Freedom, the Fourth of July and the Founding Fathers' efforts to create a new nation conceived in liberty will resound with greater measure next week and not just because some fireworks are legal.
The Fourth of July is expected to take on special significance this year after another date that is now deeply etched into the nation's memory -- Sept. 11.
For young people who witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there may be more of a history lesson in those morning hours than they think.
Every now and then I hear from twenty-something co-workers that their interest in history begins with the year of their birth. Whenever their high school education fails them miserably in terms of general knowledge about their own nation they say -- "I don't know. I don't care. I wasn't born yet."
They did, however, live through Sept. 11 and those moments, caught on tape with voice and sound and images, are hard to forget. Will they have the same feeling when their own children or children's children say the events of Sept. 11 are history too old to be interested in?
Changes perspectives a bit, doesn't it?
Those events they recognize as nation-changing and life-altering and gut-wrenching will some day be older news and part of a history class with a group of young people who never felt the shock wave in the same way.
Those events may seem to them as distant as the very different kind of shock wave created when this country was born.
The moments of Sept. 11 continue to alter the way we live in this nation. In the shock of the moment -- when America became more of a terrorist target than many ever thought could happen -- there were decisions made for security measures nearly everyone lauded.
As policy decisions are made in the aftermath, Americans need to pay closer attention and decide what freedoms they are really willing to change, alter or give up for an unknown gain in security. It is the kind of policy decision that cannot be made without citizen input.
In part those decisions are about the American identity. The identity that is celebrated across the nation from Boston to Honolulu on Thursday.
The Fourth of July brings us together with what was considered old-fashioned flag waving and band music that reminds us of generations of summers. For years some people thought of that day as just a way to enjoy family and friends with firework displays that capped a full day of parades and picnics.
Often forgotten are the really amazing people who gathered to sign their names to a document realizing they were putting their lives on the line standing behind a decision to establish a new nation. They were breaking away from one of the world's great powers of the day.
PBS has been running a series of stories that bring those Founding Fathers to life, who wrote about their fears and uncertainties about their decision in letters to each other. Yet they remained determined in their quest to create a nation based on freedoms -- of speech and worship. They provided for a free press to make sure government met its obligation to the people. They are worth remembering this year as the nation celebrates its Independence Day, which followed a long and difficult Revolutionary War with England.
A founder of the nation, Thomas Jefferson said the principles of equal justice and the freedoms the founders spoke of "form the bright constellation which has gone before us and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation.
"The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust, and should we wander from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty and safety."
On July 3, 1776, Founder John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife that Independence Day should be "solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore."
Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826.
Jefferson's last thoughts and his final words were of the day. Adams last thoughts were of Jefferson. They and others -- like Washington and Franklin -- were figures whose names we learned in childhood.
They lived those historic moments of Independence.
It is up to us to remember them.
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