To celebrate the Fourth of July, my daughter Molly and I are going to go watch a small-town parade, complete with vintage cars, city fire truck, the local high school marching band, some county sheriff on horseback, and a VFW color guard. There will be a few friends riding in it and waving, people tossing out candy, and the occasional pooper-scooper, in case the marching band follows the sheriff. The local church will be there, handing out lemonade and cookies. I happen to know there will be a couple African-American soldiers marching, some Hispanic neighbors, and at least one bagpiper, most likely playing “Scotland the Brave.”
All of that is a celebration of our history. It reminds people that America, though it hasn’t worked out all the racial and religious and cultural differences, is still a melting pot of individuals from all over the world. I plan to be standing with my friend Max, who was born in Morocco, and his wife Julie, who is Asian. My grandparents emigrated from Scotland and Ireland (in this part of the country, there are a lot of us with Celtic roots), my wife’s grandparents from Iceland. And I’ll be there with my daughter Molly, who is studying for her PhD in food sustainability in Sweden, so that she can go to Africa and help feed starving people in third-world countries. We’ll all stand when the American flag goes by — not because we think everything in this country is perfect, or because we all want to be cheering “USA! USA!,” but because we get to take one day each year and celebrate some great history.
My first dad served in the US Navy for 12 years, and was in World War II. My second dad served in the old Army Air Corps (now the US Air Force), and fought in the Battle of the Philippines. I’ve got a lot of respect for the men and women who serve our country in the armed forces, though I came along just after the Vietnam War and chose not to, and was in that period when President Carter abolished the draft registration. I’d prefer America celebrated this holiday by simply pulling every American serviceman and servicewoman home, stop bombing Afghanistan and Pakistan, close the bases in Germany and England and Saudi Arabia, and stopped spending a billion dollars a month on every other country’s problems. I’m tired of us being the world’s policeman, tired of reading about another American soldier getting killed by some nutjob religious zealot in some corner of the world. But… all of that isn’t going to happen, and that fact won’t stop me from loving my country and being proud of our history.
Our forefathers set up a great system of government that we still use, more than two centuries later. We have long been an economic powerhouse and a beacon for freedom-loving people around the world. We have fought to promote freedom and rid the world of tyranny. We’re certainly imperfect — that governmental system seems stalled, we’ve had a history of supporting too many right-wing dictators over duly elected leftists, and we still seem to be struggling over accepting people who are different from us, which is why we don’t want to see a mosque in New York, or acknowledge the plight of inner-city blacks, or allow much immigration from Mexico.
It’s true — my country has issues. You know what? I’m still proud of being an American, and hopeful we’ll work out things over time. It wasn’t long ago that blacks couldn’t vote — we now have an African-American president. That hasn’t solved everything about the black/white divide in this country… but I figure it’s a step in the right direction. It wasn’t long ago that Roman Catholics weren’t considered “true Christians” by evangelicals — now I think most evangelicals have figured out that the kingdom of God is bigger than just right-wing conservatives. It wasn’t long ago that admitting you were gay was a sure-fire way to get yourself ostracized in your company, your church, and your community — now we understand that not everybody is the same, and while we may not endorse everything about the choices other people make, at least we know our government intends to protect their basic human rights. So while my country isn’t perfect, it’s a hell of a lot better than being under a brutal dictator, or part of a religious tyranny, or at the risk of a lawless society.
So, on this Fourth of July, I want to celebrate our imperfect country, by remembering something former President Ronald Reagan said at the Westminster College Cold War Memorial. In talking about our imperfect history, he noted one unique strength we can all celebrate…
…You can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. [The same is true in] Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. but… anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.
I’m an American. And today I’m celebrating the progress we’ve made.