JULY 4TH MUSINGS
By Thomas Barnes
On July Fourth 1776 our nation was born. Most of the signers to the Declaration of Independence from Britain had affixed their signatures to that document at the Colony of Pennsylvania Assembly House in Philadelphia. It is now called Independence Hall. A new chance at democracy was stirring in colonial hearts.
American merchants, landed gentry, wealty farmers and the politically connected were in town to talk treason. If they failed, they would hang. If they were victorious…they would have….well, nobody knew exactly what they would have. It was an open gamble on all levels. But they placed their signatures on that document and sealed their fates. They would either win or hang. And those that followed them on the day in Philadelphia would lose King and country and possibly their lives if they failed in this rebellion.
Philadelphia was giving birth to a nation, an idea, a fresh start for British citizens who were seen as second class citizens in a world empire that had grown cold to their needs and dreams. These overseas and backwoods hacks and bumpkins were asserting themselves in a way that kings had never seen before. They were declaring themselves a nation, a self governing group of freemen with no need of a king or an empire. This was heady stuff. No group of common men had done this before.
Now to be sure, this was not freedom as we know it today. Only landed white males could vote. There were slaves throughout the South until another war could be fought over that issue. Women could not vote. Native Americans and slaves were not considered citizens and slaves were seen as property. Education was not universal and generally went only to the wealthy beyond basic reading and writing skills usually provided, somehow, by the local community. But it was a start and it began in Philadelphia on that 4th of July so long ago.
I grew up in and around that city. We all knew that story well. But the facts surrounding our fight for independence from Britain are a little different than the myth. Things were a bit dicey throughout our war of rebellion. Here are some facts that you may not know. You can find them at the following website. It makes for very interesting reading: http://www.state.de.us/facts/ushist/revfacts.htm . Isn’t it funny how things are never the way we think they are/were/will be?
So many Americans dead and wounded. So many enemies in so many places. So much death and destruction for us to remain "free". Was it worth it? Each veteran is going to need to answer that question for himself / herself. That is our sacred duty to ourselves this weekend. But we need to reflect on what liberty and national identity is and is not. I always have believed that the Fourth of July weekend should be a weekend of reflection on national values based on current events. How well are we leading the world? How well are we reflecting "liberty" in our lives this Fourth of July weekend?
What is our world like on the Fourth of July weekend, 2009? What have American veterans fought and died for, as we find it reflected in two of America’s most important newspapers? Lets see.
Buying friends? It does not work for Russia. Did it work for us?
This article in today’s New York Times is a brief must read for anyone interested in learning how not to make friends and influence people. Like us throughout so much of our history, Russia is trying to buy friends among its old republics that are now sovereign nations by offering money and influence to countries who despise them. It ain’t working. You really need to read the article posted here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/world/europe/03russia.html?_r=1&th&emc=th .
We have tried this in Latin America for generations. It just does not work. We have wound up with an entire continent hating our guts. Russia will soon find out what its like to be despised for throwing money around like a drunken sailor in an effort to get what we want. But I have got to give Russia credit for at least one thing; so far they have not sent troops overseas to protect or expand market share. That is more than I can say for us. We have 22.9 million veterans living here in the USA in the summer of 2009 and most of them served in uniform in eras where the armed forces were the heavies for American business overseas. Ouch!
Torturing potential and supposed enemies? Is it ever a good idea?
Then there is this article from today’s New York Times which talks to a Grand Jury Investigation into the destruction of 92 separate tapes showing the CIA manhandling and torturing prisoners. You can read that article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/us/03inquire.html?th&emc=th . Our premier intelligence agency, the direct descendant of our revered and vaunted O.S.S. is now routinely destroying documentation of its illegal and gestapo – like tactics. Who would have guessed? I know that I am shocked. Are you?
Withholding paychecks to State Senators that don’t agree with each other. Ah! The American way at its best!
Then there is this article from the same paper that speaks to the New York State Comptroller ordering all paychecks for State Senators to be held back until they end their political deadlock over issues important to the people and get a binding vote to the floor in the State Assembly in Albany. You can read about that here: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/03/nyregion/03pay.html?th&emc=th . I wonder if this would work in the National Legislature? Should we give it a try?
As an aside, CNN reported today that the State of California, the eighth largest economy in the world, is out of money. It is paying state workers and creditors with IOUs starting today. This cannot be good. What went wrong with our idea of capitalism unfettered and unrestricted? Did we make a mistake with our basic assumptions about money and wealth and power in the hands of a few? Could it be that we were simply wrong about our basic economic platitudes about wealth and power? Is personal greed and unfettered access to capital markets for anyone with a line of BS and a strong credit rating such a good idea after all? Ask Californians this morning and see what they think.
Highest Unemployment in 26 years. Where is the beef?
Then there is this article from today’s Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070200354.html?hpid=topnews . We now have the highest unemployment rate in 26 years. We can argue all day that at some point Obama has to take ownership of the economic problem and it is no longer Bush’s fault. There is great validity to that argument. True or not true, we have the highest rate of people not working since 1983. I think Americans no longer care whose fault this is anymore, we need to get back to work. Anybody have any ideas on how we can do that? Bush started this mess with his Harvard, Yale, Wharton School of Business and London School of Economics cronies with their MBA’s placed in charge of stealing the eggs from the henhouse. Obama seems to be – well lets be kind – he seems to be a bit slow on the uptake as to how this economic freefall can be stopped. The news is getting uglier and uglier on this score. Anybody have any ideas here?
Former Vice President Cheney swayed release of information on Valerie Plame after leak was discovered! I am shocked!
Then today’s Washington Post has an article on the culpability of former Vice President Cheney relative to the Valerie Plame outing. The U.S. government deliberately outed a U.S. spy for political reasons. I am shocked. That would really want me to work for the CIA! How about you? Read about it here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070203608.html?hpid=topnews . I am reminded of the sinking of the great German battleship Bismark by the British Navy in World War II. Did you know that Hitler openly gave away her position over the radio to the British in order to force a battle and possibly create Nazi martyrs? That ship went down almost with all hands due to Hitler’s political madness. He simply threw those sailors to the wolves. Sound familiar? Governments can be insane in their actions when there is no integrity with the leadership. And there is no integrity when their is no real and substantive involvement from the people. When they are left to their own devices by a bored electorate, they do exactly what they can get away with.
So now what?
So what am I saying? I am saying that "freedom" is an everyday thing. You don’t like what the local school board is doing? Get down to the next meeting and approach the mike and say your piece. You don’t want that debt bond to go through over at the State Capitol? Drive over there and see your state senator or assemblywoman personally. Give him / her a piece of your mind. Tell her off! Don’t just sit there. You served in uniform. Now serve out of uniform. Actually go somewhere and do something for your own sense of self-governing entitlement. We all need to actually be veterans, not just sound like veterans. We need to demand that we be heard. You earned that right by serving. Now exercise it.
If you do not do this we are going to have even more mundane and sad newspaper entries for the Fourth of July weekend in 2010. "Freedom" is an every day thing that requires every day attention from all of us. You cannot contract out and hope for the best. You cannot leave government to the governors. And frankly, that is what we have done. And look what happened!
Happy Fourth. Eat a hotdog for me. Oh yeah, and one more thing. Tell your kids, grandkids or the neighbors kids a story today about when you were in the Service. It does not have to be an ugly story of combat if the kids are too young or too unaware to hear it right now. Just let them know that you and others served in uniform and that this day was born with the ultimate blood and death of Americans many generations ago. Let them know that men and women they never met paid for that hotdog and that soda in their hand by fighting with imperial overlords and their armies and navies for a chance to be called Americans. Let them know that freedom is not free. It must daily be wrested from the hands of tyrants.
CWO3 Tom Barnes, USCG (Ret.)