Columnist John Paradis: Jan. 6, 2021: A day that will live in infamy

  • Supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. AP

  • People listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a rally Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. AP

Published: 1/7/2021 11:50:26 AM

I served in Iraq. Mortar rounds were fired into our compound nearly every night. During the day, it was one of my jobs to review photographs of atrocities committed by Iraqi militants. I viewed beheadings, electrocutions, burns and worse. I saw plenty.

In Afghanistan, I witnessed wanton violence that still makes my blood curdle.

In Bosnia, the words “Welcome to the Twilight Zone,” greeted me on a sign when our ops team left the security of the airport in Sarajevo to check out the situation on the ground. A few months before we landed, the world witnessed mass graves from the massacre in Srebrenica.

In Rwanda in 1994, I was part of an advance team to investigate findings of a “final solution” during a civil war that resulted in genocide. No country, including ours, intervened.

Insurrection was the sterile military term I knew and used often when describing lawlessness and defiance of civil norms in other countries. Insurgents was the label for those who carried out open and violent resistance against authority.

We know from history that it doesn’t take much for insurrection to lead to organized murder or genocide. Life is cheap in many corners of our earth.

But not here is what many Americans think.

I wrote a column some months ago that our nation was now in a cold civil war. And if we didn’t defend our institutions and contain and defeat extremism, the civil war could get hot and fast.

I got some blow back for saying it. We are the United States of America, after all. Some fellow veterans told me: “Don’t you forget, we’re the greatest country on the face of the earth.” Wave the American flag. Or wave an even larger Trump flag and shout, Sieg Heil (a victory salute originally used by Nazis at political rallies) and storm the capitol.

After Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, a day that will live in infamy, how are you feeling about our nation now?

Never in my life did I think I would witness a total utter collapse in command and control where the capitol could be breached and come under attack from thugs. But was I in disbelief? No.

We all saw the signals. In military parlance, we “got the intel.”

What happened on Wednesday was not an intelligence failure. It was a total security and law enforcement failure. During civil rights marches and other protests in Washington, you see the police in riot gear and even the National Guard in full battle rattle come out. Not on Wednesday.

The breakdown in protecting our nation’s capitol is baffling or, worse, leads to the question of whether there was complicity in the highest seats of our government. In short, where was Homeland Security? Where was the Pentagon in defending our Constitution?

It was also political, social and economic instability that brought us to this boiling point with Trump as the incendiary device. High unemployment, mass protests, climate crisis natural disasters, corruption, and a runaway pandemic is the perfect kindling wood for civil unrest and civil war. Trump and his ideology built the fire and stoked the flames.

When studying other insurgencies in other countries, we in the military would assess such instability for the risk of atrocities such as war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

The situation in our own nation has digressed so much that I can guarantee you that other world leaders, including the United Nations and the intelligence and security analysts they employ, are now deeply concerned. They are examining our nation in the same manner for the same signals. They no doubt are assessing us for further unrest, further instability and, yes, the chance, for future genocide.

What happened Wednesday was also most certainly an accountability failure. It was culmination of the many failures of we citizens and those we elect to hold the one man who is most responsible for sowing division in our nation accountable. That he remains in office, even if he now has just 13 days left, is beyond comprehension.

When studying insurgencies, the military examines economic insecurity, how to build-up a middle class, ways to decrease gaps between rich and poor and the concentration of power and wealth. We also looked at building greater dialogue in civil discourse, securing elections, protecting the right to vote and how to build trust and faith in government. We also encouraged a strong and independent press.

Sound familiar?

We have a lot of work to do right here at home. We are not the greatest country on earth. We are the country many now don’t want to become.

Joe Biden will try to be the great unifier just as President Lincoln set out to do nearly 161 years ago. What followed then was a civil war that resulted in 1 million-plus dead and an assassination. Some say we’re still fighting the same war.

I never used to be afraid of my own government until this year when we allowed a tyrant to continue unabated. That tyrant built a cult following; many of whom we now know are willing to follow him to the point of insurrection and sedition.

Our nation fought a civil war once already and went on to fight tyrants abroad several times. What we do next here in our house today will define our destiny and whether we become whole again.

John Paradis, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, lives in Florence and writes a monthly column for the Gazette. He can be reached at

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