7.5.2015 4:00 AM
Took the kids to see the fireworks, late night, so BYON this morning.
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7.4.2015 9:00 PM
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7.4.2015 4:00 AM
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Tags: Fourth of July
7.3.2015 9:00 PM
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7.3.2015 4:00 AM
Repost for this year's 4th.
INDEPENDENCE DAY, JULY 4, 2011
This coming July 4, 2011, marks the 239th anniversary of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence. It is a statement unanimously adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, which announced that the thirteen American Colonies were then independent states, and no longer a part of the British Empire. Written primarily by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration is a formal explanation of why Congress had voted on July 2 to declare independence from Great Britain, more than a year after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. The birthday of the United States of America is celebrated on July 4, the day the wording of the Declaration was approved by Congress.
The Declaration justified the independence of the United States by listing colonial grievances against King George III, and by asserting certain natural rights, including a right of revolution. The second sentence of the Declaration is a sweeping statement of human rights and is justifiably famous on its own:
“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.”
However, this essay is not intended to be a history lesson. It is instead my own perspective of Independence Day and, indeed, the United States of America.
I can safely say that, among the secular holidays, July 4th has always been my favorite. From the time when I first discovered firecrackers and small town American celebrations through to today, I find that nothing exceeds either the pleasure of the holiday (which we have, mercifully, kept to July 4th, resisting temptation to give all of us a “Three day weekend”) or its significance.
FAIR WARNING: What follows is an unashamedly pro-American essay.
I was fortunate enough to be born in the United States of America, to wonderful parents who were each also natural born Americans. My Dad (RIP) was a fighter Jock in WWII (flew a P-38) who had his education as an engineering major interrupted in his first semester, junior year by Pearl Harbor. He was blinded in one eye by enemy gunfire, but he worked HARD his entire life to help make a better life for his family. He was not perfect, but was the best man at each of my two weddings because he was, in fact, the Best Man I ever knew. My Mom has also worked hard her entire life, trying to make a better life for her family, and her father was a 30+ year Army officer (reserves) who saw action with Pershing chasing after Poncho Villa on the Texas Border, in France in WWI, in the Pacific in WWII and in Japan during the Korean Police Action. In addition, Mom taught me the value of charitable/community works as she was President of the PTA and a volunteer with the Friends of the Library while I was in High School, and still gives to and helps numerous charities today. Indeed it is my pleasure to be living with my Mom, who saved me from severe depression and poverty when I was diagnosed with cancer and was no longer able to work. Both of my parents “grew up” during the Great Depression. We moved around a lot – some 12 places by the time I started High School, Dad always going where the work was. I managed to work/scholarship/student loan my way through undergraduate college and Scholarship/Work/G.I. Bill my way through law school. My major in undergraduate studies was American History, with a focus on Colonial American and Revolutionary American history, with side trips which included the United States Constitution, and jaunts through the “Wild West”. I also enlisted and served as an enlisted man in the U.S. Army during Vietnam and have done at a considerable amount of charitable work, mostly on behalf of other Vietnam Veterans. And I have enjoyed spending Independence Day in small town America as well as in large cities. The celebrations in each have their own, unique flavor and feeling, but they are all good.
It is from that background that I look at America with such great admiration, respect, affection and love.
Yes, yes I know full well that America has had its dark moments, slavery, treatment of “Native Americans” and Women. And we haven’t always made it easy for legal immigrants to get along here, much less assimilate. Those dark periods, from which we did emerge, albeit somewhat later than some other civilized nations, are only further indications to me that America and Americans have pursued our mutual ideas and ultimately mutual ideals, and are continuing to do so.
And it seems fitting to me that we did go through the darker periods of our existence to come out on the other side.
Because, although America IS a nation, with defined geographical boundaries, it is also the idea – the Ideal envisioned by those who unanimously signed the Declaration of Independence and went on to struggle through the time of the Articles of Confederation to reach the U.S. Constitution and the first 10 amendments thereto (the “Bill of Rights”). Those Americans are the ones I mean when I refer to the Founding Fathers.
And the vision of the Founding Fathers was, in fact, a unique one: that the people who are governed should themselves choose the governors. We embarked on this idea of America without a map or a compass. No one had tried this before. Indeed, after the unanimous vote of the Continental Congress to declare Independence, one of the members from New York, Mr. Livingston, stood up and addressed the other members of the Continental Congress thusly: “I wonder if, should our idea of the people governing themselves not turn out to be practicable, does anyone think that Great Britain would take us back as colonies?”.
That America is still evolving does not mean, however, that we have surrendered the ideals of our Founding Fathers. While there have been many Americans who have tried –with modest success thus far – to turn America into something the Founding Fathers would abhor, the majority of us still subscribe to and believe in the idea 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. Of course, “men” means men and women, White, Black and indeed all colors, races and religions, and “Creator” has been interpreted in a variety of ways. But the idea that we are ALL entitled to the pursuit of Life, Liberty and Happiness has not changed that much if at all. More importantly, perhaps is that we still FIRMLY believe that the governed should do the governing. Indeed, in his first Inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson, the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence said: "Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question."
I am, however, not content to let “history” answer Jefferson’s question. It is my belief that there has never been a Nation, much less one as young as ours, that has not only succeeded in the people governing themselves, but has given SO MUCH of its treasure –in lives and in money - to others in need. And we have not asked for much at all in return. In many cases, of course, America had to give so much of her treasure to protect herself, as well as to protect others.But in many, many cases, it was simply America trying to help others where such help was needed and was the “right” thing to do. We haven’t asked for territory or treasure in return.
America has never been an “empire” in any just sense of that word. But when parts of the World, or indeed, virtually the entire World has called out for help, the United States of America has answered the call. Not just in two World Wars, nor in a United Nations sponsored “Police Action” nor, indeed in assisting nations who were and are still hostile to us (see, e.g. Indonesia and the aid individual Americans gave to it, the largest Muslim nation in the world, following the tsunami of 2004 nor even with assisting other nations to obtain their own Freedom. President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush both succeeded in having Mr. Gorbachav “tear down that wall” thus freeing hundreds of millions from the yoke of Soviet slavery. We have helped Iraq to become a democracy – still in its infancy, but a democracy nonetheless. And we are trying to do the same thing in Afghanistan. Many will argue that the U.S. has no business nation building. And I can sympathize with that feeling. America has the most powerful and professional military in the World. But they are trained to “break things and kill people”. They are NOT trained to build nations. And yet……..when the opportunity presents itself for America to help create OTHER democracies, we have a strong tendency to do so.
America has offered hope to individuals who have immigrated here, much less those who were born here. That my father worked extraordinarily hard and long hours to improve his family’s lot in life, that my mother did the same on the home front and tried and worked hard to help others could only have started to happen here in America. I followed in my father’s footsteps in terms of military service, hard work and long hours and my mom’s footsteps of hard work and working on behalf of those individuals and groups who needed help, JUST BECAUSE we were given the hope and opportunity that America holds out to all American Citizens. And our family has always embraced and enjoyed the most precious gift America has to offer: FREEDOM. But my family is not atypical. Indeed, one of the best examples of American exceptionalism is the way communities come together to help themselves or others in need. And we do it almost reflexively.
And the accomplishments of America – far too numerous to even list here, which are also examples of American exceptionalism - are significant. My grandfather would have been extremely pleased, indeed, thrilled to see the moment in time when we put a man on the Moon. Moreover, my entire family is struck by the incredible ability of people to communicate through all sorts of technical devices. That a significant amount of that communication is not worth hearing or seeing is, for these purposes, irrelevant. It is the SPIRIT of Americans which is truly exceptional.
Throughout our history, starting with our Founding Fathers, Americans have never been “satisfied” with the status quo. Indeed, for the first approximately 150 years of our existence, we have been explorers: always looking for something even better than existed at the time. Our Westward expansion as a nation was truly incredible. The hardships endured by those who went west, to live a hoped for “better life” is astounding to those who’ve tried to trace some of their trails, much less had the opportunity to try it for themselves.
Friends of mine have not infrequently wondered at my emotional connection to those who came before us. And I can’t explain it myself. But the first time I saw and explored Fort Ticonderoga – long before it had been “cleaned up” as a tourist attraction – I felt a connection to those who served America there; I felt a strong sense of connection to them – they fought for US, not knowing whether or not WE would ever come to walk in their footsteps. From there I have been privileged to visit and explore a large part of our nation, always wondering at the courage and tenacity Americans exhibited along the way. Two hopefully brief examples will, I hope, suffice to indicate my emotional attachment to America.
Early February at Fort Dix in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey. I was in Advanced Infantry Training on a Field Training Exercise. Our Company Commander called the Company out of our Squad Sized Tents (about 8 bunk beds and a truly precious coal stove which heated the entire tent to about 90 degrees, higher than called for, but about right for our squad!) into Company formation. Temperature was in the low 20’s, it was snowing and sleeting and the wind had the ice literally cutting our exposed faces and ears. We stood in formation for about 15 minutes or so before the CO appeared. He didn’t say a word. Just stood there staring at us. He finally spoke and said “I suppose all of you men wonder why I’ve made you stand out here, in this brutal cold weather. You, of course, have the benefit of the latest and best US Army clothing and equipment. Yet I’ll bet you are all cold- freezing your butts off, right? Well I want you all to think of something: We live in a FREE America. We do so because hundreds of thousands of brave men have come before us to keep us free. At Valley Forge, General George Washington’s Continental Army live in conditions JUST LIKE THESE but were so ill-equipped that some 3,000 troops DIED because of pneumonia and other illnesses, and some of them starved to death. I want all of you to stay out on the parade ground for as long as you think you can. Do you think YOU could have been warriors such as those in the Continental Army to fight for an idea? You may stand at ease.” I was, of course, FREEZING and my face and ears were numb. Our Company, no dummies, all raced off to our tent, and fired up the coal stove. And I followed them.I was, frankly ashamed and embarrassed. I discovered that I wouldn’t have made it as a “warrior” in Washington’s Army. (That was, by the way, the first time I’ve ever heard of or believed that we were “warriors” a term which is much in vogue these days.). And I did worry that perhaps I was not worthy of being a beneficiary of the service and sacrifice of all those who had come before me. Later events in my life, albeit in a much hotter climate and environment would soothe those worries, but only highlighted, for me, the true sacrifices made by those who came before me.
June in Panama, at the 8th Special Forces Jungle Warfare School in Panama. I had been stationed in Panama for several months and had discovered a place that served “Pizza” (well, it was the only Pizza I knew of in Panama) and ice cold beer. Frequented by a few US Army troops and mostly Panamanian students – intellectuals, they fancied themselves. I learned a lot about how we, the U.S., were perceived by Panamanians. I became friends with Jorge. He was sort of the leader of the Panamanians at the “pizza” place. We visited – he came to our base, I went to his home and met his wife and child. We greatly enjoyed our political/philosophical discussions One night, as I was leaving, his wife begged me not to come again as she thought La Guardia Nacional (Panama’s version of military/police force) was watching her husband. I’m sad to say I didn’t understand; Jorge had not advocated the overthrow of his government, but was merely critical of Omar Torrijos who was becoming THE strong man in Panamanian government.
About two weeks later, Jorge’s wife showed up at our base and told me that Jorge had been taken away in a military truck, after being severely beaten. She hadn’t seen him since. I tried to get our Command – The Southern Command – involved and was rather bluntly told to stay the hell out of “internal Panamanian political matters”. I was also restricted to our base. Shortly before I left Panama, about 3 months later, I stopped in to see Jorge’s wife. She and the child were gone. A neighbor said to me that no one had seen Jorge since he had been beaten and taken away, and his wife and child were “disappeared” three days after she came to my base and talked to me about Jorge. THEY WERE SIMPLY GONE. Because Jorge had spoken out in criticism of Torrijos.
I don’t know how to adequately express my appreciation to our Founding Fathers and all who came after them for OUR Freedom of Speech. Their sacrifices, their bravery, and indeed, their tolerance of other points of view, albeit after many difficult trials and tribulations, are truly remarkable and worth celebrating. But I cannot adequately express my appreciation to all of them: Warriors, philosophers, politicians and “just” citizens all. Words fail me, I fear.
BUT I do know that the United States of America is the greatest nation in the world BECAUSE of our Freedoms, as set forth in the Constitution and especially in our Bill of Rights. And I note that, to date, no other nation in the world has the same Bill of Rights as do we. We do enjoy freedom of speech, while other nations have “tribunals” that prosecute “hate speech” and we have freedom of worship while other nations will allow only one religion to be observed (at leastopenly). We also have the right to bear arms, while other nations prohibit the mere ownership of any firearms. And every 4 or 8 years we have a turnover of power, and while the elections leading up to that turnover of power may well be extremely contentious, the peaceful turnover of power does happen.
And so I will celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the United States of America. I do so, mindful of my educational and real life experiences, with a sense of true joy that I AM AN AMERICAN.
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"I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." - Thomas Jefferson
© 2009 Correspondence Committee