Thoughts on the Fourth of July
Today, I am of two minds about my country. I am a veteran, a retired Navy officer. I, and my family, gave up many of the rich years of our lives while I labored to guarantee the freedoms that we all celebrate today. That gives me a certain latitude to express myself; a latitude which I share with all my brothers and sisters in arms, current and past. I earned that right as I guaranteed yours. So, get over it.
Today is July 4th, 2020; the 244th celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This year's celebration is special and remarkable, but not unique among those that have passed before. In the past wars, foreign and domestic, have made this celebration unique. In the 1930s, the Great Depression, had a dampening impact on life, in general. Instant media has made the celebration a huge broadcast event. This year, our commemoration is different than most others; marred and stifled by a micro-organism. COVID-19. Most traditional gatherings for community celebration of this holiday were canceled, as were the traditional fireworks celebrations, large and small.
My own celebration was to watch a video of a production of 1776, a musical recreation of the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration. Buried within the humor and music are many elements that might be as relevant today as they were 244 years ago, including arguments, negotiations and compromises over economic disparity, sectionalism and the elephant in the room; the issue that, if forced, might have ended any hope for a new nation … slavery. To paraphrase Ben Franklin's character as he attempts to reason with John Adams, 'We are not demigods, John. These are men, respected in their colonies; men of import. They are not to be lectured as if they are errant school boys. We are all endeavoring to do something never done before. If we falter. If we take a wrong step. If we reach too far. We fail.'
The Founders did not fail. The nation that they created was imperfect; even for the times in which these men labored. They knew it, but knew that a beginning must be made. But, imperfect as it was, and continues to be, it still provides a platform accepting revision and improvement. Those in the streets today are protected by that imperfect start and are guaranteed the means to refine it. Cheer our nation's flexibility and potential going forward, not its faults looking back.
This country is like any other living organism. It is constantly evolving. Each iteration is an improvement. There have been directions taken that failed that were removed or repaired. The law is the written word but the written word is subject to interpretation by man; the most imperfect of interpreters.
Yet, despite laws to the contrary, social distance and the vast number of serious challenges we face, my neighborhood, and many within the sound of fireworks, paused to celebrate anyway. Long into the sultry night, resounded fireworks all around. In a special way, a genuine American way, it's the sound of freedom. Since the Whiskey Rebellion, Shea's Rebellion and other social and political upheavals, continuing today, the American spirit will win through, thumbing its nose on occasion at rules and regulations, always driving change when and where needed and yet coming together as one when our freedom is threatened; from without or within.
At the beginning, I said that I was of two minds about my country. I've watched hundreds of thousands of citizens ignore the entreaties of medical experts and gather is large numbers in the belief that, in some way, they are immune. The void of leadership lulls them like a drug. That's a bit like standing on the beach in a hurricane or on the fairway of a golf course in an electrical storm. Even more so, now, for they risk those who did seek shelter, for when they return from the fun, they may bring the storm inside to those they love.
Americans drive faster than the posted speeds without wearing seat belts, continue bad habits in search of momentary and fleeting pleasure, and defile and despoil our environment. Why? The greatest answer is, 'because I'm free to do what I want'. That answer rings hollow to me. Somehow, it seems to flaunt the spirit of sacrifice that built this country.
Stand in the center of Arlington National Cemetery, the plot of American soil in France at Arromanche or the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. Stand among the simple stones of any final resting place, large or small, new or old and tell these men and women who gave all, that you're free to do what you want.
In spirit and as one, they will agree, but with sad reservations. Had they felt they were free from responsibility to others, free to do what they wanted, they might not have answered the call. They might not have volunteered to face danger. It would have been safer to let someone else go, instead, letting someone else take responsibility for their future.
Then, where would your freedom be?