4th of July Celebration
By Jim Caddell, The
This year my wife, my two college-age kids, and I visited
my mother for July 4th. She lives in a well-to-do gated lakeside
community in the piney woods of east Texas. Having stuffed
ourselves with potato salad, fresh east Texas tomatoes and
cantaloupes, pinto beans, and hamburgers, topped off with
Mom's indescribably yummy fresh blueberry and peach
cobblers a la mode, we packed up our blankets, Frisbees, and
bug spray and set off for the private fireworks show at the
My wife and kids, being latent pyromaniacs like me, always
take our blanket over to the waters edge, only a hundred feet
or so from the launch area. The kids are in that awkward process
of stretching their wings and leaving the nest, so we look
for new more grown-up topics for conversation. "Anyone heard
any good jokes lately?" I asked. My daughter replied, "It's
legal now for gay people to have sex, but it's still illegal
for them to get married. That's sort of a joke." Another liberal
in the family: I beamed with pride.
The fireworks show was as good a show as we could expect
to see anywhere. If we lay flat on our blanket we could see
the explosions directly overhead. Ashes rained down on us
and the air was filled with that wonderful sulfurous pyrotechnic
odor. Between explosions we saw purple afterimages against
a background of illuminated smoke. We were so close that we
could feel the wind from the shock wave of one shell that
exploded prematurely. Our bones shook and we probably lost
a few decibels from our hearing, but it was great!
Americans love to blow things up.
It should have been a good time, a festive time. Perhaps
it's my imagination, or perhaps I was projecting my own liberal
leanings, but it seemed as if even out here in the conservative
flag-waving east Texas woods people are beginning to feel
a little embarrassed about America's actions around the world.
Here we were in our gated prosperous community, enjoying a
wonderful fireworks show, celebrating our country's independence,
while at the same time our soldiers are occupying a country
that never attacked us and never had the means to harm us.
We were cheering the birth of democracy in America only a
few days after we cancelled democratic elections in Iraq.
We were celebrating our freedom even though we don't have
nearly as much of it as we did two years ago. The crowd was
so uncharacteristically quiet that I suspect others were having
Americans love to blow things up. We're quite good at it.
We love our fireworks and our flaming car wrecks in the movies
and our wars and our nukes. We already have enough firepower
to destroy the world several times over, and the Bush administration
plans to develop space-based nukes and small bunker-busting
nukes to go with their conventional MOABs and depleted uranium
weapons: usable nukes, as if that were a good thing.
In the parking lot under the pine trees there was one car
with a particularly sensitive alarm system. Every time an
unusually loud explosion occurred, the vibrations would set
off the car's alarm, and the alarm set off nervous tittering
in the crowd. Did they see it as a metaphor, or was it just
me? Americans love to blow things up, but Americans are frightened.
We know we live in a dangerous world. We have our expensive
stuff and we want to keep it. Was Iraq a false alarm? Did
our repeated warnings sound to the rest of the world like
that annoying car alarm that just keeps on going off when
there is no danger?
Americans love to blow things up, but we get pretty ticked
off when people blow up our stuff. The tragedy of 9/11 got
us all pretty steamed up, myself included. What happened on
9/11 was considered a wake-up call. Now we should consider
Iraq another wake-up call. Iraq has taught us that we can't
go indiscriminately invading other people's countries "just
in case" they may pose a threat later. Three thousand people
died in the 9-11 tragedy, but in the last few months we have
killed nearly 8,000 innocent civilians in Iraq and untold
tens of thousands of conscripted Iraqi soldiers for reasons
that have turned out to be spurious: there were no WMDs and
no links to Al Qaeda.
Americans love to blow things up, but Americans are also
pretty decent people. We want to be the good guys. When we
kick some other country's butt we want to know that there
is no other recourse. We don't want to find out after we've
blown up a third world country that the President's rich cronies
have received fat contracts to rebuild it. We don't want to
find out that the President and his oil company staff were
lying about the evidence. We don't want to find out that we
have broken international laws and alienated the rest of the
civilized world so that people who are already rich can make
bigger profits. But most of all, when our tanks and planes
start blowing up families we want to be sure that we have
a good reason to do it. We don't want to feel like murderers
when it's all over.
After the fireworks show was over the crowd quietly climbed
into their Hummers, Suburbans, and pick-ups and drove back
to their homes. They seemed unusually subdued compared to
other Fourth of July celebrations here in prior years. The
symbolism seemed obvious to me, and I wondered if the rest
of the celebrants were having similar thoughts.
I guess we'll find out in November of 2004.