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Some (not so festive) Holiday Thoughts
This was a complicated 4th
I don’t know about you, but I feel like there was a lot to ponder and process this July 4th. Congress is investigating whether the former president and his inner circle committed crimes related to the 2021 insurrection. The Supreme Court has upheld gun rights while restricting reproductive rights. And speaking of guns, there have been a lot of shootings lately.
Add to it the war in Ukraine, economic woes, and the still simmering pandemic, and you have a lot weighing on the American people. I know my head has been spinning in recent days, and that will be evident in the rest of this post, which is kind of like cranial onomatopoeia.
So, I’m not sure I was in the most festive mood last night when I attended a rooftop party here in D.C. to watch the official fireworks display along with countless not-so-official ones around the city.
Although, if the other partygoers were preoccupied with everything happening now, they certainly didn’t show it. The crowd was largely European and the average age was maybe 30 at most. They were young, fit, fashionable, and essentially D.C. elite.
People were playing beer pong, taking selfies, and watching the fireworks displays. I have to note that they were all filming in portrait orientation, which I consider a reflection of how Insta and TikTok are killing cinematography skills, but I digress.
On one level, the party scene was pleasant. It was a reminder of how America attracts people from all over the world seeking freedom and opportunity.
However, I’m pretty sure the crowd at the party didn’t need to come to America to flee hardship and find freedom and opportunity. They carried on playing beer pong and talking about yachts.
I sat soaking it all in, and my mind wandered far from that rooftop. Of course, that was also a function of the fact that I wasn’t hearing fireworks, I was hearing mortars, rockets, and AKs. I was hearing Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places I traveled. It never gets out of your system.
As the fireworks boomed and danced in the sky, I couldn’t help but remember my final embed in Iraq in December 2011. It was during the last days of the war. U.S. troops were heading for the exits. I spent a night at a small base that was serving as a pit stop for convoys driving south to Kuwait.
Troops would pull into the base to stretch and fuel up before the last leg out of the country. There was an air of relief and excitement as soldiers were on their way home for what they thought was the last time (some would later head to Afghanistan, and others back to Iraq when the next round kicked off in 2014).
I went out on a night patrol with soldiers who were making sure the route stayed clear of IEDs. We marched through villages and the young soldiers stopped several times to say farewell to Iraqi forces they had partnered with for the last year or so. They all said they were going to miss each other. It was kind of moving.
As we walked along, luminous rounds hovered overhead, lighting up the sandy streets. That’s the connection to the 4thof July party — the fireworks reminded me of the lum rounds and how I felt more comfortable and in my element on a night patrol in Iraq than on a rooftop in D.C. surrounded by first-world elites.
I recognize it’s a little weird to be sentimental about time in a war zone while sitting at a party in D.C., but that’s how I’m wired — perhaps I should say that’s how years in war zones and difficult places rewired me. That’s my world. Seven years after returning from Afghanistan, I’m still a fish out of water in the D.C. bubble.
I still remember a lieutenant in Iraq saying how he was going to miss the bond he had with his soldiers while deployed. Downrange, they were brothers, and it wouldn’t be that way back at garrison. Three years later, I would come to understand and live that sentiment myself.
Anyhow, another reason why I found it difficult to get into the party spirit was because right now a good friend is a political prisoner suffering in jail in Nicaragua. I have written before about Felix Maradiaga, and unfortunately the situation is getting worse.
Here’s the recap. Felix was an up-and-coming star in Nicaragua. He was bright, caring, and a champion of freedom and democracy.
In 2005-2006 we were in grad school together. Not long after graduation, Daniel Ortega, the Marxist thug who had ruled Nicaragua in the ‘80s, rebranded himself as a kinder, gentler socialist and won the country’s presidential election.
I visited Nicaragua in February 2007, shortly after Ortega came back to power. I spent time with Felix, who was trying to be optimistic. He had been ousted from his position as secretary general of the Ministry of Defense. He was gearing up to be an opposition figure and help lead a movement to defeat Ortega in the next election.
Not surprisingly, it didn’t play out like that. Ortega consolidated power. He went after the opposition. Felix was detained and beaten on multiple occasions.
Felix could have taken the easy way out. There were opportunities for him in the United States and elsewhere. He could have gotten a university gig or a think tank position, or any number of things. He could have spent 4th of Julys playing beer pong on a D.C. rooftop.
But he wanted to help his country, and to him that meant staying and working for the opposition. Last year — an election year in Nicaragua — it cost him. He and other opposition candidates were rounded up by Ortega’s goons. They were detained on bogus charges so common in dictatorships — undermining national unity and other such nebulous things.
Since then, Felix has been suffering in isolation and convicted in a sham trial. He was sentenced to more than a decade in prison.
The international community has made some noise about it, but not enough. No one is interested in spending much political capital on trying to get political prisoners freed in Nicaragua.
Now, Felix and some of the other prisoners are on a hunger strike. It’s dangerous given that according to the limited information we’ve been able to get from the few times relatives were allowed to communicate with him, Felix has already lost a lot of weight and there are concerns about his health.
Tomorrow, Felix’s wife will start a three-day fast in solidarity with him and the other prisoners and in hopes of calling attention to their plight. I wish them the best and hope as well that it will lead to action.
So, that’s what was going through my mind during the holiday weekend and fireworks party. Not exactly hot dogs and ice cream.