Monday, July 04, 2005

Listening to the Fourth Fading

I'm sitting on the screened porch listening to the whistles, crackles and booms reverberate up and down the creek. Tonight I will sleep out here, like a Scout on Jamboree, dreaming of freedom.

But right now, I am thinking about provincial magistrates or local police who are marked for murder. Some mornings, I think about backing out of my garage and wonder how I'd do it differently if I lived in Iraq. Would I have bodyguards? Would I be outspoken? How would I scan the street before leaving? Would I back in so I could leave facing the potential attack? Would I follow my wife's car on her commute, as a precaution? What about my children?

I read that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, 17 lost their fortunes, 12 had their homes destroyed, nine fought and died, five were arrested as traitors, and two lost sons in the war. John Hancock, the first to sign, said: "the price on my head has just doubled," and Ben Franklin, ever the aphorist, supposedly signed saying, "We must hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately."

I would have been a patriot, I am sure of it, an agitator against the crown. But would I have signed my name? Would I have kept my musket ready? Would I have frozen my ass off at Valley Forge? Would I say, "give me liberty or give me death" and mean it, all the way to the gallows?

As kids, we empathized with Johnny Yuma, the Rebel. We saw glory in the Confederacy and nobody wanted to be the blue coats in our neighborhood war games. But suppose the call came for real, and I lived in the Kansas of my father's ancestors or the Virginia of my brother's birth instead of the Ohio of my mother's side. Would I have fought to free the slaves and preserve the union, or to save the only way of life I'd ever known?

The Indian agency is hanging onto the payments to the Indians who've given up their lands. The buffalo are gone, and the Dakota are hungry. The agent says "Let them eat grass." Now fighting has broken out, and I don't know if matters that I used to be on friendly terms with my red neighbors.

The German-Americans don't want the US to enter the First World War against their homeland. Some of the boys are planning to burn a chicken house that's flying the German flag, maybe rough up anyone who refuses to buy war bonds and kiss our flag. Would I go along?

Fifty years ago, the police and special deputies are busting the heads of strikers, just a few blocks away from my office, and some men will die in the street. Whose side am I on, the Trotskyite unionists' or the business lobby that's issuing weapons and badges to its own private force?

I don't have a beard and my wife's head is uncovered. A Taliban on a motorcycle with an AK-47 is motioning us to pull over...

It could be better and it could be worse this Fourth.


Blogger Lone Ranger said...

As a kid, I empathized with the Lone Ranger. I think if I'd been born 40 years earlier, I'd have been the Lone Ranger on radio. I have to be content to wear the mask in a liberal newsroom. For some people, the world is still black and white.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

Can I call you Lone? Too bad good guys have to wear masks, wherever they are.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

It also occurs to me that in those stirring days of yesteryear, the TV picture was mostly in greys, despite the clear black and white portrayal of right and wrong, from Cisco Kid to Palladin. In the messier real world, one man's (or culture's) black is another's white, and both think they have the silver bullets...

4:06 AM  
Blogger bob said...

I've mulled these questions myself many times, how you don't really know where you stand until the chips are on the table. Particularly in the context of the Dakotah Conglict, in which my great-great grandparents were murdered along with their three year old daughter. My great grandmother Rose and her three surviving siblings escaped and trecked the fifty miles to Fort Ridgely where they saw the two nearly successful attacks on the fort. I've always wondered how Rose felt about Indians in her later years.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

A small point of correction. I said, "I read that of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence, 17 lost their fortunes, 12 had their homes destroyed, nine fought and died, five were arrested as traitors, and two lost sons in the war."

I should have said, "I read this from a not very reliable right-wing source and didn't check its accuracy."

From what I've read since, there's a lot of cause-and-effect implied in that litany that ain't accurate. For example, nine fought and died, but none of them died as a result of the fighting.

10:59 AM  

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