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What Is America?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Thibault Camus, File

“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.”

And with those words written in the Declaration of Independence the idea of America was born. In a few days our nation will be celebrating that day, July 4th 1776. It was that day, 243 years ago, when brave and enlightened statesmen, philosophers, doers, and revolutionaries came together in Philadelphia Hall to bring about a bold new worldview that put human – not that of Princes, Emperors, nobles, or patricians - freedom and rights first.

Our nation has blossomed in ways unimaginable to the Founding Fathers since. We’ve gone from 13 colonies to 50 states. Our population has grown from an estimated 2.5 million in 1776 to now about 329 million. We’ve gone from a “City Upon a Hill,” locked away in a far corner of the world away from the great events of the time, to the world’s dominant military, economic, and cultural superpower.

However, through our complex history, we’ve also seen how the same ideals the founders ironed out have demonstrated themselves again and again throughout the course of the almost two-and-a-half centuries since.

It was that belief in the equality of all that led to realizations such as women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. It was that believe in God-given liberty and the right to self-governance that led to the creation of more and more states, the Electoral College, the Bill of Rights, and the beautiful experiment in human consensus that takes place each day not only in Washington, D.C. but just as much and importantly in our states, counties, cities, towns, neighborhoods, and homes.

The idea of human freedom is also what led America to spread its wings beyond our shores and to those of the Old World, Europe, where we liberated the continent, and many more nations, with the blood of our people from totalitarianism and stood guard against both Fascism and Communism for a century.

It is what inspires public servants every day who go to work to serve the people. It is what inspires teachers, entrepreneurs, immigrants, service-members, and more as we each do our part in keeping the fabric of what it means to be American strong and the American Dream alive.

“Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction," Ronald Reagan in said in 1967 upon taking office as Governor of California. And he is right. As we see time and time again in world history how beautiful democracies and republics can see their freedom wither away, whether through sudden turmoil or a slow degradation.

There is a reason why across the world people see America as a beacon of strength and righteousness, as something to admire and strive towards. It’s why our movies and music spread and are adopted, why our tourists are welcomed, and why nations always seek to be closer to America than not.

They know that not only do we have the strongest economy and military in history but we also break an unfortunate chain in human history of “might makes right.” Renowned cosmologist Carl Sagan in 1994 described his thoughts on seeing a picture of our world taken by Voyager 1, saying, “Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot.”

America is different. We stand for the belief in our Creator, in the belief that all Americans and all humans have rights to their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, just as the founders described so long ago.

The world is in a time of immense change as technology and a variety of other new developments present challenges that will require innovative thinking for us to address. However as we go forward into that new unknown the idea of what America is, has been, and will be undoubtedly will lead us in that right direction.

This July 4th, Independence Day, let us remember and celebrate that.

Erich Reimer is a Captain in the United States Army. He previously served as a government affairs lawyer and media commentator. Views expressed are his own and not those of the Department of Defense.

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