Tanks in Washington and other July 4 links

President Donald Trump has ordered a military parade and flyover in Washington, DC to celebrate Independence Day. He’s been wanting to stage this kind of display since his first year in office.

The production will cost millions of additional dollars and shut down air traffic to and from Reagan National Airport for hours. Republican donors and VIPs will get special passes to watch the festivities in a restricted area. Traditionally, all July 4 events in the nation’s capital have been free and open to the public.

The National Park Service is diverting $2.5 million “primarily intended to improve parks across the country” to cover a “fraction of the extra costs,” the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Josh Dawsey, and Dan Lamothe reported on July 2. The “entire Fourth of July celebration on the Mall typically costs the agency about $2 million,” a former Park Service deputy director told the newspaper. Costs could escalate if the heavy military equipment damages streets.

This holiday is supposed to celebrate the July 4, 1776 vote by delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to adopt the Declaration of Independence. (The Congress had voted in favor of independence two days earlier.)

The earliest July 4 celebrations involved “ringing of bells and band music.” Military parades in the capital were not unusual during the first half of the 19th century, but the last of those to occur on Independence Day happened in 1850. A number of former military leaders have expressed concern about Trump’s plans. From Wesley Morgan’s July 2 story for Politico:

“This looks like it’s becoming much more of a Republican Party event — a political event about the president — than a national celebration of the Fourth of July, and it’s unfortunate to have the military smack dab in the middle of that,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. David Barno, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan under President George W. Bush.

“The president is using the armed forces in a political ploy for his reelection campaign and I think it’s absolutely obscene,” added retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, a veteran of Vietnam, the Gulf War and peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. […]

“Military displays like this are a favorite tactic of those who want to wrap themselves in the symbols of who we are rather than really celebrating who we are,” said Jason Dempsey, a former Army major who studies the military and society at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank.

“The military is playing an ever more central role in American political life,” Dempsey added. “This fits into this larger, troubling trend of identifying America itself as a military state. The Fourth of July in America should be about so much more than our military and our ability to fight off the rest of the world.”

Retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak, the latest Democrat to enter the presidential race, shared his thoughts about the president’s orders during a short speech at the West Des Moines Democrats picnic on July 3 (full audio here). After sharing a story about a combat mission he oversaw in Afghanistan, to illustrate his support for women’s equality and women serving in the military, Sestak recalled that General George Washington asked after the Revolutionary War “if he could hand his sword, the symbol of military might from the days of despots and monarchies, in public to the Continental Congress.”

Washington’s action was a reminder “that our military is a military that does not dominate its people, like it did in England where we came from. It’s a military that serves its people,” Sestak added. He closed his speech with the following words: “I think that is what we always have to remember. And that’s why we can honor our veterans, we can honor our active military members, but we don’t want tanks and military might on July the Fourth.”

Two other presidential candidates spoke at the West Des Moines picnic yesterday. During her ten-minute speech (full audio), Senator Kamala Harris alluded to the holiday by noting that the founders of this country and the framers of the U.S. Constitution “had some good stuff in mind. They really did, and it’s important to remember that.” Our framers anticipated that “there might be this moment where our democracy would be challenged.” They designed a “beautiful” system, a republic with three coequal branches of government and a free and independent population. Now “we are witnessing that design being tested.”

Like a house withstanding some natural disaster, Harris said, “some of the shingles are falling off, but we’re still standing.” So as we reflect on this Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights,

Let’s take a moment to celebrate that we are a nation that was formed on noble ideals, and this is a moment in time, then, that is requiring us to fight for the best of who we are and those ideals, and fight therefore, we will. So that’s what we are celebrating.

Senator Amy Klobuchar ran through some significant historical events that occurred on July 4 near the beginning of her 20-minute speech (full audio). On July 4, 1827, “slavery is abolished in New York State.” The Iowa territory was established on July 4, 1838. “And this is one of my favorites: July 4, 1876, the suffragettes crashed the Centennial celebration in Independence to present the Declaration of the Rights of Women.” The Pathfinder landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. The cornerstone of the Freedom Tower in New York was laid on July 4, 2004. “And July 4, 2019, there are six women running for president of the United States. This is the path that we are on, right? Every single, every single generation, there is more and more progress, and we are on this path together.”

Another historical symbol was at the center of controversy this week, as Nike pulled a shoe designed to celebrate the Fourth of July with a depiction of what is commonly known as the Betsy Ross flag. Former NFL football player Colin Kaepernick had expressed concern that “the Revolutionary-era U.S. flag with 13 white stars and a circle heralded back to a time when black people were enslaved and that it has been appropriated by white nationalist groups.” EJ Dickson reported for Rolling Stone on how such groups have appropriated the flag. Some prominent conservatives have called for a Nike boycott–but weren’t they already supposedly boycotting the company over its relationship with Kaepernick?

Final note on this holiday weekend: this week’s hot weather is perfect for swimming, but I’d be cautious about entering Iowa lakes. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has posted a small number of beach advisories, but that agency disregards federal recommendations for warning the public about swimming in contaminated waterways. Erin Jordan reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette last month,

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended May 22 that states issue advisories against swimming at public beaches when microcystins, a toxin released by harmful algal blooms, are at levels of more than 8 micrograms per liter of water.

The Iowa DNR posts advisories when microcystins are more than 20 micrograms per liter — a standard set by the World Health Organization — and officials say the lower standard would triple the number of state park beach advisories without proof the water is any safer for recreation. […]

Mary Skopec, former Iowa DNR beach monitoring coordinator who now leads the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory on West Lake Okoboji, said the state should consider switching to the EPA’s lower threshold for microcystins.

“That level of 8 is really protecting the most vulnerable — children who spend time in that shallow water where those scums come up on shore,” Skopec said. “Kids put their hands in their mouths a lot.”

Josh Mandelbaum, senior staff attorney for the Environmental Law & Policy Center, commented on Twitter on July 3, “Just saw this week’s state beach monitoring results, and once again, if Iowa used EPA’s recommended standards there would be double the warnings.”

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin

  • Read a book

    It’s a bit of a challenge to feel good about your country at a time when our government is telling women or children in detention camps to drink out of the toilet.

    Turn off the news. Turn off the TV. Turn to a book. Although, even in an otherwise exhilarating read such as CSNY — Crosby, Stills, Nass & Young (Peter Doggett) one can find passages that remind, yeah, same as it ever was: “A Cincinnati phone-in found that 90 percent of callers believed the Guardsmen should have killed more students,” on the Kent State tragedy that prompted Neil Young, studying the Life Magazine spread two weeks after to write then and there “What if you knew her and found her dead on the ground,” about one of the four dead in “Ohio.”

    But then you also get the story of “Teach Your Children.” It “might have remained equally bare, once Stills had fine-tuned the arrangement and added the vocal counterpoint to Graham Nash’s original lyrics. Instead, Crosby approached Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, who was experimenting with a pedal steel guitar in the adjoining studio D. Despite protesting that he was a mere novice on the instrument, he was persuaded to listen to a playback of Nash’s song and add whatever came to mind. After his first run-through, he told the band that he was ready to have a try. To his bemusement, Nash told him that they’d taped his warm-up, and it was perfect.” Now go listen to that novice’s first try. My word. And by the way, the equally beautiful “Find the Cost of Freedom” (buried in the ground) is the B-side of that single.

    Or, you (OK…me) might have picked up another Michael Lewis book that looked interesting, about two really smart guys who examined how wildly bad human logic almost always is (The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds), and it just so happens that the NBA championship is being played out concurrently with this read of the book — which is most definitely NOT a sports book, but is a friendship and statistics and human logic fallibility study — (“We don’t study artificial intelligence, we study natural stupidity.”)) — and yet, and yet, to your delight the first chapter opens up with a tale of half a dozen or so NBA players who are really good, but conventional wisdom on judging players would tell us “no way.” And three of those few players
    profiled were right there on our Iowa boy Nick Nurse’s Toronto Raptors championship team — starters Lowry, Gasol, and bench player Lin. Only Lowry was with the team when Lewis wrote his 2016 book. Serendipity, indeed!

    So forget about the current cancer on the presidency for awhile.

    Walk and talk with your friends or family or find a good book or some good music.