Our founders were more focused on peace than war

Reading SDN columnist Morgan Liddick’s piece Tuesday about the Declaration of Independence inspired me to take a look at the document again myself. To be honest, I’d never read the whole thing, which includes a laundry list of complaints about King George as well as the more famous preamble asserting the rights of the governed to go another direction if the situation warrants. There’s a lot to love in the ballsy summation at the end, where the colonists essentially tell the king to go to hell and vow to create a new and independent nation.

While the Declaration isn’t nearly as juicy as the Constitution – particularly in relation to how many ways it can be interpreted – it’s still open to discussion in some areas – such as what, exactly, is meant by men being “created equal.” Much has been made over the years of the howling hypocrisy behind that line, stated as it was by a great many slave owners. But mostly what I’m thinking about today is how we should celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

In Dillon, the answer is with a large celebration revolving around our troops, both active and veterans. There will be lots of flags, patriotic music from the Air Force Band and a flyover by some Air Force jets. In Frisco and Breckenridge and countless other places across the country, barbecues and fireworks are the main nod to the day (something suggested by John Adams himself), perhaps accompanied by “patriotic” music – which too often includes nauseating country songs about American pride.

While there’s nothing wrong with honoring our troops, grilling some meat in a festive way or watching fireworks, I can think of some other ways to mark the signing of the document that created our country. One is to get our heads around what, exactly, is meant by patriotism: a “support our troops” sticker on your SUV; flying the flag a couple times a year; voting; watching Fox News and yelling at the TV?

I’d argue that the most “patriotic” people among us don’t think in those terms at all. If we look to phrases like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” it’s not so much troops overseas I think of, but the people right here at home working to make this place better. Attending the Summit Foundation’s grant awards ceremony Wednesday night, I was again amazed at how much our community has contributed to this organization, which in turn helps so many others in the county. Watching Rotary members knocking themselves out to sell car raffle tickets to support local scholarships is another example of patriotism in action – and by that I take the definition beyond mere words and flyovers to mean actively supporting one’s community and, therefore, one’s country.

All around us – particularly on cable TV and talk radio – the chattering class is pushing ideological agendas that have everything to do with divisiveness and nothing to do with the “united states” proposed during those hot summer days in Philadelphia 234 years ago. Some of us fall under the sway of all that and declare our country “broken,” but most are simply busy living our own lives, nurturing our families and communities and, in our own ways, adding to the very fabric that has always made this a great country in which to live.

So honor those troops, fly that flag, grill that hot dog this weekend. But when the smoke clears and July 5 dawns, remember that whatever patriotism really means, staying engaged in the business of one’s own community is probably a lot closer to that truth than tearing down opponents, real or imagined. And while the Declaration itself led to one heck of a war, ultimately the document is about peace – and the ability to pursue such without unrepresentative governmental meddling.

Summit Daily News, July 1, 2010

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