It’s our nation’s birthday. It no longer feels like it used to and certainly not the way it did back in my first 26 years living in my small southern Illinois hometown. The several days of festivities in Riverside Park, with a carnival, softball and baseball games at the ballfield, music at the bandshell and of course the 4th itself with a formal show and fireworks right after it got dark. As a performer as well as a jock, I had the honor of not just performing in the evening show in 1976, our Bicentennial but had a solo. With the hillside packed, perhaps 10k people were there that night. (We had one of the best fireworks shows in the region every year back then) Being in my mid 60s now I obviously grew up in a troubled time. Awful things happening at home and abroad, yet wondrously inspiring things as well, with the moon landings being at the top of the list.
Anyway, reading the Declaration of Independence was something I liked to do as I was growing up, and when I heard part of it sung by a popular group of that time it really hit home with me. Still does. Other old timers will remember this, but for you younger folks:
For much of my life I could only imagine in my mind some of the events leading up to the decision to declare independence from England. As the Revolutionary War itself would prove not all people in the then colonies approved of the split. Or even if they thought someday we should become our own country it wasn’t time to try. Back in (I think) 2008 HBO did a very nice mini-series about John Adams and the first two episodes cover the “before” (episode 1) and the debate and vote (episode 2). If you’ve never watched it I suggest to you that you make the effort. For now, here are a few scenes I hope you’ll take the time to watch before we return to music.
The debate in the Continental Congress in the time leading up to the day of the vote was more than lively and intense. It was heartfelt and passionate and there was strong opposition to taking the step of declaring ourselves no longer English and subjects of King George. Fears, not just for themselves but for all about the full might of the Empire coming down on the colonies was not without justification. John Dickenson of Pennsylvania was the leader of the opposition. Even if as he admitted privately the day would likely come, he was certain of disaster if we moved at that time and to him fell the responsibility of providing the “closing argument” for voting down the resolution for independence.
John Adams delivered the final argument for passage of Lee’s (from Virginia) resolution:
The thing was, there could be no dissenting vote and it took some masterful negotiation after this point to keep that from happening, in large measure due to Franklin. Ruttledge (SC) was persuaded to have a private chat with Adams, to reassure him that no delegation would vote no. The other (aside from Dickenson) leader of the opposition was persuaded to write back to New York for “guidance”, which allowed him to abstain. As for Dickenson, as I noted already while he was fiercely opposed he knew after Adams spoke, when some fellow members of the PA delegation rose in support of Adam’s remarks where things stood and again, thought one day the time would come for the colonies to break away. However, his conscience and personal honor was such he told Adams and Franklin he could not vote yes and without his approval the PA delegation would oppose Lee’s resolution. It was suggested that the next day (when the vote would be taken) that perhaps he might find himself “indisposed” and unable to be present. Dickenson was thankful for the suggested way out of his dilemma. So July 2, 1792 arrived and the delegates gathered. You’ll notice that when Pennsylvania is called Dickenson isn’t at the table, and it is Franklin who speaks for the PA delegation:
Every time I watch that I think about what it was like in that room that day. Especially the last few seconds depicted above and for the minutes afterwards. Everyone present now had a target from the mightiest (and brutal against those who opposed it) country/Empire in the world but their families as well. In the actual Declaration that would be published two days later, on July 4 at the end they pledged “Our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Quaint as it seems today, and even knowing how deeply flawed some of these men were those weren’t mere flowery words. It meant something heavier than most people in this modern America can’t grasp.
But somehow, against what seemed overwhelming odds we won our Independence. it took years and the “great amount of blood and treasure” Adams spoke of had to be paid. And it hasn’t been smooth sailing since. More than once we almost had it all come crashing down. In truth that will always be the case unless we remain determined and vigilant. I don’t have to remind anyone here that the insurrection we saw on January 6, 2021 isn’t over. Far from it. An entire major political Party will, out of a mixture of leaders who either fear or support Trump (in some of them both at the same time) will indeed turn us away from being a nation of laws and into one of ONE vile, despicable man.
Before I turn to more uplifting stuff I have one more somber note to add. The costs of moving us (albeit much too slowly) towards the ideals so simply written in the Preamble of our Constitution have been immeasurable. All over this country people have paid; in neighborhoods, communities up to towns and cities with enormous effort and sacrifice and some have paid dearly so that the pretty much European descendant population we have could run things. But many of all types have striven to make us better as a people and country, and as I said paid the ultimate price for their efforts. Not always those serving in uniform either. It has cost countless lives.
The Crosby, Stills and Nash song Ohio was a searing anthem to be sure. For you young folks back then there were records and that were vinyl. Records/singles were still popular and while they were marketed for the “main song” (in this case Ohio which was about the Kent State anti-Vietnam protest where four students were shot dead by National Guardsmen) but there was always another song on the “flip-side.” In this case it was a gentler, more poignant song that was inspired by a poem, and spoke of the ultimate cost of freedom – Find the Cost Of Freedom:
FYI, here’s the write up John Caccomo posted along with the above video:
Created in honor of those who have made the Ultimate Sacrifice—the greatest Act of Love—laying down one’s life. The music is Stephen Stills’ 1971 song “Find the Cost of Freedom,” as recorded by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and included on their “So Far” album released in 1974.
Daylight again, following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago, how my fathers bled
I think I see a valley, covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older been askin’ after you
Hear the past a callin’, from Armageddon’s side
When everyone’s talkin’ and no one is listenin’, how can we decide?
(Do we) find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground?
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground
Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down
(Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground)
But let’s turn to more positive things. Despite our flaws (and again, some have been huge) we do have a helluva history, and by any standard we’re still a young country! It’s taken all kinds of people to move us towards what we’ve always claimed to be. And regardless of what anyone says I still believe Woody Guthrie’s expressed it best in a song that all schoolkids learned early. People want to argue about whether he was expressing patriotism or criticism of a country so rich yet with so many in need. To which I say “Why not both? A person can project all manner of complicated things into the words, but in the end they speak plainly of a beautiful landscape and that it belongs to us all regardless of our station in life. No one can take away your ability to marvel at the natural beauty wherever you can see it – unless you let them! Whether walking, driving, flying over so much of our country there are marvels to behold. For any of us if we allow ourselves to simple take it in. And for the bad which has always been there, there have always been people trying to fix it. As should we all, even if in small ways. This land WAS made for you and me and ALL of us. There are an awful lot of places on this earth where far more people have it far worse, and where there is all too little natural beauty. So appreciate Guthrie’s anthem & celebrate today. (and I might add take note of the sign on his guitar):
I could go on all day, but it’s time to wrap this up. I’ve written numerous times about how devastated I was when a certain person was officially declared “President Elect Donald Trump.” I believed right then and there that my service to this country didn’t mean jack sh*t if so many tens of millions of people had voted for that P.O.S. I still feel that way. But even worse, I think about the wounds my dad sustained on a mission over Europe during WII. Not just the physical ones, the scars of which he went to great lengths to keep hidden but as I moved into adulthood I realized the psychological scars were always there till the day he died. Same for all those other veterans I knew in my small hometown. And some had seen worse than my dad. I am old enough to have seen guys go to Vietnam and come back in coffins. And I’d meet others over the years who went to war, some of whom also came back in metal coffins.
But goddamnit I refuse to quit! This country is no longer worthy of that sacrifice, especially the lives lost but it CAN one day be again. And that my friends is my “mission” – to do my part to again make this a country worthy of all the sacrifice of those who worked so hard, gave so much and even died to make it better. To make it into what we have always claimed it to be. There have as I said earlier been times when were were perilously close to losing it, this idealistic vision of a country that was mockingly called “The Great Experiment when it was founded and much of the time since by other, much older countries. We are in fact in the middle of what President Biden has correctly defined as a battle for the soul of our country. Yes, in 2020 ten MORE million people than in 2016 voted for the flaming orange human shaped rectum known as Donald Trump. People who would turn us into a cult nation. A Fascist state instead of a free country. And we have people holding great power working to that end.
However, we have MORE people who have so far proven able and willing to fight them off. I for one refuse to believe we can’t keep doing so. And that one day, perhaps not in my lifetime but one day this country will again be worthy of the sacrifice of those who gave so much to make it what it’s supposed to be. That we will have “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” One of my favorite tunes, and I’ll admit it usually chokes me up when I hear it. Still. Yesterday I was talking with a guy in his forties and I recounted a truly special moment when this song played. Anyone who wasn’t at least in their mid-teens in 1980 will never “get” the magnitude of what’s known as The Miracle On Ice. When our Olympic hockey team knocked off the Soviet behemoth hockey machine. No one could remember the last time the USSR team had lost a game it seemed. Well, since we beat them at Squaw Valley (that was the name of the CA place where the 1960 winter games were held). But mighty as they were even then they hadn’t quite yet become the hockey version of Supermen.
What many forget is that despite that incredible, memorable night and the scene that unfolded as the clock hit zero and the players went nuts and the stands erupted in celebration (even the Soviet players looked on from their end of the ice, probably afraid to show appreciation but still respecting what had happened. And likely trying to remember a time when winning felt like what they were watching) and in bars and living rooms across the country was that we still had another game to go. If we didn’t win the final game on Sunday afternoon not only no Gold Medal but no medal at all! (weird and would take too long to explain) Well we won the Gold Medal and after the ceremony and the playing of our national anthem, with each team’s Captain standing on their positions on the podium U.S. Captain Mike Eruzione accepted congratulations from the other two medalist captains before they left the podium. He then signaled to his teammates to join him. Somehow, another miracle occurred. ALL 21 of them managed to crowd together on that tiny podium with index fingers (We’re Number ONE!) pointed high a song began playing over the sound system. Tears of pride (again, if you weren’t old enough at the time and/or were born after you’ll never get it) had been restrained, but I completely lost it when I heard the opening bars of… Stars and Stripes Forever. So to Donald J. (as in jagoff) Trump, MAGAs and every non MAGA GOPer who enables him I say F**K YOU! You can try to make our flag a single color with a gold T, or MAGA or some other sh*t on it but it will ALWAYS be The Stars and Stripes. FOREVER you a$$holes!
To paraphrase the end of Desiderata, In spite of all its shame drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful country.” One worth, for all its faults worth fighting like hell to preserve through this crisis, so we can then turn to the task of making it a “more perfect union.” So today remember, contemplate and celebrate. And resolve to do your damndest to make sure we all, and all those who will come will be able to do the same.
Have a safe and happy 4th.