Independence Day; Celebrating Freedom in an Appropriate Way

5 07 2011

Individually Free

Yesterday was Independence Day here in the Land of the Free.

Across the country millions of people got together to celebrate freedom, to wear the stars and stripes, spend time with friends and relatives, drink too much, watch baseball and sit on the grass looking at  fireworks.

At least I assume that is what the majority of American citizens did.

Personally, I spent it at a parade in Hingham (Massachusetts) followed by walking the dog in an old military installation and then driving over an hour to see some fireworks in a field behind a school in Lincoln (also in Massachusetts). It was a long, party-centric day and I felt like a gate-crasher for most of it.

As the birthplace of the movement towards independence from Britain, the site of the Boston Tea Party and the state where the first shots were fired in the Revolutionary War – the “shot heard around the world” was fired during the Battle of Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire as Michelle Bachmann thought – they take July 4 very seriously here and they have every right to.

As one of the original thirteen colonies, the actions of patriots such as Paul Revere and inspiring leaders like George Washington were directly responsible for the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the formation of the United States of America.

As we know, the war lasted until the 1783 with the Treaty of Paris signalling an end to the conflict – slightly ironic given that the French played such a large part in the eventual victory by the colonists. With the exception of a small skirmish over trade restrictions which lasted from 1812 until 1815, and which was a minor distraction to the Napoleonic Wars being fought in Europe, there has been a Special Relationship between the USA and Britain for many years.

To put it bluntly, we all seem to get on with each other despite any tensions from a sticky situation which ended 228 years ago and (indirectly) laid the foundations for America to become a Superpower and a hugely influential nation in all areas of the World.

So last night in Lincoln, as I was tucking into my pulled pork sandwich and sipping on Gatorade, I was mildly surprised to hear a random bloke shout (before the fireworks started) the following statement; “USA, USA, how does it feel England?”

Nonplussed I looked around for the gentleman in question, believing that he had heard my accent and was looking to start a historical debate. However, nobody was looking at me,  making threatening gestures or even approaching me. I wasn’t wearing anything that could identify me as English, had wisely decided to leave my bowler hat and cricket bat at home and wasn’t even discussing the joys of watching comedy series that only last for two seasons. I hadn’t adopted a fake Michael Caine voice, wasn’t talking about soccer and calling it football or even claiming that all country and western music sounds the same.

So I was stumped…and not in a cricket sense.

How did what feel? Was ‘it’ a reference to our defeat in 1783 and the subsequent slinking back to the Mother Country with our tails between our legs? Perhaps it was some sort of comment about the granting of freedom or the development of democracy?

‘It’ could have even referred to the current position of the National Health Service and our experiment with the Welfare State, perhaps even an observation about the continued presence of the Royal Family in the lives of most British subjects. But “how does it feel, England” was the only shout that disturbed the sounds of people having a good time while waiting for the fireworks to start.

I admit that I was gently annoyed for some minutes. I wanted to confront this person and ask him what he was referring to. The fact that nearly twenty-four hours later, I am still thinking about ‘it’ means that the comment got to me on some level. Normally I would have let this go but it seems that on July 4th, one person in the crowd wanted any Englishman in the crowd to know exactly what we were all gathered here to celebrate.

Independence. Autonomy from a Colonial Oppressor. Victory against an unwanted military force. Nation building and Nationalist Pride. Proof that decisions made that affect residents of another country by unseen lawmakers and military commanders from afar are not acceptable. That America truly is the Land of the Free.

Especially when it comes to Freedom of Speech.

That’s why I said nothing, just sipped on my $3 bottle of refreshing isotonic liquid and waited for the fireworks to begin. All of which were probably Made in China.

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