Independence Day and the “other” American Dream

Independence Day and the “other” American Dream July 4, 2017


My son will be applying to college next year, which means that stories of college students protesting America as a vile, unjust place are particularly likely to catch my eye.  And at the same time, in the run-up to Independence Day, Jake Tapper is tweeting out photographs of American soldiers submitted by followers.  (As it happens, my dad is a vet, though his time in the military was spent happily in Germany, in-between Korea and Vietnam; he was commissioned as a second lieutenant after ROTC in college, used his mechanic’s skills to supervise a vehicle repair depot, and, so far as I can tell, spent his off-hours travelling the country at a time when the salary of a young, single American officer stretched pretty far.)

In the meantime, on Sunday at church we sang the usual patriotic songs, America the Beautiful and The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  And, look, maybe I get too emotional, but I got a little weepy at the latter song.

No matter how much historians (and ordinary Americans) argue about whether the Civil War had as its objective freeing the slaves (or, for the South, preserving slavery), or preserving the Union (or, conversely, independence for the South), it is true that for a meaningful portion of the population (and I’m not going to propose percentages), it mattered a great deal that slavery should end.  Here are the lyrics, per Wikipedia.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

Glory, Glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.

And so, too, in the World Wars, and even now in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We talk about American soldiers defending our freedom, but it’s really much bigger than that:  the American Dream that we celebrate on Independence Day is only partly about political independence from Great Britain.  The more important piece is the sacrifice that so many have made in our history for, not our freedom, but the freedom of others.

I mean, sure, there’s the “regular” American Dream of becoming prosperous by dint of hard work, in the model of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  But you don’t get teary-eyed about Thomas Edison.

And slavery is a huge stain on our country.  But in the same way as, on someone’s birthday, you don’t contemplate all the times they were really kind of a jerk, and at an anniversary, you don’t dwell on the arguments you’ve had, and at a retirement party, you’d be horrified if the the boss started piling on complaints, so, too, Independence Day is a day to celebrate those ideals, and the people who have worked to put them into practice.


Image:  own photograph.

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