Why I’m Not Celebrating July 4th This Year


I remember in 1972, I was asked to give a 4th of July speech in some church context which I’ve since forgotten. I was a 32 year old Roman Catholic priest then. And my remarks were critical of the U.S. role in Vietnam and in the Third World in general.

Before I began however, an officer from the local VFW led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember how he prefaced his part with a long July 4th introduction. He praised the flag for being “unsullied in emblemizing mankind’s struggle for freedom, unparalleled in standing in defense of human rights and the pursuit of justice, blessed by God above all others as the flag of his New Chosen People.”

It was enough to turn my stomach.

My nausea was induced by what I knew the U.S. was doing in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Like everyone else, I knew about Mai Lai, Agent Orange, the Phoenix Program, the Pentagon Papers and merciless illegal bombings of civilians.

My revulsion was also fired by my growing awareness of what the United States was doing in the Third World in general and especially in Latin America where the liberation theology I was studying was powerfully shaping consciousness throughout the hemisphere. Its insistence on historical and structural analysis had caused a paradigm shift in my own perception. Increasingly, I was seeing the United States as the Sandinista Anthem would later phrase it, “the enemy of mankind.”

Somehow I got through my speech without having anyone walk out. I still wonder why.

These days I’m feeling even more alienated than I did more than 40 years ago. Contemporary realities have actually turned me against July 4th celebrations.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and the use of drone technology to execute U.S. citizens and anyone in the world without due process are only part of the syndrome this time around. It’s what we’ve recently learned from Ed Snowden, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange that make flag-waving and Pledges of Allegiance so repulsive. Now when I see fireworks, I can only think of Dick Cheney and the “Shock and Awe” pyrotechnics we all saw on CNN when Our Great Country used lies and false pretenses to attack a sovereign nation that had never done us any harm. As Allen Greenspan said in effect, Iraq’s curse and crime was having huge supplies of high grade crude.

As for celebrating our Great Constitution, Snowden’s revelations coupled with a mere reading of the Fourth Amendment are enough to give anyone pause: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Yes, the Constitution’s fine; but increasingly it’s a dead letter.

Similarly, my willingness to celebrate American democracy is tempered these days by memories of the 2000 “election” of George W. Bush through the intervention of his brother who happened to be governor of Florida with the power to deliver the White House to his dear sibling. The machinations of brother Jeb and a crony Supreme Court would have been comical in any Banana Republic scenario. Having it occur in the United States was more than embarrassing. Subsequent insistence on our privilege to monitor and invalidate elections elsewhere in the world has made us the international laughing stock we’ve hoped to make countries like Venezuela and Iran.

And then there’s Republican redistricting, voter suppression, Citizens United, and the recent SCOTUS evisceration of the Voting Rights Act. What’s that you say about free elections?

The crowning glory of all this embarrassment is our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on Planet Earth by blocking every serious attempt to reverse climate change. President Obama’s recent tepid declarations notwithstanding, the U.S. persists in catastrophic denial of what every serious scientific study reiterates: we are on the road to destruction with the “America” blazing the trail.

Our country’s willingness to end life as we know it on our marvelous planet (not to mention our wars and arms industry) is reason enough to believe that Mother Earth would be better off if the U.S. just dropped off the map. Think about it: the earth would be better off without the United States’ pollution, wars and “Way of Life.”

That’s why I’ll do no flag waving or banner display. I’ll recite no Pledges of Allegiance, nor stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Patriotic speeches and other jingoistic claptrap will draw no applause from me.

It’s all gotten so bad and such a matter of public record that it might even make my VFW friend turn over in his grave.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

11 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Celebrating July 4th This Year”

  1. What you have said here has made me lose respect for you. You seem to forget that there are two sides to every story, every thought, every attitude within human thinking. I was (and am) against the wars that our country has begun and continues to justify dishonestly. I understand your feelings about that. And I would be among any protest march or sign any statement attesting to that.

    But how dare you lump all US citizens together in your diatribe. What about our men and women who have died for this country – believing in their hearts and minds that they were acting from pure motives. They were brainwashed the same as the rest of us. But, in their political innocence and a distorted love of country, they answered the call. They paid the ultimate price. They are no longer among us to possibly recant their decision based upon the terrible carnage they saw and the guilt for the human lives they helped to end.

    We will fly our American flag tomorrow — proudly and humbly — to honor those who died believing in it.

    I think you need to engage in some helpful critical thinking here!


    1. Dear Aliceny, I’m sorry if I offended you; your comments (including this one) are always so thoughtful and thought-provoking for me. But don’t you think that the sentiments reflected in your comment might have been expressed by Germans during WWII about their own troops? Should they (as simple Germans deceived by their leaders) have been “honored” for what they did? Just asking . . .



      1. I am 80 years old, so far with most of my mental acuity and blessed and graced by my Lord and dearest friend Jesus the Christ. I am an Irish RC who has strayed from the institutional hierarchical patriarchal Church. Cannot tolerate the hypocrisy, the political infighting of the inbred Curia, the criminality of the Vatican Bank, the unacceptable numbers of practicing homosexuals hiding out in seminaries and in the priesthood, the constant child sexual abuse coverups by bishops and cardinals, and the collusion with corrupt legislators, lobbyists and corporations that the church has been party to over the years. Implementation of the hopeful ideas generated by Vatican II have been quashed by right wing theologians and the papacy. The world’s poor and the suffering get lip service for the most part. Liberation Theology is sounding better to me the more I learn of it.. A married priesthood (or no priesthood at all) and Gospel-oriented home churches would be an excellent starting point when we finally get around to re-making the church in Jesus’vision, according to His words in the Gospels.


      2. Aliceny, thanks so much for such a thoughtful response. In that remark about “falling off the map,” I was thinking literally about climate change and how the future of the planet would be so much brighter without the stubborn insistence of the U.S. on continuing the “American Way of Life” unchanged by painful scientific facts. As for U.S. foreign policy, even though you’d like to kick me in my derriere, we seem to be far more in agreement that the U.S. and its wars have been disastrously destructive, and that people in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. would be far better off without the United States. And, no, I don’t think it is only in hindsight that such disasters can be perceived. Do you remember the tremendous world-wide mobilization against the war in Iraq before its horrendous initiation? There were also many prophetic voices expressing dissent around the other conflicts you lament. And the people expressing such concern have always been told to “love it or leave it.” In a real democracy there should be room for truth-tellers like Dorothy Day, Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Assata Shakur, Malcolm X, MLK and all the others who have been called traitors and enemy-sympathizers. We’d be much poorer had they decided to “leave it.”


      3. Thank you, Mike, for your kind response. You have answered the concerns that I had in your posting. And, yes, we most assuredly do have many things with which we agree. We just seem to reach them from different angles.

        I am the sister of three former Marines – two who served in Korea but were stationed stateside and never ‘smelled powder,’ as my father used to say. My third brother was with the Marine Air Wing in Vietnam. During the Tet offensive he was wounded. His best friend who was standing next to him at the time had his head blown off, spattering his brains all over my brother. He only told my son this when he was drunk and smoking pot. Otherwise, he never mentioned it. But — and this is significant I think — he totally changed his opinion about our entrance into the war; that we should never have been there, that we were lied to. He later told me that many of his buddies had expressed the same opinion. You will remember, Mike, that the returning Vietnam vets were treated very badly upon their return from Vietnam. That hurt me and other vets’ families to the bone. And then, there was Jane Fonda……!


      4. Mike,
        …And I am just replying hypothetically to your red herring…
        My mind is still reeling from your statement that the earth would be better off if the U.S. just dropped off the map. If you feel so strongly about that, I hope you will renounce your American citizenship. I suspect that your comments would not be acceptable to the citizens of Berea and to other Kentuckians. Your anti-American opinions will not be missed. I don’t give a damn if you don’t display a banner or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But if I were standing next to you while you remained seated during the playing of our national anthem, I would be sorely tempted to knock you on your derriere.
        I still stand by my original reply and the rationale behind it so I will not reiterate here.

        What a cruel, unloving, thing to say in not respecting the sacrifices that American servicemen and women (remember the nurses of Bataan and Corregidor, e.g.?) made during WWII and in later wars. Many volunteered and many were drafted into service. But we must honor their service, their sacrifices and willingness to die for their country – despite the fact that we were all lied to. That realization did not come until after the war(s). It is their intent that we honor. Can you not accept that moral difference, Mike?

        In honesty, and in respect for your opinion, I admit to that I DO agree with much of what you have said in your original posting.

        I remember all of the wars, beginning with WWII and the attack on Pearl Harbor on that terrible Sunday in 1941. I have since begun to accept the possible conspiracy theory that FDR had foreknowledge of the events that led up to that day. But what a wonderful stirring gung-ho speech he gave on the radio later that Sunday. He made us all want to grab a gun, or an axe, or any weapon to go after those “slant-eyed Japs.” There were almost immediate lines outside the recruiting offices for all our armed services.

        That war was quickly followed by Korea (a testament to MacArthur’s ego). And then, just a few short years later, the interminable Vietnam war in the ‘60s and 70s that tore this nation apart, alienated families, killed thousands of American combatants and innocent Vietnamese civilians, and chemically ravaged the Vietnamese landscape. In the end, it resulted in a no-win situation for our armed services. The first of more to come….

        I applaud the actions of Daniel Ellsberg, The Catonsville Nine, the Berrigan brothers, and the thousands upon thousands of Americans who risked arrest and prison to march en masse in our streets, take over university offices, burn draft cards, and write editorials and books to tell their fellow Americans the truth about what was happening.

        All of these wars were the result of lies, effective PR that told us what our leaders (Cabal) wanted us to know and nothing more – certainly not the truth – , and a gullible patriotic American public that fell in line and accepted the propaganda.. (Like sheep we were led to the slaughter.) In retrospect I believe that we have been, and continue to be, led by evil men in collusion with other evil men.
        We cannot let the media off the hook here either. They were fully involved in the collusion.

        The wars in Central America in the late 70s and up to this time have been orchestrated in part by the U.S. CIA and NSA in collusion with U.S. corporations, landowners and corrupt government leaders in the CA countries.
        Thousands of campesinos have been slaughtered. Thousands more are missing, American priests, including Archbishop Romero of El Salvador, many other religious sisters brothers and laypeople have been murdered. The U.S. is still training CA and SA officers in Fort Benning GA. under the innocuous name, West Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formerly known as School of the Americas (SOA).

        Then, thanks to ‘no balls,’ lying George W. Bush, who needed his sidekick and mouthpiece, Cheney, to do most of his dirty work, together with the evil triumverate Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, (advisors) and more then 30 other Jews in his administration, we began our foray into the Middle East — Iraq and Afghanistan — in what I see as Israel’s proxy wars. The current Zionist hawkish government in Israel is committed to involving the U.S. in a war with Iran. Israel’s numerous armed nuclear facilities (courtesy of France and the U.S.) ensure that they are more than capable of defending themselves. Yet they want us to help them ‘take out’ Iran’s nuclear capabilities. Their paranoia will not be appeased until they engage us in yet another war, including ‘boots on the ground,’ in Iran.

        Most Americans never heard of Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula during the 6-Day war in June 1967. The ship was attacked by Israeli aircraft using cannon, rockets and napalm. Men were strafed in the water. 34 men were killed. 171 were wounded. There was a massive American cover-up of the incident by the NSA and the US Navy. Israel still refuses to admit to or to accept blame for the attack. We still continue to supply them with armaments and billions of dollars each year!

        No! I am not anti-Jewish. I honor my Christian roots in Judaism. And, yes, I do agree that Israel has a right to a homeland. They have paid for it with their blood and untold suffering. But – that does not give the current government the right to treat the Palestinians as they do.
        What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is criminal. But that is another matter. I leave that to the Lord. He loved Israel first. He knows how to deal with her and her apostates.

        Thank you for hearing me out, Mike.

        The Peace and Love of Christ be with you always.


  2. Hi Mike
    I fully understand your sentiment. Keep churning it out. It gives us hope.
    Back in ’72 based in US ruled Okinawa I was the Merrill rep for handling commissary (PX etc) funds for Guam, Saipan, Tinan! and empire trans Gaul. I watched as the sun sank in a flame over the exquisite Pacific as the B52s like huge dragon flys rolled slowly, laden with Agent Orange and worse. down the Kadena air strip…like your Vet friend; as my mother woulds say we did not know our ass from our elbow back then.
    Up the road from me here in Donnybrook Dublin a US franchise is running a 4th of July special…probably worse than agent orange…and we are loven it. Not to be blamed – they know not what they do!
    But Mike the reason they listened to you way back then is because most understood that you might be right….now the majority know it. We got to keep on pushing the envelope and take a pill for the nausea.
    I feel worse than you do but live in hope…I have grand children to protect! Cancer yes but nausea no.
    Edward Snowden has sought refuge in Ireland.
    Most men of conscious would regard Snowden as a prophet (later called False prophet) for speaking out in the same way as Jesus did in his time and Oscar Romero, Manning, the Jesuit Dan Berrigan and brother, prophets, as you Mike so often repeat, because they revealed the evil and hypocrisy of the empires of their time.
    Even if one does not agree with what Snowden is doing very few want him to be a globally hounded scapegoat, dead or alive, by US “Justice”.
    This is an embarrassing position the government of Ireland has been placed in, the government as distinct from 70+% of us blessed with ears to hear and eyes to see.
    Many of us Irish have not been tagged “gombeen men” over history without reason. We are a nation of expediency experts. Masters of the high-wire between good and evil, truth and falsehood. We often base our principles on what is good for us rather than what is morally correct when it may compromise our other interests.
    We learned this stunt over centuries from having to live between the dual Gorgon powers of Mother England and Mother Church.
    And now we have been put in a corner and one will be able to observe again how deft and soft-shoe we are in weasling out of it. Irish media will lead the way in the art of speaking in forked tongue knowing that the US Embassy and Chamber of Commerce are listening! Their back-up option is based on international corporate media standard of burying it. Moving from the main news to snippets in the back page. Moving from the real issue on to juicy or quirky sex… celeb scandals which can drag on for one five or ten years, as long a papers sell!
    As a nation of gombeen men we instinctively recognize that on matters of such divided opinion that there are always two sides to the story, at least. Thinking things through and slowly is part of our survival kit.
    Ireland has been in the financial and Church news a lot recently, which is all extremely negative. This is our opportunity for the whole nation , people church and state to show real national courage…we fly our government jet to Moscow and bring Snowden to Dublin Airport, (where rendition is not yet accepted). And invite all to a welcome party. We have been internally trying to encourage whistle blowers for years. This will be the proof we are serious.
    But therein lies the rub!.

    US client states France and Portugal have fallen in step by “scrambling” to order Mayan president of Bolivia’s plane to land in Austria. The importance in all this is no one seems to give a hoot.
    In the meantime it is back to real issues in client Ireland…news on a British Isles’ mishmash rugby team somewhere in the Antipodes and the old eternal stand-by red herrings – pro-life or SS Marriage.
    There also was a passing remark by our Dear Leader that Snowden has to be in Ireland before his situation can be even discussed.(come into my parlor said deputy spider to a fly.) Which means – “I do not know the man.” And the cock can crow itself hoarse.
    And of course a new papal whitewash was variously mentioned without much enthusiasm. Saints alive!
    PS…the job has just begun Mike. Hope I am not still under interdict! Edit where you see fit. Jim


    1. Dear Jim: The power that the U.S. is now displaying in the Snowden affair is formidable. It has already intimidated Ecuador and Russia! Hopefully, if Snowden cannot find a place in Ireland, he’ll be able to do so somewhere on the continent where popular sentiment has been aroused by his revelations about spying on governments and ordinary citizens. You’re right he is prophetic. It’s ironic that he is under threat of punishment for revealing crimes, while the real criminals have become the prosecutors.


      1. Mike
        I would like to add one other man’s view to this discussion, a discussion by the way where we are in the same boat.
        This clip is long and busy people may not have time to listen. I may have sent it to the former Columban Bros previously.
        What struck me most when I listened was how far down the road of fascism and total plutocracy we are, most of us oblivious.
        No EU country will touch an enemy of Caesar. Snowden’s only hope is South America. Especially as he seems to be running out of material. The fact the EU offices were bugged is now out of the news. The offices were bugged. “So what?” Is the US attitude.
        I understand the love Americans have had for their tradition …like to love we Irish have for the millions of cousins we have there. I was there in the golden 60ies.This is the sad part. It is all run by a cabal at the top, And I dont mean the Punch and Judy government.
        Modern physics suggests critical mass does not necessarily mean large numbers. Small, tightly flocked and consistent mass has more exponential growth potential!
        This sociopolitical tour de force points to how we arrived at where we are at and how close the precipice is.


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