Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Birthday, America!

Above is a picture of the actual original birth certificate of the New States of America: the Declaration of Independence (image courtesy of the National Archives website). It would be incorrect to call this the birth certificate of the United States--that didn't come until the Constitution was ratified in 1789. But this is where the Colonists laid out their grievances against King George III and justified breaking away. No longer British, they were now something else. They were Virginians, Marylanders, New Yorkers, Massachusettans (is that even a word?), Rhode Islanders, Georgians, Carolinians. They didn't see themselves as one people, one Nation.

President Bush is correct to point this out, especially in the context of Iraq. Our Founders didn't get it right for thirteen years. And we're still trying to improve governance, make it better, more accessible, more inclusive.

And not everyone supported the Revolutionary War here, either. Citizen-soldiers left to take care of their families and farms back home. Businessmen and merchants balked at paying the taxes necessary to feed and clothe the soldiers. Many of the elite had ties to Britain and were actively supporting them. The British were the superior military and naval force. The Rebels fought back, not with the classic techniques used in open field battles, but by stealth. Uniforms were scarce. When forced to leave New York, Washington's officers debated burning the city. Washington and the Continental Congress nixed the idea.

How long was the war? Nine long years. The help of France (especially their navy), the Netherlands, and Spain proved decisive.

The Military Channel is on in the background, detailing the significant battles and challenges faced by the Continental Army during the war.

It's amazing that they won. Washington, a slave-owning white man, plantation owning farmer, ultimately proved to be the right man at the right time.

Right now, The Military Channel is illustrating the Battle of Trenton. The password for the mission? "Victory or Death," chosen by President Washington. In the pocket of General Johann Rall was a letter from Loyalist, warning the Continental Army was on the move. General Rall spent the night drinking and playing cards, never read the note.

This victory proved the turning point of the war. Of course, General Washington didn't know that at the time.

Parallels will be drawn with the war in Iraq. Are the insurgents the Continental Army or are they the British? Is all fair in war? If it took thirteen years for the United States to develop a working Constitution from scratch, how long should it take for a country without the cultural experience of the Enlightenment? These are important questions, I think, with no clear answers. I don't know what an Islamic democracy would look like or even if what Western Civilizations consider necessary for democracy is compatible with Sunni, Shiite, or Wahhabi versions of Islam.

(Wow! General Burgoyne's wife shortly after having her third child, packed up her three young daughters and crossed the ocean to Canada to join her husband in battle. I cannot imagine how she did that.)

I didn't meant to get sidetracked into a discussion about politics, but it's a natural when discussing revolutions. It's not always clear if the populace, the proletariat, the common folk will be better off afterwards. It's not always clear if the grievances lodged against the government or the rulers are legitimate (although I would say that gassing an entire people is).

(Thank God the British made some strategic errors, had some incompetent generals, and underestimated the will and intelligence of the colonists.)

(Patrick Ferguson, "a skilled Scottish rifleman," spared the life of a Colonial officer in his sights because it seemed wrong to shoot an officer in the back, "acquitting himself very coolly of his duty." That officer was General Washington. The date? September 11, 1777.)

Today we celebrate those brave Founders, who pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor to the cause of Liberty. We honor the common men and women who sacrificed their lives and their livelihood for a cause that must have seemed rather nebulous at the time.

(Interesting--the French waited until they were sure the former Colonists, especially General Washington, would "stay the course." Two hundred thirty years later, it's the Americans who are wondering about the French.)

(Of course, the French were not being altruistic in helping the Continental Army. They saw a chance to fight the British, thereby strengthening French prestige and global power.)

Enough blogging. Time to get out and enjoy the day by celebrating with local communities. My Girl Scout troop is helping out by running game booths at one of the several celebrations happening around the area. Later tonight we'll head down to Bayfront Park, greet friends and neighbors, and watch the fireworks sponsored by two local Chambers of Commerce. We'll celebrate what's right about America.

(Kind of fitting that baseball, "America's Game", schedules its All-Star game so close to the Fourth, doncha think?)