Why, you may ask is that distinction important? Very simply put, it is because we have lost sight of the original cause of celebration. Especially since 9/11 "the fourth" has replaced Independence Day as we've moved from a celebration of the basic freedoms on which this country was founded to an increasingly militaristic display that is actually an extension of our main military holiday, Memorial Day.
Even the most inane celebratory functions can not resist the urge to turn this into a holiday celebrating our military prowess (or our delusion of said prowess). Moments ago I received an email "E-Card" from an old friend. I opened it thinking it might be a belated birthday greeting only to find my eyes and ears assaulted by blaring patriotic music and an appeal to "remember our brave troops on this day".
That's all well and good. However, my friend is mistaken in her belief that this is a military holiday or in any way connected with the military.
Independence Day celebrates one thing and one thing only - our establishment of the United States of America through a daring act of treason. Thanks to some folks who thought outside the box in 1775-1776 we broke with Great Britain over a number of issues - not the least of which was money.
In the Summer of 1776 in the midst of a rebellion these individuals representing the 13 original British Colonies met in Philadelphia. Under the hand of Thomas Jefferson the Declaration of Independence was given form. Introduced on July 4, 1776 this document has served as the truest explanation of the "soul" of the USA for over 200 years.
Take a moment to read the famous Preamble:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Wow! Most people remember that first part, but how many remember the latter part? Let us not forget our country was founded by revolutionaries. Somehow along the way we've forgotten that bit of history.Today any dissent from the "status quo" - that is the despotic rule of a single political party in large areas of the country, a President who has trampled upon rights and liberties and engaged in illegal acts against his own people, even expressing concerns about current foreign policy and wars - any dissent is seen as "unpatriotic", "unamerican", or "hateful".
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Read those words again? Those labels were applied to the men who wrote those words. Well, maybe not "unamerican" but certainly treasonous. Would those same men find speaking out against the abuses of our government wrong? Hardly!
So many Americans today shrug their shoulders at the usurpations of our own petty tyrant and say "Well, times have changed, sacrifices must be made to keep us free and safe."
Interestingly, the very words in that Preamble arose out of the same sort of crisis. In the 1750's Great Britain and France fought an extended "World War". In Europe it was known as the Seven Years War. In the American Colonies it was known as the French and Indian War. During this time France attempted invasions of British Colonial territory in America. British troops were sent to America to help the colonists fight off the French. They eventually won and Great Britain gained Canada as a colony as well. But what of the French? They were still in Louisiana and had outposts in the Carribean. Not to mention the huge French populace in Quebec.
Great Britain decided the best thing to do was keep some troops in the colonies in case hostilities broke out again or the French tried to use their Native American allies to raid settlements along the borders. Very reasonable if we use today's arguments for "security".
But, all those troops and that American "Surge" were pretty expensive. So, Parliament (not the King) decided to raise taxes on goods in America to help pay for all this - after all - they had the good sense to know you can't do all this with no money.
The American colonists, however, objected to any new taxes. Rumbling and protests began. Much like their progeny 200+ years later, they liked the "security" part as long as someone else footed the bill.
Skip ahead to 1775. Protests have turned violent, harbors have been closed, and finally when the government attempted to seize militia armories open rebellion began and the American Revolution was launched.
If we use today's sensibilities that the "government knows best" how to protect us from terrorists or harm, that they know best how to manage our money by bankrupting the country, and that they know best how to protect us by curtailing our basic freedoms; then certainly we cannot fathom why our forefathers broke with Great Britain on July 4, 1776.
Perhaps that is why Independence Day has become "The Fourth" and no longer do you hear the Declaration of Independence read publicly. Perhaps that is why this has become a "military" holiday where we celebrate our military might and forget those stirring and bloody words of 1776 in a haze of fireworks, beer, and barbecues.
After all, those guys would be considered "unAmerican" today!
So, while the rest of the country celebrates "The Fourth" I'll celebrate Independence Day with the spirit of revolt and change that our Founding Fathers embodied. I will still hold that all men are created equal and are entitled to equal protection and equal rights under the law.
Today I will celebrate by continuing to speak against the abuses of our government with "extraordinary rendition". I will speak against the theocritization of our government by people like Cathi Herrod who deny all men are created equal. I will speak against unjust wars because I do believe all men are entitled to life - even if they don't live here. I will fight against draconian laws that deprive people of liberty because of misguided policies. All of those are very American qualities as evidenced by the Declaration of Independence.
So, will you join me or do you prefer the hot dog, fireworks, and platitudes about "freedom" by country music singers?