Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Fourth of July

In some places, today is simply July 4th - but here in the US it is the "4th of July", synonymous with Independence Day. And, just like on every official holiday, the flag is flying out front:

This one, which I have owned since college, has faded a bit (it was flown every day for months after 9-11) but it is still going strong.

We don't use this holiday to celebrate the thousands who gave their lives to win our independence from the King of England; that is for another holiday. However, it is worth remembering that something like 1% of our population died in that war - although most (like George Washington's son) died of disease rather than combat. They, helped by the French, fought for the liberty we enjoy. And so do our soldiers today, although many are fighting to bring liberty to others.

One of those, in particular, has been in my thoughts today. A Marine, one of my students this summer. His sacrifice was one of the worst: His best friend was killed by an IED just over two years ago. I know about this because he was on edge one day in class, and explained the situation (the 2nd anniversary) to me after class. I was able to put him in touch with some other vets, also Marines, that I know from classes over the years. And add his friend to the list of people I remember - other friends of other former students.

In many ways, the war in Iraq has been closer to me than the war in Vietnam was.

But back to Independence Day.

The 4th has always struck me as an odd sort of holiday because we celebrate something that had not yet happened. Simply declaring our independence in 1776 was only the start of a six (or eight) year process - and it wasn't even the start of the Revolutionary War! The conflict had started a year earlier, in Lexington. Furthermore, it didn't end in the United States we know today. It ended with a loose Confederation (which had ten, mostly unknown, Presidents from 1781 to 1789) rather than the Constitutional government we celebrate on this holiday. It was this Confederation that won the war, signed a peace treaty with the UK in 1783, and eventually dissolved after the Constitution took effect in 1789.

And, I would argue, we weren't really independent until the War of 1812 was settled and the UK was convinced that we were an actual country like the Treaty of Paris said we were. In that sense, we are still a few years short of a significant bicentennial. Back in 1976, with the long lead-up to the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, I had argued that we really ought to have continued that "200 years ago today" lesson of what it took - and how long it took - before the United States really existed.

It took 46 years, not one day.

And its not over yet, since we have been losing liberties (think warrantless wiretaps) in recent years as we ignore Ben Franklin's [?] warning about giving up our essential liberties for a bit of temporary security.

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