So, here it comes again, the Fourth of July.
I have been terrified of fireworks since I was a little boy. But I love hot dogs and hamburgers and all the other things that show up for Fourth of July picnics. So all of you go and do all of that, and set aside for the moment worries about our country and what is going to happen.
We are the greatest place in the history of the world, no matter how difficult that is to believe when we are awash in headlines about violence, lying, racism, Covid, mass murders, corruption.
Name it. We have it in abundance.
We also have compassion, goodness, warmth, an unyielding capacity to get things done, a representative government so good you can hate it and shake your finger in its face whenever you want to, and a law enforcement system that struggles every moment of the day, sometimes unsuccessfully, to protect us.
It makes big, troubling mistakes too often, but most of the time, it simply serves all of us.
Watch Emergency Medical Technicians and Firefighters at work and you get a pretty good sense of exactly who we are. We should never forget that, even when the news seems to be hinting we are useless, self-interested bigots and lean toward homicide all too often.
Not all of us, not by any measure.
We are essentially good.
There, I said it!
If you have been following the Congressional investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on Congress by a confused collection of malicious, perhaps murderous, supporters of Donald Trump, you know by now that the former President is crazy as an outhouse rat, and probably just as malicious.
But we aren’t.
A big slice of America (mostly Republicans) apparently still believe he won the presidential election, embracing his charge that it was stolen from him. We should all know deep in our hearts that is bullshit of the stinkiest order, self-serving claptrap spewing from a man so damaged by his own ego that he will do anything to avoid the description “loser.”
But that is exactly what he is, one of history’s biggest losers, a man in terrible repute because of his lying, the behaviors we always knew about, and the revelations that come pouring out of that Congressional committee like water pumped from a flooded sewer. He will continue belching out lies as time passes. Maybe he will even run again.
That would be terrible and it is up to every Democrat, and every small “d” democrat, too, to make certain that doesn’t happen, not with the violence he embraced so wholeheartedly on Jan 6 that he wanted to join the mob as it ransacked Congress to try to stop the counting of electoral votes, but with an honest trip to the polls on Election Day to cast a clean, clear ballot against him and what he represents.
Why, when it is so much easier to bitch and moan and say everything means nothing?
There’s an obvious answer on the surface, but a stronger one embedded in the nation’s history. I think of this kind of thing on July 4, because it becomes an informal Memorial Day for me. I used to visit Gettysburg many times a years just to look at it and think about what it represented, what war meant in another era.
So in honor of this upcoming holiday, I looked up some numbers.
Do you have any idea of the price we have paid to defend our democracy over time, from the Revolutionary War, when it didn’t even exist yet, right up the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? You look at those numbers and, I feel, you know right away we have an obligation to defend what we have, protect it from scoundrels of all types, and honor it as though it were a holy monstrance on an altar.
That’s how important the United States of America is.
One of troubling charts I dug into counting America’s war dead over the long run breaks our many wars into the number of soldiers we lost every day in each conflict. Our last Civil War, and I pray and you should too that it was our very last Civil War, claimed 449 U.S. and Confederate soldiers every day.
If you are a student of these kinds of things, it’s all in these documents.
And it’s all about who we are, what we owe to the people who were sacrificed for democracy long before we arrived, and why we have to use our goodness to crush rumblings of political violence–even up to another Civil War–on behalf of this pained, troubling blabber mouth of a former president.
World War Two was the biggest killer in American history. That conflict, which lasted from 1941 to 1945, claimed 297 Americans every day. Think of it, 297 separate telegrams from a respectful nation to families in villages and towns and cities all over the United States, each one a dreaded missive full of heartbreak.
I talked once to a telegraph operator in a little town in Virginia about how difficult it was for her to deliver those telegrams to families each morning. She carried them herself in the beginning. Then a compassionate cab driver, in the interest of saving her so much grief, took up the task.
Imagine the tears, the fear, the sense of loss, that came whenever that great cab driver patriot came walking up the steps with an envelope in his hand.
That, to me, is what the Fourth of July has always been about.
World War I claimed 200 Americans a day. The Vietnam War took 11. The Korean War took 30. The American Revolutionary War took 11. The War of 1812, 15; The Mexican American War, 29; the Iraq War 2; the Philippine-American War, 3.8; Afghanistan, less than one a day; The Spanish-American War, 9.6.
So death was with us every day as our sons, and sometimes our daughters, went off to defend the United States whenever they were called.
When you are sitting on the lawn watching those “bombs bursting in air” remember this for just a moment. The souls of our dead carry that flag. We owe them our honesty, our thanks.