Ryan Harvey

The Irony of Independence Day

In Thoughts & Analysis on July 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Today is July 4th, and those Americans who know the holiday is more than just a shopping spree are celebrating their nation’s independence from Britain. This independence didn’t come easy, it was the result of a decade of riots, agitation and political development. It was the result of guerilla war and the intervention of a super-power (France). Perhaps most importantly, as the Boston Tea Party, the Stamp Act Riots, and the resistance to the Townshend Act which culminated in the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks displayed, it was the result of a mass rejection of a colonial economic program. The resistance in Iraq is following a similar pattern…

Most Americans should understand the history behind Independence; the development of a peasant social movement throughout the 1760’s, agitation for a local aristocracy among an educated elite, but most of all, the economic engine that slavery provided wealthy land-owners. This was the basis for economic independence.

This independence unfortunately did not include a culture of solidarity with other nations, and it was not long before there were violent independence movement against this “young republic” and it’s allies, led by the subjugated people of the Caribbean islands, Africa, the Arab countries, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

There is much to be said for what Independence meant for Native Americans, enslaved Africans, women, poor soldiers, peasant farmers, and European indentured servants, and how it contrasts with the experience of recently-British elites like George Washington, slave-owners like Thomas Jefferson, and Dutch Patroons, like New York’s super-wealthy Rennasaeler family.

There is great irony when our nation celebrates the independence of a small nation from the monster of colonialism. Though many know why we celebrate July 4th, few actually discuss the issue of colonialism on this day. Why not? Are we afraid of the drastic similarities between British policy in colonial America and our current policy in Iraq? Why is July 4th not a day of discussion and celebration around other resistance movements against colonialism as well? Was the United States the only country that fought a morally and politically acceptable battle against colonialism? Vietnam’s 1945 Declaration of Independence from Japan opens “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Is this declaration less valid than ours? Why?

I wonder today why we didn’t celebrate the Iraqi independence from Britain on June 30th, 1930, or the August 15 independence of India from Britain in 1947, or the November 11th Independence Day for Angola, celebrating the defeat of Portugal. I wonder why the TV stations don’t air The Battle Of Algiers to remind us of other, more recent struggles against colonial occupation.

While our recently returned Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are taking extra doses of anti-anxiety and tranquilizer pills so they can try to sit through the fireworks, let’s consider the foreign policy that caused their disorders. Let’s talk about British economic and military policy in colonial America, as well as in half the world, and let’s look at U.S. military and economic power in the world today. This could do justice to a generation.

And let’s celebrate resistance to colonialism!


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