It's difficult for me to reflect on the beginnings of our great nation and not feel conflicted about the way that slavery was allowed to continue, even as our founders were ratifying the Declaration of Independence with their signatures. To me, the celebration of that important document is incomplete without including the 14th and 15th amendments which promised citizenship for Blacks and the right to vote, as well as the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act which backed up the laws with the force of the federal government.
Douglass' wasn't condemning the American people as much as he was admonishing them to remember that the nation hadn't yet applied their fine words about liberty, freedom, and justice to the negroes they allowed its white citizens to hold in permanent servitude without any rights of citizenship at all.
"This Fourth of July is yours, not mine," he said "You may rejoice, [I] must mourn. What to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelly to which he is the constant victim. To him, 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 denunciations 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, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour"
It is, in fact, this very contradiction that many Americans ignore as they both celebrate our nation's independence from tyranny and oppression, and continue to tolerate the tyranny and oppression that our nation has fostered in Iraq with our invasion and occupation.
As Americans celebrate here at home with flags and fireworks, where is the freedom to be found in Iraq? Where is the freedom in our deadly checkpoints restricting free movement of Iraqis in their own country? Where is the freedom to be found in the face of our weapons that are pointed directly at the heart of the Iraqi community in the continuing, U.S. led, search and destroy missions?
Where is liberty to be found under our perpetual occupation? Where is liberty's refuge from the 'collateral' killings of innocent Iraqis that our government and military obscures behind talk of 'rolling back the insurgency' and 'defeating terrorism? Where is the liberty in the massive round-ups and detentions of innocent Iraqi men, women and children?
Where is the justice in the summary executions in the field by our soldiers of 'suspected' insurgents? Where is the justice in the indefinite imprisonment of Iraqis (many for years) without charges, without access to evidence, and without access to counsel?
Over 2500 American soldiers' lives have been sacrificed for Bush's illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Thousands of innocent Iraqis were killed in the initial U.S. led invasion which promised "shock and awe' for the television warriors who watched the spectacle unfold. Tens of thousands more would lose their lives as a result of the chaos and unrest the Bush regime had initially encouraged with taunts of "bring them on", and the bluster that "we're fighting them over there, so we won't have to fight them over here."
The world was witnessed to the installation of a U.S. interim puppet authority, and a sham election overseen by our invading military forces. That led to yet another sham authority, using the influence of our occupying army to lord over Iraqis and parcel their resources out to the highest bidder.
Now Americans are being held hostage to an occupation that they are saying (in a clear majority), must end by a date certain. Notwithstanding a reversal of the political balance of Congress, the Bush regime is determined to 'stay the course' and keep the America's jack-boot planted firmly on the Iraqis' necks. But, despite their increasing opposition to the occupation, many Americans will still celebrate our own nation's independence, mindless of the contradiction.
"To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy." Douglass spoke. "Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England toward the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so;" he continued, "but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men's souls."
They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men." he said. "To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.