What Independence Day is Really About and Why it Matters
As I have watched the news and coverage leading up to the Fourth of July over the last few years, I felt a frustration with our country. Let me be clear that I am a staunch supporter of our military and the amazingly courageous men and women who choose to be a part of it and their families. I see the positives it offers to so many and, as a student and teacher of history, the impact it has had on our nation in general. I think those currently serving and our veterans should be applauded every day and am happy that we honor them on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. However, this year more than ever it is important for us to remember what the Independence Day is really about.
The Fourth of July is not about America's military, although I admit it is neat to hear a canon in the 1812 Overture. Oh but Kim, it is about America's freedoms that our military has made sure we keep repeatedly, and our fight for independence that our military won! It is just that no, it's really not. While both of those things are true facts that have happened and things we should all be grateful for, the Independence Day is not about that. Granted without a military victory, made up of a very ragtag continental army trained by a Prussian and led by an amazing French strategist and an American hero who never truly had a standout victory and various part-time militias, we wouldn't celebrate it like we do, that is still not what the holiday honors. If it were we would celebrate October 19 (last major battle of the Revolution) or September 3 (day Treaty of Paris was signed). I also truly don't believe that this specific American hero would want it to be about the military because he understood the true focus. Remember, this is the same man (George Washington if you hadn't figured that out) who disbanded the army as soon as the war was won and promptly attempted at least to retire from public life (even if that didn't last). He is also the one who warned about political parties but I digress. Independence Day is not even about the freedoms later guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Independence Day is about a group of fifty six courageous men who committed treason. It is about men who dared to stand against the most powerful nation in the world because it was wrong and oppressive. Men who brazenly declared their leader a tyrant and asserted their obligation to rise up and remove him to the world. They recognized that it was a nation that was restricting their freedoms and that they had lost true representation to have their voices heard. It is about making a decision in which there was no turning back, either they gain independence or die. It is about men who dared to take a chance on a form of government only written and theorized about. A type of government that they had no example to go off of and that had never been fully attempted in the world. A government that would never have survived had many of these same men not been able to swallow their pride just eleven years later, admit failure, and reorganize the nation through the Constitution. It is about their sacrifices and the choices they made.
Not all these men who signed the Declaration went on to live happy lives like Adams or Jefferson. Some went on to fight and die in the War for Independence, some had their houses and property destroyed by the British, and some were captured, tortured, and killed for their actions. Fourth of July should be a time in which we reflect on our nation's history, making sure our nation today is something deserving of their risks.
We live in a country where more people can name characters in a TV show than can name the Bill of Rights or even the unalienable rights in the Declaration. Instead of the 1812 Overture why isn't the Declaration read? Why isn't it a day taken to remember the history of our nation rather than use military men and women to distract the rest of us from realizing what our country has become? Is it because as a country as a people we are so far from what our Founding Fathers hoped we would be? Is it because we wish to ignore that reality through distraction? Are fireworks and military pomp and circumstance a truly appropriate way to commemorate them?
Independence Day is about history, civics, and government. It is about understanding who those men were, why they did what they did, and why it changed not just our country but the world. To know why they felt they had no other choice but to overthrow their government. It is about what the basis of our nation requires of every citizen to ensure its continued greatness. Instead of dealing with the reality that we are ALL obligated to be informed of our rights and our Constitution as American citizens, we focus on those citizens who have chosen the responsibility of protecting our freedoms and country. Honestly, why all the fuss about rights or freedoms the majority of America doesn't even take the time to learn? About a history that most learn once and forget. Is our accepted ignorance a respectful way to memorialize those men and all they did? Is it worth our military sacrifices?
Can you name 5 out of 6 of the characters from Friends? Can you name the 5 freedoms protected by the first amendment? Bonus: can you name the 6th Friend? What about naming any of the other 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights other than the 2nd? Could you honestly say you would know without a shadow of a doubt if your rights actually were violated? This isn't to make you feel bad, because the reality is that this is an easy fix!
Our reality though is that it matters more this year because we have arrived at an election year in which the majority of us don't feel as though either of our options for president are a representation of who we are as a people. What can we do? Should we accept someone who seems to come from the generation of politicians who have granted our sacred rights to business and been bought out themselves or someone who seems to proudly plan to be a tyrant like the ones our Founding Fathers fought against? I have never voted in an election where I felt the need for a viable third party more than this year and had less hope for it but maybe this is a year for a change. Can we as a people make a cultural and generational change to actually make our government and individual rights a priority? I hope so, I hope for my son that he can grow up in a world where what those fifty six men risked so much for is still worth something.