- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 4, 2004

Independence Day begins early every year with the whistles of errant bottle rockets and the sharp cracks of firecrackers. Perhaps it’s the sunny summer weather that follows the soggy spring, but July Fourth is a happy holiday.

Instead of the sonorous tones of “Taps,” or the even more moving moments of silence that resonate on Memorial Day, Independence Day explodes with sharp, celebratory sounds — blares from bugles and trills from fifes, peals from bells and blasts — the snap, crackle, boom of fireworks, accompaniedby breathless ooohs and ahhs.

Yet, we must not forget that the freedom we celebrate today with barbecues and fireworks was paid for — and is still being bought — with the blood of our finest. The rockets’ red glare and the bombs bursting in the air, which have become integral parts of the celebration, were essential to its foundation.

In fact, Francis Scott Key was inspired to write our national anthem after watching a British attack on Fort McHenry, not far from Baltimore. “The Star-Spangled Banner” resonated, not simply because of its poetry, but because of the proud parable of the American spirit that it tells.

The story within the first stanza, which most of us mumble, or at least sing poorly through, is worth repeating. The flag of a newly formed nation then at war with the greatest military power of the time flew proudly and defiantly at the twilight’slast gleaming. But then came the night and the battle. The cannoning and the confusion, the smoke and the screams. The long, perilous hours of uncertainty in which the broad stripes and bright stars oftheflag showed up only intermittently between the bursting rockets and bombs. Key probably feared more than once that all was lost. But then, by the dawn’s early light, he saw that the banner was still there waving proudly over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Fort McHenry’s defenders were under fire for more than 24 hours, but they were far from the only ones who have bled and died while defending the freedom that “The Star-Spangled Banner” represents. Poet Henry H. Bennett caught the proper spirit of Independence Day in his poem “The Flag Goes By.” He wrote: “Blue and crimson and white it shines, Over the steel-tipped, ordered lines. Hats off! The colors that before us fly; But more than the flag is passing by. Sea-fights and land-fights, grim and great, Fought to make and to save the State: Weary marches andsinking ships; Cheers of victory on dying lips; Days of plenty and years of peace; March of a strong land’s swift increase; Equal justice, right and law, Stately honor and reverend awe; Sign of a nation, great and strong, Toward her people from foreign wrong: Pride and glory and honor all, Live in the colors to stand and fall.”

In their joint press conference announcing the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty last Monday, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair described the significance of the struggle there. Mr. Blair said, “We know the security threat we face. We know the ultimate answer to it is not just force of arms and security measures; it is ultimately the values of democracy and freedom and justice and the rule of law.” Mr. Bush added, “In Iraq, we’re serving the cause of liberty, and liberty is always worth fighting for … In Iraq, we’re serving the cause of our own security, striking the terrorists where we find them instead of waiting for them to strike us at home.”

Inmany ways, the first Independence Day, on July 4, 1776, was the first occasion that tyrants had anything to fear, although it was far from apparent at the time. America, a land based on the self-evident truths that all men are created equal and endowed by God with certain inalienable rights, was a unique creation in history. Few expected it to survive long.

Moreover, with their emphatic Declaration of Independence, the sudden citizens of the newly born nation knew that they might not long enjoy either liberty or life. Many did not. Yet, a public celebration, including the ringing of the Liberty Bell, accompanied the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. It was a jubilant day, announced even by the inscription on the Liberty Bell. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto the inhabitants thereof,” comes from a Bible verse (Leviticus 25:10) announcing the official establishment of a year of commemoration.

That’s what Independence Day remains — a day to celebrate our liberty and the blessings that have come from it. Still, the real proof of liberty lies not in the printed word, no matter how eloquent, but rather in the enjoyment of liberties, no matter how mundane. To that end, we encourage our readers to celebrate our freedom with friends, family and, of course, fireworks.

Yet, as we celebrate, let us not forget those who are far from home preserving our independence through the RPGs of regime loyalists in Iraq and the bullets of al Qaeda remains in Afghanistan. We must remember our soldiers who are fighting — and dying — to pass on that spirit of independence, a faint echo from the Liberty Bell, to former prisoners and slaves.

Mr. Bush said in his address in Istanbulon Tuesday, shortly after the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty, “Democracy leads to justice within a nation — and the advance of democracy leads to greater security among nations. The reason is clear: Free peoples do not live in endless stagnation, and seethe in resentment, and lash out in envy, rage and violence. Free peoples do not cling to every grievance of the past — they build and live in the future.” That lesson — and that gift — was passed on by our forefathers long ago. It’s a spirit that we must tend; a trust we must keep.

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