Paul W. Barada
Greensburg Daily News
Tomorrow is our nation's 236th birthday, traditionally known as Independence Day. The significance of July 4 is based on the fact that our Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress on that day. An interesting and little known tidbit is the fact that the Declaration wasn't actually signed by the members of Congress until Aug. 2, 1776, according to most historians.
The 4th of July is more than a day for fireworks, picnics and family outings. It is a time to remember what, traditionally, this country stands for; we were, after all, the first people in the history of the world to separate ourselves successfully from our mother country. It had never been done before throughout recorded history. Some people deride the notion of "American exceptionalism" as a self-centered and egocentric arrogance on the part of our fellow citizens. We are not, opponents contend, an exceptional people. I would argue that American exceptionalism is an expression of who we are and what we stand for as a unique nation of people who came, and still continue to come, here because this a land of freedom and opportunity.
Two hundred and sixty-three years, as the lives of nations are measured, isn't long at all. But during those more than two and-a-half centuries, Americans have stood for one value, one ideal, one principle that overrides all the others. That value is freedom.
There are those who will argue that our history does not reflect that value in any consistent way. I would agree, but we have been a nation that has continued to evolve and to this day continues to try to live up to the ideals the Founding Fathers thought were important. At the core of it all is the concept of freedom. That's what the American Revolution was about, winning our freedom from Great Britain. Once that was accomplished, Americans have consistently been willing to help set others free.
There have been times in our history when we had to fight to help set others free. Ultimately, the American Civil War was about preserving the Union and setting people free. If one looks at just a few of the other conflicts in which we've been involved, establishing freedom has been at the heart of why we fought. The Spanish-American War was about freeing the Cubans from domination by Spain.
World War I was about freeing Europe from the occupation of the Central Powers, the most dominant of which was Imperial Germany.
In a letter home, written Nov. 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed, a doughboy wrote home to his parents from Paris: "I have had many an old French couple come up to Major Merrill and me and throw their arms about us, cry like children, saying, ÔYou grand Americans; you have done this for us.'" And we did do it for them. Throughout history wars have been fought for a variety of reasons: to gain territory, to enslave others, to acquire wealth and riches, or for one country to extend its power over others. Very few armies have gone forth to set other people free without expecting something in return. At the end of World War I, the American army did not stay in France or Germany. They came home. Essentially the same happened again 20 years later. American exceptionalism shone forth again during World War II. We did not start that war, nor did we exact tribute or plunder from the vanquished nations of Germany and Japan. We still have troops stationed in both countries 67 years after the guns stopped firing, but as allies, not occupiers.
The vast majority of American troops came home when the shooting stopped and the people of Western Europe and Southeast Asia had been set free.
Once again, during the Korean War, American troops were sent to help South Korea defend itself from an invasion by the Communist North Koreans. Subsequent conflicts, like the Vietnam War, had murkier goals than establishing freedom in some remote corner of the world. The Vietnam War, at least in my opinion, was the one conflict that should never have happened. That fact that it did happen does not detract from the sacrifice of Americans who fought and died there. Vietnam was a tragic example of the State Department completely misjudging what was happening in that part of the world. We thought we were there to stop the spread of Communism. The North Vietnamese thought they were fighting to unify their country. When that finally happened, Vietnam came under Communist rule, not because the North Vietnamese hadn't asked us for help; they did, but we declined to help because of our wartime alliance with France. So, the North Vietnamese looked elsewhere and found the help they sought in Communist China.
More recently, it is clear that the swift defeat of the Iraqi army in the Second Iraq War, along with the capture, trial, and execution of Saddam Hussein, freed the Iraqi people from his tyrannical rule. Ê
If going to war and sacrificing American lives to set other people free isn't an example of American exceptionalism, I can't imagine what else it is.
Throughout our history, Americans have fought for the freedom of others, remaining true to the central principle upon which this country was founded 236 years ago. No other country in the history of the world has been willing to go to war so many times to free others. It just has not happened, and, because we have done it, that, in my view, makes Americans exceptional.
Happy 4th of July!