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Independence Day in a Time of War

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2002 – For the first time since Vietnam, the United States is at war during Independence Day.

The global war on terrorism brings new meaning to the Fourth of July. The celebration of U.S. freedom is muted in many homes because of death or the absence of loved ones off serving the country.

July 4, 1776, was also celebrated during a time of war. As the Second Continental Congress voted for independence in Philadelphia, the British fleet sailed into the harbor of New York to land soldiers.

Americans knew from the moment the Declaration of Independence was approved that they were embarking on a new course. The war for independence had started in April 1775 when Patriot and British forces traded volleys at Lexington and Concord, Mass. The Continental Congress established the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, and appointed George Washington as its commander the next day.

From the first shots until July 4, 1776, Patriot forces would battle the British army or their Tory allies (colonists loyal to Britain) in more than a dozen significant face-offs from northern New York to South Carolina and countless unrecorded minor ones. War affected each and every Colonial family, whether Patriot or Tory.

When Congress passed the Declaration of Independence, no one knew what form "these United states" would ultimately take. The Colonies, after all, were just a loose collection of English-speaking settlements that had been founded for a variety of reasons -- nation-building not being one. Continental distances in the age of horse power were daunting, and every possibility existed that the Colonies would go their separate ways once independence was won.

But even during the war, Washington and other Patriot leaders strove to make sense of the price in blood that Americans were paying for independence. Washington knew that "these United states" would be an experiment that could only succeed if independence were secured on the pillars of justice and freedom.

Washington didn't want Americans to exchange one tyrant for another, or another set of tyrants. The Revolution had to have meaning beyond just winning American independence.

Freedom and justice are worth fighting for. Americans from the Revolution to the War on Global Terrorism have realized that. Americans don't fight for plunder or territory. They do fight in defense of their homes, to establish peace and for the basic rights of human beings.

July 4th this year will have celebrations. Fireworks will go off and Americans will join with friends and family to celebrate all that is good about being Americans. But Americans must remember the great evil done to America and what the country stands for as they celebrate independence.

"If you're interested in fighting evil, you can do so by doing some good -- by mentoring a child, by going to a shut-in's house and say, 'What can I do to help you?'" President Bush said during a speech June 19. "You see, it's those small acts of kindness that really end up defining the true character of this country.

"I believe that out of the evil done to America (on Sept. 11) will come incredible good," Bush said. "The world is going to be more peaceful, America will be more secure. And millions of Americans understand that serving something greater than yourself in life is an important part of having a full life."

July 4th is the most American of holidays. In a time of war, it is the time to celebrate together and work together to make America worth the blood sacrificed by so many.

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