Independence Day for Americans is a day where we signify the birth of a nation; the start of the grand experiment known as democracy and the establishment of a set of systems and values that would go on to define the United States, of which we are still continuing to how should I say, “refine” as necessary. Perhaps “tweak” is a more apropos; refinement lends more towards the purposeful processing, removing of impurities or unwanted portions in order to reduce the content of the substance down to a more pure, valuable or useful state. Some may think the United States is being refined, others may think the contrary. Nevertheless, days like the 4th of July have great meaning behind them, that like most of our important holidays seem to get lost over time.
America has many of these days. Memorial Day is one – the unofficial start of summer and barbecue season accompanied by sales at all of the major retailers, complete with cheesy commercials of idiot models dancing around in red white and blue clothing, giving a piss-poor salute with the wrong hand in an attempt to seem more ‘American’ for the product they’re selling. A similar series of commercials are run on Veterans Day (or Armistice Day), a day when we thank our Veterans with free buffets, and a 10% discount on goods at many stores and retail outlets* (discount not valid on sale prices, of which everything already is so it’s a faux attempt to provide platitudes to the Veteran community and seem supportive, more ‘American’). Veterans Day is a day when we are supposed to reflect on the sacrifices of the men and women who walk among us that served and sacrificed that we be a better nation. A day when those Veterans are supposed to walk tall and proud; some wear unit t-shirts or their ribbons or pins as they walk. Memorial Day is when the nation does the same, but it is for those who do not walk among us for they paid the price with their lives.
It is not about a clothing sale or deeply discounted goods. SO what is Independence Day all about, then?
Well, in my humble opinion – which strictly are my two coppers – Independence Day is a representation of what America was founded on and birthed to represent. It is about what we could become, not necessarily what we are. It is not about Walmart, hot dogs, waving American flags and wearing flag-themed clothes, or having wet t-shirt contests. It’s not about free refills, or ‘biggie sizing’ everything, nor is it about customer loyalty cards for damn near everything that lets you earn discount points at the cost of corporate America gaining tons of data from you and your habits to sell to other companies so that you can be targeted for other products and services (and trust me, your data ain’t cheap, but you give it away for free to be sold for big bucks!) It is not about getting drunk and setting off fireworks, or being dazzled at your local towns firework’s display. Those fireworks are a representation of the din from the raging battles fought to forge this great nation.
To me it is a day where we recognize that we are fortunate to live in this country; to remember that there are tyrannical and imperial ruling classes and governmental systems in the world that lord over their people, imposing their own will for the good of a few at the cost of many. Countries that call themselves civilized yet where freedoms are not guaranteed, and oftentimes if expressed come with a hefty cost (usually being ostracized, imprisonment, or death). And despite those thirteen independent colonies not having full agreement on a monetary system, or debt consolidation and a system of taxation, or even an agreement on what each colony should be allowed in terms of representation in this new governing body, despite this a fledgling country united in the agreement that we felt that we could be more, and that in our eyes all men held certain unalienable rights.
Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness among them. There is also a part in that document about longstanding governments not being changed simply for light and transient causes, but I digress…
When I learned these words as an elementary school child, what was taught to me by my teachers was that this declaration of independence allowed us to be able to be a certain way, and do certain things – and that these things did come with a cost to be paid by someone, and that these things were not things we should take lightly or use with ill-intent. I grew up in the town of Penn Hills, Pennsylvania in the postal zip-code of the small neighboring borough of Verona, which I could see begin at the bottom of the street. A small town nestled along the Allegheny River next to the Edgewater Steel mill that employed my father, my grandfather, and many of the surrounding townsfolk. And in downtown Verona there was a road junction at which stood a statue of a World War One ‘doughboy’ atop a pedestal, overlooking the 75mm artillery piece from that Great War. To remember a time where the good folks of Verona, Penn Hills, Oakmont, and all of the other surrounding villages and townships in Pittsburgh and all across America sacrificed a generation of men so that the world may live outside of the shadows of fear, cast forth by tyrannical and imperial governments such as the Kaiser and Ottoman Empire.
You see, those freedoms came with a cost – and for any man drafted to serve in Europe, who walked along the duck boards or spent time in a trench he would know how truly sweet those freedoms are. And having borne witness to atrocities and impoverished peoples would not take such liberties for granted. This scene was replayed again a decade later when more tyrants rose from the ashes in Europe and set about to conquer the world, and a new generation rose to meet their challenge. It was under the shadow of those men that I grew up; it was under the shadow of their women that I learned, for they too paid a price back home as America’s wartime economy shifted, and they put down dish towels and picked up ratchets; where they gave away aluminum and cast iron pots and pans to make more shells and planes; where they and their families went without, in order that the military be properly fueled and funded. And these people raised their children in the post-war world; and they taught them that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you didn’t say anything at all; if you saw a neighbor in need, you helped out; and when someone was down and out on their luck even when you didn’t have much to give, you gave something. It was under these pretenses that I decided from an early age that I wanted to dedicate myself in service of this nation, and its inhabitants.
Yet in this day and age America seems to demand its freedoms – demand what has been paid for by a slim margin that the great majority may be born to inherit those unalienable rights. We want it all but no one wants to pay for it. It’s all about the bottom line, and we want to make our money without anyone getting in our way. We want to be able to say whatever we want despite how negative or mean-spirited or one-sided or inflammatory it is – yet we don’t want to be responsible for the consequences. We want the best goods and services for the absolute least amount of money possible, and better yet, give it to us for free because well, we all deserve something, don’t we? We’re American! We want our guns but we don’t feel like we really need to be properly trained how to use them (and we certainly don’t want our name on some government list associated as a gun owner). We can’t pay our bills but we want smartphones. We want pills to make us happy, or thin, or thicker, or bigger or better; we don’t want to work for any of those. We want the best healthcare but we don’t want to really pay too much for it, and we certainly do not want to pay for someone else’s.
We demand our freedoms and our rights – but only we deserve them, not someone else. Not people who don’t pay taxes, or them damn immigrants – they don’t deserve those rights for sure. And the gays, don’t forget them because God forbid another fellow American and human being have the same rights that I do. The neighbor you disagree with, they don’t deserve the same rights as you. Nope – they should take down their flag, or sign, or poster, or whatever it is you don’t like that they are doing because dammit, it’s your right! How dare they infringe on your right to be right! To upset you by expressing themselves?!?
How do we want those rights, but also want to deny some of them to our fellow countrymen – some of which themselves are Veterans, stepping forward and bearing the sacrifices that come along with paying for the very freedoms we demand, and want to deny them for? When I served there were a goodly number of non-citizens serving in uniform on a path to citizenship (actually earning their right to call themselves American). How could we want to deprive any American of what our forefathers established for the citizenry of this great land?
On the back of my grandfather’s World War Two Victory Medal is an inscription. It says ‘freedom from fear and want, freedom of speech and religion’. That is what they fought for, for the ability for people to be able to be free from persecution for their thoughts. When did we lose sight of those values? When did we decide that it was only us that mattered, and no one else around us? When did we as a people stop caring about our neighbor, stop acknowledging that other people were entitled to have an opinion too, and cease to think about if what we were doing was a hindrance or annoyance to those around us? When did we seem to think that being obnoxious, inconsiderate and rude was our right?
We want our cake and we want to eat it, too – and no one is really willing to pay for it. I’m not espousing some liberal or conservative viewpoints here people – I’m just stating the facts. After all this isn’t a Democrat or Republican issue – it’s a human issue. It’s an American issue. Of course we all have different beliefs and backgrounds, were raised differently and think differently. We will disagree on things or ways or beliefs. When can we set aside those differences and treat our fellow Americans with dignity and respect, and agree to work with each other towards the common good – like those colonials did two hundred forty one years ago that set in place the path to allow us to be here today? And during the Revolution everyone paid a price for the nation’s freedom. People fought, spied, worked, built, harvested, plowed, planned, sowed, stitched, etc.
Today approximately 0.4% of American’s are currently serving in the United States military; less than one half of a percent. And approximately 1.4% of the entire U.S. population are Veterans, that data-set starting with WWII Veterans, whose ranks are rapidly diminishing as they pass away (statistics came from the Defense Manpower Data Center). In the decades from now when the last of the greatest generation have passed I can only imagine that the percentage of Veterans in the U.S. will be barely measurable, yet it will be those men and women who bore on their backs the costs associated with Americans ability to do, and be, and say, and demand whatever it is their heart desires. They’ve all earned it, right? Right…
Enjoying your freedom? Don’t thank a Veteran – be thankful for Veterans. You can thank us by stepping outside of your little world and thinking about what it truly means to have the freedom of choice, the freedom to be greedy or selfish, the freedom to do whatever you want for you, even at the cost of others. And a good many of you are thoughtful and considerate, or agree to disagree and can do so with discourse and tact. But a goodly number of folks simply are not, do not, and seemingly cannot; yet they’ll want to wave a flag and chug a beer tomorrow with everyone else, citing patriotism.
If you want to thank a Veteran, don’t abuse your freedoms, even if life hasn’t handed you much; live the virtues that they sacrificed for. Do good for your country and for your fellow Americans, not just for yourself. Treat people the way you would want to be treated. Don’t assume – not everything you do and say is the best thing ever, nor are you always right all of the time. Don’t hoard – consume, but you don’t need everything all the time just because you can. Think about the bigger holistic picture (not just politics). Think about your fellow Americans and those struggling to become Americans – they left whatever hell-hole of a country they came from because they wanted the chance to try and make their own American dream and be like you (but probably not be like the you who is a selfish ignorant prick). Do right by people. Think about the colonials who didn’t see eye to eye on a number of things but still banded together united to stand in defiance against tyranny.
Happy 241st Independence Day, America. May you survive and thrive to see another 241 more.