brits hit these shores running – ethnic-cleansing the land of its indigenous peoples (genocide and a massive long lasting daylight robbery of land, and resources) and the decision to swap indentured low melanin servants (usually Brits) for high melanin (therefore easily distinguishable from the low melanin types when they ran away, unlike the earlier indentured) peoples from Africa.

      As someone who has never, ever liked fireworks (early years with Bonfire Night: The Fifth of November, Gunpowder, Treason and Plot) and also loathes and detests “patriotism/nationalism,” such “holidays” as Independence Day leave me cold as does all flag-waving (as someone born elsewhere, I found it so weird back in 1982 when I first came across the pond to see “the” flag in windows, peoples front yards etc. Did they have to be reassured about their location was my immediate reaction… and still is). (My compatriots used to burn effigies of Guy Fawkes on those backyard bonfires, while noshing on bonfire roasted spuds, treacle toffee and lighting fireworks – bangers, Catherine wheels, roman candles…..)

      Independence Day for whom?????

  11. Skip Scott
    July 6, 2020 at 17:03

    Good article. I have felt the same way for many years. BTW, just a small point of correction. The stealth bomber is the B-2, not the B-1.

    • robert e williamson jr
      July 9, 2020 at 15:22

      And the Hammond B3 Organ with a Leslie speaker is one of the most beautiful sounding musical instruments ever devised.

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