Give me liberty or give me death.
July 4 is the day that many Americans feel at least a little patriotic. How does this love of country manifest itself? Usually, in the number of hotdogs and hamburgers barbecued or the intensity of the fireworks display or the newly unfolded flag battered by the wind against a blue sky. I know in my case the sight of the flag does get to me somehow, making me think about how many men and women died in order for it to still fly freely across this great land. Of course there were the members of my own family (uncles, cousins, my grandfather, and my father) who fought in the Navy, Army, and Marines to whom I feel an extra sense of gratitude, especially for making it back home.
There was a cartoon in one of the local papers a couple of days ago that really hit my emotional buttons. People were standing around eating and drinking at a barbecue and one of the very little kids asks something like, “Why are we celebrating?” In the next frame in a hazy bubble there was a figure of a Revolutionary War soldier huddled in the snowy cold of Valley Forge. I apologize for not knowing where I saw the cartoon or the name of the artist, but man, did I find that visually arresting. I have not been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it.
I guess the point is knowing what we have and understanding what we might not have. Patrick Henry’s words make it very clear that some things are worth fighting for and, ultimately, even dying for. If one can’t be free then one is essentially dead; therefore, the struggle of the revolution was a necessary and compelling one, charting a course not just for the American colonists but for all human beings who longed for dignity and freedom whilst under the oppressive yoke of tyrants.
Obviously, the men who almost froze to death at Valley Forge embraced Patrick Henry’s words. The same can be said for those brave souls who fought to keep the Union from being torn asunder, the Doughboys who crawled through the muck and mire of trenches in World War I, and the GIs who changed the fate of all human beings in World War II. Can we imagine what this world would be like if everyone reacted differently to George Washington’s call? To Lincoln’s hope to save the Union? To the desperate situation of World War I? To the barbaric attack on Pearl Harbor?