Today is the 4th of July (Fourth of July), a national holiday in the United States that commemorates America’s independence from Great Britain. The Fourth of July is associated with traditional American food fare like hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad, outdoor grilling, baseball, picnics, fireworks, and parades. The date coincides with the Continental Congress’ signing of the Declaration of Independence. We associate this day with the only two future presidents to sign the document, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom died on July 4th, 1826. I guess you could say that was their independence day too!
John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and declared his hopes for the national holiday:
I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Well, we may not be quite as religious about the holiday. We’re more apt to shoot off fireworks and eat too much. Nevertheless, watch this highlight from the annual Capitol Fourth celebration in Washington, DC and tell me you don’t feel a little fired up. I’ve been to several of these celebrations in Washington, since I lived in the nation’s capital for nine years. This patriotic music can get my blood circulating and my skin full of goosebumps. Performed by country singer, Reba McIntire.
I make no apologies for loving my country. It’s that love for country that makes me criticize it so often. I believe we can always do better. I am reminded of the words of one of my mentors, J. William Fulbright, who said, “In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith.” He wrote one of the most important critiques of the Vietnam War in his book, The Arrogance of Power, on which my book, The Arrogance of American Power, is based.
If America has a service to perform in the world, and I believe it has, it is in large part the service of its own example. In our excessive involvement in the affairs of other countries, we are not only living off our assets and denying our own people the proper enjoyment of their resources; we are also denying the world the example of a free society enjoying its freedom to the fullest. This is regrettable indeed for a nation that aspires to teach democracy to other nations, because, as Burke said, “Example is the school of mankind, and they will learn at no other.”