Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! — Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775
Today we celebrate the Colonies’ July 2, 1776 decision to separate from British rule (the date July 4 was added at the printer’s), and the August 2, 1776 signing (the day most signatures were attached) of the Declaration of Independence.
I recently read an account of that August 2nd signing by Rhode Island delegate, William Ellery, who wrote, “I was determined to see how they all looked as they signed what might be their death warrant. I placed myself beside the secretary Charles Thomson and eyed each closely as he affixed his name to the document. Undaunted resolution was displayed in every countenance.”
Here we are, nearly 250 years later, a nation still blessed by the sacrifices of those brave men. Interestingly, we still argue about many of the same ideals that our forefathers fought over. For instance, Thomas Jefferson wanted a nation where all men could govern themselves with state rule, but Alexander Hamilton believed a strong central government was necessary to keep the people in check.
Wow. The more things change, the more they stay the same, don’t they?
However, rather than launch on a history lesson of how our nation formed, let me tell you about some people I’ve been privileged to meet along my path who inspired me and helped me appreciate what it means to live in a country where the people’s rights and liberties are still valued.
First, I think of a panel discussion I attended in the early 90s, of Prisoner of War survivors from Hoa Lo Prison in Vietnam, later dubbed Hanoi Hilton by those kept there. Two members of the panel impressed me significantly: Navy Commanders James Stockdale, A4 Skyhawk pilot, and George Coker, A6 Intruder co-pilot. They talked about their years of torture and how they fought to keep themselves sane through their most horrific ordeal with mutual encouragement and reminders of home. Cmdr Stockdale told a story about having to stand at attention while Vietnamese soldiers stomped on and burned the American flag. Rather than break him, the event actually strengthened him, he said, as it reminded him that in America, people could burn the flag if they wanted to, and suffer only ridicule by those who could never conceive of such an act. However, if a Vietnamese citizen tried to do the same to his own flag, he’d be killed instantly. I think of that when I hear people put down our flag, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude for those who fought (and still fight) for our right to burn it freely. Which is why I never would.
I remember on this day, an interview I conducted with a woman who escaped Communist Romania on a one-week visa to Hungary, and from Hungary to Austria and Holland in a bus luggage hold. She spent 16 months in a refugee camp before earning passage to America. She left behind a world where farmers died of starvation because all crops were turned over to the government “for the people,” a world where parents turned in children and children turned in parents for speaking against the government, and where people were ostracized for claiming to believe in God. She told me the greatest freedom she’d found in America was the freedom to say aloud that she is a Christian.
Also on this day, I recall the words of a missionary friend of mine who spent many years in Honduras, where nearly 63 percent of the people live in extreme poverty, and where, for most people, toilets, medical care and clean drinking water are mythical concepts. She said to me one day that she often cries when she walks into grocery stores in the United States, for the sheer volume of merchandise available to us, that we can even choose what type of mustard to spread on our food.
I love this country and all its strengths and weaknesses. I love its diverse cultures and breathtaking terrain. I love us. We’re nuts, but we’re the good kind of nuts. My favorite glimpse of us occurred on September 12, 2001, when I drove down Interstate 95 on my way to work, flanked by flags that flew from nearly every vehicle and overpass, and then from the home fronts on the back roads. We are strong, we are more united than we might think we are, and we are blessed with every opportunity and freedom available to man. But mostly, we are blessed by 250 years of sacrifice and dedicated altruism by those who have fought to keep those opportunities available, and we have the honor of preserving for future generations the joy of living in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.
And that’s what I celebrate today.
What about you?
“…‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,” says the Lord. This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:14-16