We Americans have readily fulfilled John Adams’ exhortation, in a letter to his wife, that Independence Day “ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells. Bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other. … ”
But along Main Street today, members of our top-rated fire department will be setting American flags onto the light poles. These flags and some bigger, more safely located ones around town will invite a quieter observation on the Fourth — and on any other day.
Recall the start and end of the 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan.” The film opens with the Stars and Stripes filling the screen. We hear a little music but mainly we hear the flag’s fabric, snapping in the wind and brushing against itself. That’s it: the sound of the flag.
In the movie, the banner flies over the 9,000 American graves above Omaha Beach in Normandy. But that same motion and sound will come to those flags on our Main Street and to others around town, many of which now fly night and day.
It’s easy to drive up to one in the early morning or later afternoon, when city noise is low, and hear that fabric pulling the flag a little out from the pole and snapping softly as the wind passes.
The sound is the product of physics. But it can have emotional force.
If we stay listening a minute, we will move toward our own thoughts about the country. Here are some possible ones:
n What a group our revolutionaries were: men who knew history and knew human nature — with George Washington there to steady the whole enterprise that gambled “our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
n The deaths that helped provide this peaceful silence: From 1776 (4,435 Revolutionary War deaths, says Veterans Affairs) through Normandy in 1944 (1,465 American dead in a day, most in a few early hours) right on through to the coffins coming home from Iraq (4,490).
It has been as Adams wrote next: “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, ands support and defend these states.”
n The peace that we all hope has come to those people who died for the United States and to the people who mourned for them. Think of the families hit by our 291,600 World War II dead; and think of the peace suddenly evaporating (if they ever knew it) for the Iraq families as the ISIS brigades move toward Baghdad now.
n The fact this nation “so conceived and so dedicated” has long endured — even through the Civil War (214,900 battle deaths) — for 238 years.
This last point is humbling for an American as he watches the flag and reflects on how much thought and loss have been needed for him to be able to listen to it quietly even on the Fourth of July.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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