Last year at this time, I wrote that we are,
bit by bit, losing the meaning of July 4th. This holiday used to celebrate a
of Independence from a tyrannical British government that had tried to subjugate
Americans. But here's a little test to see how much of that meaning we've kept.
Ask yourself two questions.
1. When you think of a July 4th parade, what are three kinds of groups you
expect to see marching in that parade?
2. Name three things that the British government did to Americans that Americans
protested in the July 4th Declaration of Independence.
My guess is that in your answer to (1), you listed some display of the U.S.
military, local government officials, or both. Some of the military display
is entirely appropriate. The U.S. military under George Washington managed to
defeat a hostile government that was trying to subjugate Americans. I'll address
the local government officials anon. My guess is that most of you weren't able
to answer (2). I'm not setting myself apart from you. I wasn't able to, either,
without consulting the Declaration of Independence, something I've read from
start to finish at least five times in my life. Let me quote some of the most
"He [King George III] has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent
hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
"He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the
Consent of our legislatures.
"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior
to the Civil Power.
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign
to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their
Acts of pretended Legislation: […]
"For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
"For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent."
And even if you knew three of those, I'd bet most people around you don't.
Why? I don't blame people for not knowing. I blame the propaganda machine for
It happens on two levels. First, in most July 4th parades I am familiar with,
local government officials give themselves a prominent place in the parade.
Yet it is local government officials who often impose on us their petty rules
that restrict our freedom. Such rules include telling us whether we can cut
down trees on our property, whether we can add a bathroom to our own house,
and whether people can set up distribution outlets for medical marijuana, to
name three current issues in my area. This sounds a lot like George III setting
up "a multitude of new offices" to "harass the people."
Some of America's early leaders understood the danger our own governments posed.
President James Madison once stated, "I
believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people
by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden
usurpations." Notice that he mentioned those in power in our own
government, not heads of other governments. And even latter-day leaders such
as President Ronald Reagan understood the danger of government intrusion. In
fact, in his Thanksgiving 1981 interview with Barbara Walters, at the height
of the Cold War, Reagan went so far as to say that the major threat to freedom
came not from the Soviets, but from governments in the United States.
The second reason we forget the original meaning of July 4th is that the official
celebrations, and even many of the unofficial ones, focus on the U.S. military
and emphasize that it defends our freedom. It's true that the military, by its
very presence, defends our freedom. Anyone thinking of attacking the U.S. with
a conventional military force knows that he will not get far against the most
powerful military in the world. But it's also true that the U.S. military attacks
people in other countries, even when those people have not credibly threatened
the United States. So, for example, the U.S. military invaded Panama when it
could not plausibly be claimed – and our military leader, President George H.
W. Bush, did not even try to claim – that Gen. Noriega threatened Americans'
freedom. Or take the first Gulf War. It was about getting one ruthless dictator,
Saddam Hussein, out of another dictatorship, Kuwait, which Hussein had invaded.
That may have been a worthy goal, but it had nothing to do with Americans' freedom.
And sometimes the U.S. military engages in activities that reduce our
freedom. The U.S. Navy, for example, is involved in fighting the drug war. It
forcibly stops ships and boats hauling illegal drugs. In doing so, it disrupts
commerce, thus reducing economic freedom.
None of this is to say that there is not a proper place for honoring the U.S.
military, past and present, on July 4th. But it's a matter of proportion: If
we honor the military for defending our freedom, then shouldn't we also honor
people who fight against our own governments' violations of our liberties? So,
for starters, we should honor the folks at the Marijuana
Policy Project, who campaign tirelessly to get the government to back off
the drug war and to stop
using our tax money to propagandize in favor of the drug war. We should
honor the Institute of Justice, a public-interest
law firm that goes after petty governments that are trying
to prevent people from making a living or trying to steal
their property. We should honor the American Civil Liberties Union when
it's trying to rein
in government surveillance of peaceful citizens. We should honor the National
Taxpayers Union, which publicizes and argues against higher taxes. We should
honor the still-unidentified American patriots who, in 1971, broke
into the FBI's Media, Pa., office and found, and released to the press,
evidence of the FBI's numerous attempts to suppress dissent about the Vietnam
War. In doing so, these latter heroes risked going to prison for a long, long
Think about what freedom is. It includes freedom of speech and the press, the
freedom to exchange goods and services with others, the freedom to move around
without being stopped by government officials, the right to keep what we produce,
and the freedom to choose whom we associate with, to name just a few. Oh, yes,
and the freedom not to be imprisoned unless charged with a crime, the so-called
right of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is a precondition for the other freedoms.
If the government could imprison us without charging us with a crime, then all
the other freedoms would be meaningless. The government wouldn't have to pass
any laws restricting the other freedoms; it could simply jail anyone it wished
for any reason at any time.
Now ask yourself: Did Saddam Hussein threaten any of these freedoms? No. How
about Ho Chi Minh, the head of the North Vietnamese government during the Vietnam
War? No. That is not to say that your freedoms weren't and aren't being threatened – but
who is threatening them? Look closer to home: Washington, D.C., the state bureaucracy,
and your local city hall.
I would love to get July 4th back. Let's remember that on July 4th we should
celebrate our independence from government, such as it is, and we should honor
those, both in the military and not in the military, who defend our freedom.
© Copyright 2006 by David R. Henderson. For permission to reprint,
please contact Antiwar.com.