Sunday, July 3, 2011

A remorseless sweet idea

Tomorrow is America’s Independence Day. Every year on this day I have the strange feeling of being neither here nor there. I grew up far from the barbeques and fireworks and steaming heat of this holiday, but these are traditions I was more than happy to adopt when I moved back to the US as an adult. But ironically even after 24 years of living and paying taxes here, I never feel more British than on July 4th. This is because some Americans I know – albeit only a very few – like to use the day to make aspersions against the British. Yes, the Brits governed the colonies and imposed unfair taxes, yes the Brits burned The White House in the War of 1812, but surely there has to be a statute of limitations on such grievances. I’d have thought 200 years really ought to be enough.  
I prefer to think of this day as celebrating not the defiance by an infant nation of its oppressors but rather the universal principles that are enshrined in the Declaration – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all that. Not just here in America but everywhere where freedom still doesn’t yet ring – in China, in Burma, in the Middle East – places where organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch toil ceaselessly in defense of the same idea that the signers in Philadelphia had.
It is the idea that Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass called “Thou peerless, passionate, good cause, Thou stern remorseless, sweet idea, Deathless through the ages, races, lands…” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

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