It’s the National Story, Stupid!

We celebrate July 4th because that’s the date on the Declaration of Independence. John Adams thought we would celebrate July 2 because that’s the day the resolution passed. Memorized that in high school when I was sure nobody but my teacher cared. BTW I was right!

It’s the story, stupid!

180px-Spirit_of_'76The Fourth of July is about the national story. It’s easy to feel patriotic if you believe that America rejected the right of Great Britian to govern us without representation. That our Revolutionary War began with “the shot hear round the world.” That when we won our freedom, others followed. That we continue to be the oldest democracy, a beacon to the world.

Of course, like all stories, our national story has varying versions. Check out Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader, who lead the loyalists against the American army. Or Frederick Douglas’s speech given July 5, 1852, which contains the poignant line: “This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” referring to slavery. 

And, like all stories, the national story has gotten better over time. Those first shots fired at sunrise April 19, 1775 at Lexington and Concord actually resulted in defeat. The American militia, poorly armed, lost both battles, “fell back” is the preferred term. It wasn’t until Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote the Concord Hymn in 1837 that we began using the phrase,  “the shot heard right the world,” in our national history. He wrote:

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard ’round the world.”

So why is Iran trying to blame us for the current demonstrations in Tehran’s streets? “The American Devil made us do it” is one way to tell the story, and if they can make enough people believe . . .. There’s a fine line between patriotism and propaganda. Don’t get me wrong, I love the American story and all the personal stories of my ancestors coming to this country that add to my version of the American story. Nothing wrong with patriotism as long as we realize, on some level, we’re choosing how we’re telling our story and choose wisely.

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4 Comments

Filed under History, National Story, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

4 responses to “It’s the National Story, Stupid!

  1. Stories are always works in progress. We shape them through our own memories and those of others. We shape them to suit our beliefs of “how it was/is”–I love our American story, too, but I’m keenly aware that history is usually told by the “winners” and not those that are subjugated by the acts of the aggressors. We left our British oppressors to be “free”–and, in the process, we denied the freedom of the Native Americans who were here first. White men gained freedoms in the “new” world, but not women or minorities. Iran’s government likes to say “the American devil made me do it”–but the recent actions by citizens show that when they look at the differences between freedoms in their country as compared to others (not just the US), they made a choice for a different story. Let’s hope that they have the opportunity.

  2. Thinking about the “story” of July 4th reminds me of the Bicentennial celebration when I was a teen. We had just moved to Colorado from Kentucky, and I was bitter about being parted from my friends and school there.

    I was also miffed that a state like Colorado would even think of celebrating the nation’s Bicentennial because it was only 100 years old in 1976. The way I saw it, Colorado didn’t “exist” for the Eastern colonists way back in 1776, so it didn’t earn the right to celebrate 200 years of nationality.

    Funny how perspective is.

  3. It’s all in the perspective! Thanks for the comment.

  4. The John Adams series on PBS was an eloquent commentary on how hard-won and perilous the nation’s route to independence was. I would also add that while we consider ourselvres to be a democracy, we are in reality a republic. We recite, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the REPUBLIC for which it stands…..” I know the pledge was written in the 1890s and not the 1770s or ’80s, but still….

    Besides, when we’re listening to Sousa marches and watching great fireworks, the fine points kind of disappear, don’t they?

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