Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Why I Hate the 4th of July

The idea of Independence Day as a commemoration of the noble words set down in the Declaration of Independence has my full support. My disgust with the holiday is fueled by the ways we Americans have chosen to celebrate the creation of that document and the distortions of the basic values set forth therein that we have allowed. The 4th of July is like christmas without Santa; it's vacuous and irritating to those of us who actually look for meaning behind the symbolism, words and activities associated with the holiday.

Just to indicate how much this annoys me, I'll begin with the word "holiday", which is derived from "holy day". What on earth is "holy" about this anniversary (or christmas, for that matter)? The 4th of July serves as a reminder to me of all the things that are WRONG with the good ol' US of A. Call me the anti-christ if you like (I'll accept it as a term of endearment) but today I'm focused on the ills of patriotism, nationalism, oppression, imperialism, jingoism, demagoguery, theocracy and commercialism. How's that for curmudgeonly?

To be clear: I love my country, but I often dislike the actions taken by our government and the prevailing political, social, economic and (particularly) religious beliefs we espouse as a nation. The Declaration of Independence is, for the most part, an honorable and worthy expression created, it seems to me, out of intense frustration and desperation by a committee of remarkable men. In case you need a reminder, here's how the D of C begins (emphasis mine):

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This is not the time or space for a long political rant (hey, I gotta go buy a Chevy and get home in time to start the grill...) but suffice it to say, that, in my opinion, we are currently living under the rule of a despot who we have somehow permitted to abuse and usurp our rights and to lead us into an unjust and wholly unnecessary war. Getting well rid of the present King George can't happen soon enough for me. But I'm rambling slightly off topic here...

Here, then, are my specific gripes about this over-hyped day:

Fireworks and firecrackers: Folks, what could possibly be more symbolic of our love affair with military might than these idiotic displays? Even my peacenik family and friends are somehow able to overlook this glorification of "might makes right" that is one of the unfortunate hallmarks of this nation. ("And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air...") That's a helluva way to celebrate life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yeah, let's go watch a rousing display of faux bombs and rockets while our soldiers continue to kill and be killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nice irony. Congratulations, fellow Americans.

Flag Waving and Jingoism: Look, the stars and stripes do make for a lovely little tapestry that well symbolizes the "united" nature of our states. But beyond that, how and why have we imbued this hunk of cloth with all of this quasi-religious power? This undeserved fervor is not the exclusive fault of the die-hard, redneck, stereotypical flag-wavers. The youth movement in the 1960's and 70's added an egregious measure to the power of the S and S by staging flag burnings. To me, all the flag worship is a painful reminder of the jingoistic nature of unbridled patriotism that is way too common in our beloved country. The enforcement of the "America: Love It or Leave It" point of view really makes me ill.

Commercialism, consumerism, waste: Again, think christmas or, better yet, the day after Thanksgiving. 'Nuff said?

One nation, under god: Finally, the all too pervasive thrall that christianity illegitimately holds over this country is never more fully expressed than on July 4th. The United States is NOT a christian nation, no matter how many times that idea is espoused. We are NOT a theocracy, although the present administration and the so-called "religious right" would have us believe and behave otherwise. Nothing infuriates me more than this allegation. There is no "one nation, under god". Our Constitution explicitly and unequivocally excludes all religious beliefs.

I have thusfar left out my usual complaints about the noise and danger of fireworks. In my neighborhood the 4th is an excuse for setting off cherry bombs and M80s at all hours of the day and night, starting around June 15 and ending early in August (if we're lucky). My kids are probably risking their fingers and hands as I write this. There is something admittedly primal and exhilarating about explosions, but it seems to me that this infantile fascination is something to grow out of at some point, like peeing in one's pants and eating with one's fingers. Oh, and like believing in some supernatural being who is watching over us.