I’ve not been a fan of the Independence Day holiday since military service. It’s not that I paid much attention to it previously. As a military officer I had time to reflect on the meaning of independence while stationed far from home among strangers.
People celebrate the Declaration of Independence and its grievances against the King of England. I don’t mind. While I’m as glad as anyone Elizabeth is not our queen, and Prince Charles will never be our king, Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas was an affront to human society. 284 years later the damage had been done and the founders were formalizing a relationship with the King as the hegemony of natives had been diminished by disease and warfare.
Few things point out the advancement of pre-Columbian society, and what was lost, as much as the recent book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.
The premise of Mann’s book is there were societies in the Americas that were as sophisticated as any on the globe. They endured for multiple millennia, coming and going over time before Columbus arrived, cultures unknown to Europeans. The Declaration of Independence was an insider deal among participants who had no standing to occupy and exploit the Americas. Yet they did.
It was not unusual for Americans to side with natives at the time of independence, especially when compared to living under English rule. I side with Frederick Douglass who said,
Your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.
If I celebrate anything this day it is the renewed opportunity to get along with neighbors and friends, something I believe is critical to healing our broken Democracy. While we may not agree about the meaning of Independence Day, it is better to find common ground every way we can. We’ll need that in the Anthropocene Age.