Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
The Fourth of July, 2003
July 5, 2003
When a nearly 90 year old woman panics because her computer dies, I
suppose it is funny. But I ain't laughin'.
My half-written 4th of July column is out in cyberspace someplace,
possibly hovering over Siberia. Son Dave asked whether I had considered
using a pen and paper, but that was going too far. So with my editor's
consent, here is a slightly edited re-print of the 1998 column.
The 4th of July was a great holiday when I was a kid -- next to
Christmas the best one.
My grandparents came from Illinois to visit each summer. It was my
granddad who taught me how to spit watermelon seeds, but the high spot
of each summer was the 4th of July. He would disappear for an hour or
two and return with enough Roman candles and skyrockets for the two of
us to endanger all the houses in that part of Englewood. I may not
have been too much aware of what the day stood for, but I knew it was
Some years later I celebrated another Fourth by watching George M. Cohan
in "I'd Rather Be Right." The audience stood and cheered with patriotic
fervor when Cohan sang, "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy/ A Yankee Doodle do
or die/ A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam/ Born on the fourth of
July." Our patriotism was probably encouraged by the fact that second
gallery seats in the Auditorium Theater in Chicago in 1938 cost 55
Life was a lot simpler then. (There were no computers!) The symbols
of the holiday -- the flag, the stirring music, the speeches which were
so moving, assured us that our world was going to be here forever.
The war to end wars had been fought and won. It was the last of the
"pure" wars. Justice had prevailed and we had made the world safe for
democracy. There would be no more war in the world. Patriotism was
clear in its meaning and not questioned. It meant that we were
invincible, that we were always right.
But between my childhood and today, there has been a major world war in
which more than 400,000 Americans of my generation died. There was a
"police action" in Korea that killed over 50,000 and a war in Vietnam
which killed 60,000 of our sons and daughters. And those are only the
And there was Hiroshima. The day the bomb fell, we entered a new world.
The concept of nationalism and patriotism changed, whether we chose to
admit it or not, whether we liked it or not. The life of the planet is
now at risk. My granddad's skyrockets and today's glamorous displays
do not mean the same thing. Old style "patriotism" has become our
security blanket in a world too frightening to face.
Tonight there will be fireworks displays all over the country and they
will be beautiful to see. There will be parades, and the bystanders who
consider themselves patriotic will sit peacefully in their deck chairs
as the flags go by. The few who salute will be stared at. Probably not
many of us will give much thought to what the day stands for.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident,
that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," we were a country of barely 2
million people, mostly western European stock.
Today we are a huge, highly diverse country on a planet that is tied
together with communication Jefferson could not have imagined. We
love it and we know it is good, but we haven't figured out exactly how
to handle it or how to keep it.
G. K Chesterton spoke to the problem. "'My country, right or wrong ' is
a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It
is like saying, 'My mother, drunk or sober.'"