(Originally published 7/4/14; republishing because it’s still true)
On this lovely July 4 morning, I know before I even go on Facebook that statuses will have appeared overnight like toadstools encouraging us all to be grateful to our armed forces. I would like to respectfully decline.
It’s not that I’m not grateful for the men and women who—these days—volunteer for this most awful of jobs, but gratitude is not what the people who post these things are generally and actually suggesting. They want us to worship our military strength. I actually had someone tell me recently that I should “know my place” in regards to those (including him) who “fought and bled” for my freedoms. (Being the gentle soul that I am, I did not respond that my “place” was, as a civilian, the boss of him.)
So I would like to remind everyone that what we celebrate today is not our military victory that made this nation de facto independent. What we celebrate today is the IDEAS that made us the nation that we became. We celebrate John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and Button Gwinnett, whose erudition and interest in political philosophy drew from sources both ancient and contemporary to formulate something the world had never seen before: a nation of principles.
Did we have to shed blood to attain and confirm those principles? Indeed—we were fighting even as the document was drafted, edited, and ratified. But we were not founded as a nation of war; the Constitution actually forbids a standing army. We were founded as a nation of theory by men of thought. And that is what I celebrate today.