Independence Day

Not too long ago the United States celebrated the 222nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Just a few days earlier the nation celebrated Flag Day. It is right and proper that these two days should fall within 20 days of each other for, together, these two days summarize the values and ideals on which this country was founded.

Independence Day is the national birthday, the day we celebrate the violent birth pangs that brought the United States into existence as a nation. It marks the day when the first signatures were inscribed on the Declaration of Independence and the meaning of a rebellion already in progress was given voice in one of history's most elequent documents.

It was during the Revolutionary War that the design for the American flag was established, and it is that star-spangled banner that we have celebrated every June since WWII. Its colors are the colors of the empire whose armies of oppression we defeated with our ragtag army of citizen-soldiers. In their new configuration of stars and stripes, they capture our history: the 13 stripes marking the colonies from which we came, the stars marking the growth of the nation over its more than two centuries of life.

In some ways, the American Revolution did not start out as a particularly glorious war. America owed taxes to the British for the support given colonists in the French and Indian wars. No one disputed that the colonies owed these taxes. The dispute was over whether the colonies should tax themselves to pay off their debt or whether Parliment had the right to directly impose taxes.

War is an ugly business. It is death, squalor, misery. It is mothers bereft of their sons, children bereft of their parents. What redeems it can only be the ideals for which it was fought.

A war over how taxes were to be collected might have been a minor historical incident, like many others in the history of the British empire's overseas colonies, except for one peculiar thing: Instead of recreating a nation ' like the one they had separated from, the colonies chose to fulfill the promise of a "new world" by creating not merely a new nation but a new kind of nation, a union of semi-independent states, a government of laws, not of men; a nation that would hold individual rights paramount.

That first war is worth remembering because it is the standard against which all other American wars are measured. It was a war fought for principles, not princes. It was a war fought not for booty, territory or dominion but for ideals: the ideals of liberty and justice.

Today, America's flag graces classrooms, statehouses, courtrooms, churches, veterans' halls and millions of private homes. It serves as a daily reminder of our nation's past accomplishments and ongoing dedication to safeguarding individual rights. It flies from public buildings as a sign of our national community and its folds drape the tombs of our distinguished dead as a badge of honor.

For veterans, "Old Glory" serves as an ever-present reminder of the ideals for which they served, risked and sacrificed.

Sometimes it seems the ideals on which this nation was founded, the ideals for which we dedicate these holidays, are slipping away from us. We take heart in a story told to us by a veteran of a classroom he visited in inner-city Baltimore just a few weeks ago, to talk to them about the Vietnam War, in a school where reciting "the pledge of allegiance" is not mandatory.

The children in that classroom, coming from some of the poorest parts of the inner city, adolescents at the most cynical time of their lives, children of the malls and mass media, stood for the pledge of allegiance. And three-quarters of them, under no compulsion from the teacher, chose to put their hands on their hearts and recite the pledge aloud as it was broadcast over the school loudspeaker. ]

America lives on. Celebrate it.

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