Sunday, July 5, 2009

What America Means to Me

Midnight, July 4, 2009.

Bombs bursting in air ... Thousands of people, by foot or bike along the Charles River, peaceably assembled to celebrate the nation's independence ... English, Spanish, many languages ... No military parade (there was a fly-over, fighter jets, so fast you couldn't see them) ... No hysterical speeches, no call to battle, no celebration of empire, just the "Stars and Stripes Forever," the "1812 Overture" (Bonaparte thrown back!), and this spectacular but chastely republican fireworks display ...

What the 4th of July means to me: the small-town patriotism of my '50s childhood, a parade around the block with sparklers and flags, and a neighborhood cook-out (or crab feast if we were lucky). Americans--some were WW II vets--proud of their role as saviors of Europe, as pillar of the Free World. Our visionary Founding Fathers, the Liberty Bell, the Tea Party, the pursuit of happiness ...

But the long road from those times leads through Vietnam to Iraq by way of Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala, Iran, many more. America's soldiers fan out across central Asia to the Pakistani border, drones dealing death from the sky, the projection of power. America's greed, the greed of its bankers with no upper bound, the greed of its credit-addicted consumers, brings the world to its knees while the dollar stays strong. America is Assyria, Carthage, Rome, sped up. 

How to reconcile these contrasting flashes of the American identity this 4th of July, under a placid sky, in a throng of orderly, contented fellow citizens, gazing in wonder at this pyrotechnic sacrament? 


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