The 4th of July Deserves Better
Once there was an empire that the sun never set on. It controlled a territory equal to the size of the moon, and monopolized a wealth infinitely greater. It gained its awesome power through the subjugation of natives and the harvesting of their resources for profit, trading on all corners of the empire. The power was sustained by an impenetrable navy that was second to none, and the tenacity to adhere to its ingrained values of exceptionalism and exploitation that it for so long refused to give up. It had no real creed or set of laws. Only a monarchy that neglected even the rights of its own citizens, let alone any other colonial members. This was the empire of Great Britain.
Out of this empire came a nation that saw the sunset. A nation that did not have a well functioning army or navy. A nation that did not have vast wealth or influence over others.
But what this nation did have, was a set of powerful ideals that were turned into the laws and governing principles that propelled it into its current success. This was the nation of the United States.
Had it not been for the American victory in the Revolutionary War, the people who created this country would not have been alive anymore to dispense their infinite wisdom into this nation’s laws and principles that we still try to live up to today. This fact should be undisputed and celebrated as a reminder of how lucky we are to have emerged from the threat of remaining under a tyrannical system that didn’t bother representing its citizens. Sure, anyone can say that independence probably would have been achieved later on, as such with almost all New World colonies, but the minds of our Founding Fathers would not have had the lasting and influential role in creating this nation that differed so sharply to the viewpoints of other entities at the time.
America’s independent efforts catalyzed our current democratic principles and beliefs such as “All men are created equal”, “Justice is blind”, and that one is innocent until proven guilty, just to name a few, which were severely under threat at the time and even sometimes today. It pioneered systems of government such as the separation of powers and the Constitution of today. It birthed the opportunity for a government ruled by the people, in which protest and activism can have monumental change, as they do now. It should, therefore, be celebrated, no matter how many times in history we strayed away from this light.
Despite the thousands of people who died to see these values survive to today, there is growing sentiment that the 4th of July is nothing more than a logistical, historical event that should only be mentioned subtly in American history textbooks. That the 4th of July should not be celebrated, but only held up as what it allegedly really is: A reminder of the start of America’s history of racism, discrimination, and brutal manifestation. This characterization is not only dangerous to the preservation and veneration of American values, but it clouds the history of America to the people of today, and distorts it to the point where only negatives can be found.
Although some may refute this by saying it's more patriotic to criticize a nation in order to improve it, rather than only celebrating its success, they are completely missing the point. There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the accomplishments of a nation, and to say that we cannot devote one day to the greatness of America is counterproductive to the success that celebration produces. As long as that celebration does not smother activism or protest that wants to enact change for the better, which is exactly why having only one day to truly celebrate the greatness of America is optimal. Devoting one day to remember those who died in the Revolutionary War. To those, throughout history, who influenced our set of laws to create the unalienable rights that we still strive to adhere to. To the day that we declared independence from an empire that actively supported the stifling of Greco Roman democratic principles. Celebrating independence can obviously be done at any time, and with good reason, but devoting a national holiday in which all of us are reminded of the joys that were brought from independence is paramount to respecting and preserving our values. Refusing to celebrate these events in history disrespects the efforts of colonists, Founding Fathers, and people of all backgrounds who fought for independence. Something that most of us today would cower away from. There is a difference between criticizing a nation in order to improve it and simply taking it for granted. The 4th of July was always meant to be viewed as a holiday in which we celebrate the good, and not the bad of America.
Apart from arguing that celebrating American independence is somehow counterproductive to social and political change, many argue that the 4th of July is really just the time that marks the start of America’s exploitation and discrimination of others, and nothing else. Events such as slavery and Manifest Destiny will always remain crucial to American history as times that America failed to live up to its previously created standards. Even today, the effects of America’s past are still incredibly relevant in debates about our country’s policy. But to say that this is what the 4th of July embodies would be gravely mistaken. When we celebrate Independence Day, no one is celebrating racism. No one is celebrating the horrors that America has committed in the past that have led to present inequalities. We are celebrating the preservation and popularization of democracy and freedom in a government that the Founders created. Standards each of us Americans work to achieve as an undisputed reality. Insinuating that the history of America does not possess enough moral value to be celebrated as a national holiday is ungrateful and historically inaccurate. Without the values that American history transposed onto our current society, the pursuit of freedom would have been very different than it is today. Without the brilliant minds of the Founding Fathers, and the courage of those in history to resist a tyrannical power, with the risk of death, the country that we all benefit from would be non-existent.
Refusing to accept America’s dark past is not beneficial to this country’s future. That is a fact. But refusing to acknowledge its revolutionary accomplishments is equally damaging. We should, therefore, reserve the 4th of July for celebrating independence, and define it as what it really is: A time to be grateful for the sacrifice of those in our past so that we could have a better life today.
Once there was an empire. Now there is a nation. Let us never forget that.
Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash
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