Jewish World Review July 5, 2002 / 25 Tamuz, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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A different Fourth of July | Every Fourth of July is different. Because the country is always changing. Because the idea of America is always changing. Like a great piece of music, the message proclaimed that first Fourth of July changes each time it is heard. As the generations change, as circumstances alter, the old words acquire new meanings, new relevance. For this is the (ever) New World.

Phrases in the Declaration of Independence that once seemed only an afterthought, a decorative fillip, stand out on this wartime Fourth as if the ink were still wet:

A long train of abuses repeated injuries waging war against us burnt our towns and destroyed the lives of our people circumstances of cruelty and perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages .

On this Fourth, behind the familiar rituals, there runs an undercurrent of uncertainty. Jet fighters wait to be scrambled over national monuments. Behind the scenes at concerts and ceremonies, extra precautions have been taken. At the picnics and ballparks, you may notice a stillness in the air, a guarded awareness. Eternal vigilance is still the price of liberty.

It was not so different on July 4, 1776. Think of the dangers and uncertainties attendant on that momentous decision at Independence Hall. But even then America was the hope of the world, and that remarkable assemblage at Philadelphia knew it. Their faith was to them undeniable fact. Independence had a momentum of its own. It had already taken shape. All that remained was to proclaim it:

"When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation."

And so they did on that first Fourth of July -- in words that ring to this day, and bring hope to people who may know them only in translation, and who may appreciate them best because they know freedom only by its absence. Mr. Jefferson's words still resound in the hearts of the free and all who would be:

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness ."

Yes, uncertainties abounded on that first Fourth, but no doubts. "Our cause is just," Thomas Jefferson noted, "our union is perfect ." Crusty old John Adams was anything but a sunny optimist, yet he never had a qualm about the much and long debated decision for independence. It was he who, after independence had been decided on, would assure Abigail that all would be well, more than well. All would be glorious.

"I am well aware," he wrote her, "of the toil and blood and treasure it will cost us to maintain this declaration and support and defend these States, yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means and that posterity will triumph in that day's transaction ." It did.

Today's Americans cannot escape the responsibility that the words of the Declaration have thrust upon us; we stand for some things whether we will or not. We stand for freedom, for the hope of human dignity for all, for what is meant when men speak of the West, whether its values are threatened by European totalitarianisms in one era, or a murderous fanaticism out of the Darkest Ages in this one.

This is the strangest of wars that has been thrust upon us, this conflict waged against innocent workers in office towers and passengers in airplanes. It is a war waged by a hidden enemy who has no clear purpose except revenge -- revenge against History, which has passed him and his hatreds by. Once again, uncertainties abound, but no doubts. For this is a war in defense of freedom, and a freedom tide is still rising in the world. It has been since 1776.

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