Independence Day in America. We blow shit up. Ask any American about our Fourth of July traditions, and they’ll tell you ‘fireworks.’ Or maybe ‘beer and fireworks.’ It’s all very patriotic. Especially the beer, assuming that it’s American beer. I haven’t learned yet if Trump is applying tariffs to foreign beer, but American beer is as good as any beer in the world, so it doesn’t really matter. And I’m talking about small, regional breweries, craft beers, not Coors. And it doesn’t matter to me anyway, I stopped drinking two and a half years ago.
Years ago, I asked my coworker Chris Tobin what he was planning to do on his Fourth of July holiday. “I’m a really patriotic guy,” he said, “I’m going to sit in a lounge chair with my beer and watch fireworks.” This is when I learned that beer was integral to patriotism.
But why fireworks? There’s a line in the American National Anthem that goes like this:
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there…
Our fireworks are a nod to our National Anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, which is a song about our flag not our country. America is obsessed with it’s flag. The Stars and Stripes. The ol’ Red, White and Blue. Children, from their earliest ages, are taught (and then forced) to “Pledge Allegiance” to our flag. I won’t do this, because I think it’s stupid.
Frequently, I’m in situations where everyone stands and recites the Pledge of Allegiance. My father-in-law and every boss I’ve had since I moved to Gettysburg are in the local chapter of Rotary International. I find myself going to meetings once or twice a year. Every meeting starts with the Pledge of Allegiance. The non-profit organizations where I’ve worked annually petition the local government to offer public proclamations on the topics for which we advocate. When we’re successful, I attend a county commissioners’ meeting to hear the proclamation read. Each of these meetings start with the Pledge of Allegiance as well.
I’m not the type to assign importance to a symbol like the flag. Yes, I’ve been known to get excited about the Maryland flag—the state where I grew up—but that’s because the flag is interesting (the only state flag made up exclusively of coats of arms) and visually appealing. I actually consider Washington DC my home town. I don’t really care about Maryland, just it’s flag.
So, in these meetings when standing to recite the pledge, I do what any good writer would do, I edit. I pare down the pledge to agree with my beliefs:
I pledge allegiance to…the United States of America,… one Nation… with liberty and justice for all.
On Independence Day, when we’re done pledging allegiance and singing about our flag, what’s left is fireworks. It’s hard for me to clearly analyze my thoughts on Fourth of July fireworks. When they are shot-off, I feel a warm, prideful glow. The exact feeling I imagine everyone else gets from the fireworks display. But I’m not sure if I get it from celebrating my nation, or if it’s a conditioned response to something I’ve done fifty-five times while observing those around me. Perhaps I only feel this way because I’m supposed to feel this way. Perhaps, through repetition, I’ve been brainwashed.
Regardless, I’ll go to the Gettysburg firework display tonight. My kids want to go, and like any (older, bigger) kid, I like seeing things blow up, too (Susan, on the other hand will come along to be a good sport but is completely annoyed by firework displays). And before the fireworks, my kids and I will dabble in some homemade pyrotechnics of our own. Long-time readers of this blog know that my son Eli is somewhat obsessed with fire and explosions. This has been chronicled in “Cool S#!t” and “More Cool S#!t”.
Today, we’ll construct a couple of bombs to ignite in honor of the United States’ birthday. First, we’ll attempt a smoke bomb made of stump remover, sugar and baking soda. And after that, we’ll create an explosive flare from black powder and coffee creamer. Remarkably, all of these recipes are right there on the internet for any twelve-year-old or fifty-five-year-old kid to find.
Happy Independence where ever you live.
Peace — Jeff