In many places the Fourth no longer seems to have more than the minimal patriotic content. This is not a complaint so much as it is an observation. The undercurrent of feeling runs along the line we don’t want to offend anyone by too much recognition of those having served their country. I’m a little lost on the value of downplaying service to favor the cause of those who object to it, but it must be a good thing to favor the cause of non-service, though I don’t personally see the benefit. Maybe the Fourth is more commercially successful with flags and ceremonies replaced by hot dogs and beer. It might be that simple, though along the Shore you can find a place here and there where TAPS will be solemnly played and people reflect on history current and long off.
Because it’s something so easily overdone I’m not much of a flag waver. I take my duty and patriotism in the form of principle and action rather than symbol. Not that I do very much, but I make an effort in what I hope is a balanced manner. After enough election cycles come and gone balance is a thing somewhat forced on a person based on so many disappointments coming from both sides of the aisle. Time has shown me that far too many politicians are living proof of the adage that talk is cheap. It sure is, though the slickest talkers do profit from it. We don’t because the cost is mainly taken out of our hides, but the better talkers do seem to thrive in the gold glow of the limelight.
One way I try to be balanced (not necessarily fair) is giving credit where it’s due. A politician of a stripe I generally dislike and didn’t approve of while he graced is with his living presence did, however, say a thing I think worth repeating this time of year. The Fourth is behind us, but the need for citizen diligence is always in season. He said that each generation is faced with coming to understand and in some cases defend the freedoms inherited from the past. It’s true isn’t it? A free society is a given that can be frittered away or bargained away or simply left to wither from inattention if a free people ends up placing more stock in hot dogs than they do principles. A hot dog might give indigestion but it will never give grief with a vegetarian argument. Just about anyone can master the hot dog. They are a lot easier to cope with than a firm political argument or display of patriotic ardor. Nothing against them, but hot dogs are for dummies as can be said about flag waving if not backed up with well-considered views of a citizen’s role and duty. If a person thinks their main function in society is to reach Medicare and cash in they may not have thunk it through very well. Same is likely true of the ones with crystal balls who already know it won’t be there for them. Predicting the future is risky business even if you have your facts in place. Look what happened to Edison being sure DC power was the way to go. Tesla and Westinghouse didn’t have Edison’s pedigree but they had the better insight.
In our political and national lives it is often easier to go along and get along than it is to raise annoying questions or buck the flow. But whether you’re right, left, or center one of your foremost duties should be challenging the system wherever and whenever you feel necessary. That is one of the essential values of free speech and one of the best reasons to not allow a slow degeneration of free speech because we’re intimidated or challenged by argument that is little more than conciliation or surrender.
Among the most used and abused analogies is that of the NAZI era, but as it is familiar let’s use it. Early in the rise of that system (which is not unlike some national, political, and religious forms seen today) group pressure was used to cow the opposition while warning others to stay in line. One brown shirt arguing with an opponent would soon be joined by other brown shirts. They did not have to use force to be intimidating and thereby collectively bullying. Distinctive costume identified the “team” players. In a community it soon became “practical” to join the party and attend enough gatherings to be noticed and counted as one of the fold. In the workplace wearing the party pin set a person out as one of the “good” guys supporting the NAZI system. In this way through collective pressure and the benefits of escaping retribution as a dissenter the average person was carried along as part of a major genocide. (Turkish genocide of Armenians was half that of Nazism in WWII whereas the Mogul genocide in India was several times worse.) The point is an individual did not have to personally run a gas chamber doing in the religiously and socially undesired to be as guiltily involved in the system as if they did. Membership was silent assent and obedient cooperation based on knowing full well the result headed the way of you and your family and all you held dear if you dared speak up, challenge, or refuse the legitimacy of the system.
Don’t think I look down on fireworks and flag waving, with or without a barbecue before or after. Those things are rightly part of the celebration and tone of the day. But waving the flag without a thoughtful concern for its meaning followed by taking an active responsibility for the preservation of its values is not much contribution to the health and wellbeing of the body politic. The Fourth of July can be a celebration of the past, but it is even more a commitment to the present and a dedication to a future both free and responsible. That’s my kind of patriotism based on the view good citizens will stand firmly and proudly to block the way when and as needed.