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Freedom or Fireworks?

July 4, 2007 is almost over now. The hot dogs have been eaten, "maybe some" beer has been consumed, and around the country, the sounds of (illegal) fireworks pop in the darkness. On Flag Day, Marvin asked readers to post their thoughts about the meaning of the flag. I had planned to respond and then my day job intruded again. Now, though, I ask the question of what the 4th of July means to you. Is it freedom (the fact and ideal) or the fireworks (the symbolism) that makes your celebration of Independence Day?

Growing up my brothers and friends and I looked forward to the annual Firework display. That’s not to say that we didn’t somehow get our supply of firecrackers and sparklers (and of course some of the heavier artillery). But for me at least, that was back in the naïve days of the late 50’s and early 60’s, and before any war impacted my generation.

In the winter of 1963, the Nation was stunned in silence with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Tears of the young and the old flowed that weekend, and together, Americans united in mourning. It wasn’t too long afterward though that the Nation was split by the War in Vietnam.

In his American Dream speech on July 4, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King said:
"The American Dream. It wouldn’t take us long to discover the substance of that dream. It is found in those majestic words of the Declaration of Independence, words lifted to cosmic proportions: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by God, Creator, with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." This is a dream. It’s a great dream. The first saying we notice in this dream is an amazing universalism. It doesn’t say "some men," it says "all men." It doesn’t say "all white men," it says "all men," which includes black men. It does not say "all Gentiles," it says "all men," which includes Jews. It doesn’t say "all Protestants," it says "all men," which includes Catholics. (Yes, sir) It doesn’t even say "all theists and believers," it says "all men," which includes humanists and agnostics.

Is it the symbolism of July 4th that we think of on this day, or that we teach our children? Or do we constantly explain the American Dream, the ideals of our Founding Fathers? What is it that America means to you?

I freely admit to having demonstrated against the War in Vietnam. I freely admit that my first political activities were to stuff and seal envelopes when I worked on Congressman Allard Lowenstein’s first campaign. I freely admit my outrage when I witnessed what was to me an infamous newscast back in 1969 when President Nixon spoke to the Nation about the “incursions” into Cambodia. I freely admit to these moments in time because I believe that it was, and remains, my right to dissent openly.

In some ways I suppose I am an enigma since my views remain the same and yet so different in today’s world.July 4th, to me, means my freedom. It is my freedom to be who I am and to do freely what I do in my “day job.” It was “my day job” that spurred a change in my outlook on American life.

Of course, the morning of September 11th upended my life as it did the lives of every American. Ever since that morning, my emotions rise whenever I see a picture or hear an anthem. Just a few years ago, my wife and I sat on lawn chairs for hours picnicking in a prime location at the ocean front awaiting the Grucci Fireworks display at Jones Beach. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

Today, as it does everyday, my flag flies proudly in front of my home (I needed to replace my old flag and last week, ironically perhaps, went to the Dixie Flag Company to buy my new one and properly dispose of the old). Some mornings I just walk outside to see it moving in the breeze. Does it express any more patriotism than a neighbor who has no flag? Of course not! It just brings me comfort knowing that I can fly it. But truly, it is freedom that it celebrates.

From Dr. King’s American Dream speech once more:
Are we really taking this thing seriously? "All men are created equal." (Amen) And that means that every man who lives in a slum today (Preach it) is just as significant as John D., Nelson, or any other Rockefeller. Every man who lives in the slum is just as significant as Henry Ford. All men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, rights that can’t be separated from you. [clap] Go down and tell them, (No) "You may take my life, but you can’t take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can’t take my right to liberty. You may take from me the desire, you may take from me the propensity to pursue happiness, but you can’t take from me my right to pursue happiness." (Yes) "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights and among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." (Yes, sir)

Last week I attended a luncheon at which one of our local Congressmen spoke. Before lunch was served, we all rose to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Do your children know it? As the meal was served, a patriotic video was shown. The images were many of the ones that you normally would see in such a presentation. Except, when the camera panned and the picture dissolved to the image of the World Trade Center Towers rising so majestically, I could no long hold back my emotions. I freely admit to flowing tears whenever and wherever anything patriotic plays or is shown, and especially when my memories of the morning of September 11th are brought to the surface.

Colleagues and readers alike, today we celebrate Freedom in all of its Glory. Many of the outward symbols of July 4th that we see around us today, including the fireworks, whether they be your local fire department’s display, or the great Macy’s Fireworks over Manhattan, and yes, even the illegal firecrackers being exploded on the street outside will be gone tomorrow. Our freedom to celebrate will not.

No matter how some people will bemoan the loss of our freedoms, freedom will still be there tomorrow morning. No matter how other people may bemoan how American society and its values are being lost to complacency, compromise or what they may see as appeasement, freedom will still be there tomorrow morning. Our troops across the World, and many others who serve behind the shroud of secrecy in our Intelligence forces, fight each day to ensure that our freedom will still be there tomorrow morning.