Celebrating Independence Day

(July 1992)


Worn out after hours of speed-walking, parade-watching, rain-absorbing, and firework-enjoying, I plopped into my recliner Friday night to watch the tail-end of one of the 11 o'clock news shows. To end its broadcast, this particular station ran a seven-minute montage that celebrated our nation's independence. Most of the images shown were military -- pictures of battles, scenes of death, names of wars.

This got me thinking. We have three major patriotic holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day. The first of these three is expressly set aside to honor those who died defending our country. The third of the three is expressly set aside to honor living veterans of our country's wars. It is right that our country holds these commemorations. If we forget those who gave their lives and youth for a higher cause, then we dishonor not only them, but ourselves as well.

That leaves the second holiday, the one we have just celebrated. What do we do with it?

I have an idea. When children fight on a playground, we discipline them. When soldiers fight in a war, we honor them. Let's spend Independence Day reflecting on what makes one kind of violence punishable, and the other, which is far more destructive, praiseworthy.

That may not sound like much fun -- fireworks are more exciting -- but it is very important. The United States has not always fought for just principles. The Mexican War was a land grab. The Spanish-American War began to end Spanish imperialism, and ended with our great-great-grandfathers forcing Filipinos into concentration camps to break their resistance to American imperialism. The Korean "police action" and Vietnamese "counter-insurgency" could be best described as saving authoritarianism from totalitarianism. And how good can we feel about the Gulf War when we allowed Saddam Hussein to slaughter Kurds and Shias after his "defeat" and watched as the emir of Kuwait repressed any opposition to his rule? Looks like we were just in it for the oil after all, eh George?

We need to know what makes for a "just war" so that we can keep ourselves from unnecessarily losing any more of our brothers, sisters, friends, and descendants to the grim reaper of war. We need to remember that war itself is not good. War is only an unfortunate necessity to protect what we truly treasure: the fact that we are a free people in a free land. We need to put our wars into perspective and understand that our martial glory was only glorious when used for a good cause.

This involves taking the time to learn more about our country. When was the last time anyone read the Constitution? The Declaration of Independence? The Gettysburg Address? And how many of us could pass the citizenship test given to immigrants? A local television station asked Lieutenant Governor Mike DeWine, Attorney General Lee Fisher, and Mayor Greg Lashutka questions from the citizenship test. They didn't do well. What amazed me was that none of them could say what the 16th Amendment is. You know that something is wrong when politicians can't tell you what gives them the right to tax.

To end, let me illustrate my point with a story:

As World War I began, war fever raged through the English countryside. The government was drafting soldiers by the hundred thousand to fight in France, and every English citizen was urged to do their part for victory.

During these days, an older woman accosted a young man who was a don at Oxford University (a English don is sort of similar to an American T.A.) and asked him what he was doing to save Western civilization.

The don drew himself to his full height and told the woman, "Madam, I am Western civilization!"

In that spirit, let us remember on Independence Days of the future not that we fought, but what it was we fought for.