Today, as on every 4th of July, we celebrate one of our nation's most important holidays, Independence Day, in a variety of fun ways which almost always include the three F's - family, friends and fireworks. But I wonder how often we stop and consider the history of this date and what price was paid by our forefathers to give us all of the freedoms and liberties we now take for granted.
While it would be very easy to default to the conventional high points taught in American History classes throughout the educational process, it wasn't until I read David McCullough's marvelous Pulitzer Prize winning book "1776" several years ago that I realized how fate, weather, incompetence, poor decisions, providence and luck played such crucial roles in our quest for freedom. Essentially, our revolutionary war was fought by a poorly equipped ragtag group of civilians with little or no formal military training under the bleakest and most challenging of circumstances. In addition its commander-in-chief, George Washington, had never even led an army in battle. But, fortunately, he possessed extraordinary leadership qualities including the ability to listen to his charges and adjust course of action as the situation dictated. To further complicate matters, it was not a universally popular endeavor, as many citizens from all walks of life formed the Loyalists who considered themselves true patriots in their strong support of the King of England. However, the one thing our Continental Army did share was a uniquely "American" spirit fed by boundless determination and endless courage on which General Washington declared on July 2, 1776, "The fate of unborn millions will now depend......"
One other aspect of our fight for independence that struck me in reading "1776" was the similarity of some of those experiences to World War II, starting with the massive size of the 400 British ships that converged in New York harbor in the summer of 1776 and how that armada, while smaller in number, was relatively comparable at the time to the enormous size of the US naval forces that landed on the beaches of Normandy in 1945. Then there was the movement of the 9,000 troops, equipment, horses and supplies out of Brooklyn following the Continental Army's first big defeat on August 27, 1776, which was not unlike the dramatic evacuation of 340,000 men from Dunkirk in May of 1940. In the first instance weather in the form of a heavy fog aided its success while the latter was made possible by the sudden halt of the advancing German panzer troops who were only fifteen miles away. That decision has been labeled Hitler's first major mistake of the war and still remains a mystery. I guess the point is that all wars have their common threads, twists and turns determined by a multitude of unexplained events and circumstances.
But it is not war that we are celebrating today. Rather, it is about the numerous unbridled freedoms that we Americans enjoy which still shine as the beacon of hope around the world. Simply put, the American Spirit of 1776 still exists making us the magnet for oppressed people from all parts of the globe. God help us if that ever changes. So, take pride in those freedoms and liberties, learn more about the many aspects of this amazing Independence Day holiday you probably have never even thought of at http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Independence_Day.shtml and have a safe and Happy 4th of July!
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