Sunday, July 4, 2010


I suppose it seems natural that a blog with the name "Freedom Trombone" should have an entry on July 4. So here it is.

While there will always be the cynical voices who complain about how Independence Day didn't apply to the slaves, or how the actual vote to separate from England was taken on July 2 (the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was approved on July 4, though), the truth is that the date itself doesn't matter as much as remembering the purpose of it. For the first time in modern history, a nation was established that was based on a concept rather than racial identity, religious isolationism, or ancestral territory. That concept was that a people should govern themselves, rather than be governed by a distant monarch whose only claim over them was that he was born to a particular family. They recognized that unchecked power inevitably leads to despotism, so they instituted a government that places a check on every facet of power: the Executive cannot write laws, the Legislature cannot enact the laws that it writes, and the Judiciary can only interpret laws that have been written and signed. Even the people themselves are not given absolute authority, for they must choose representatives, and their popular representatives are balanced by the even representation in the Senate.

More than that, when the Constitution was written the writers knew that mistakes would be made in this "grand experiment." They knew that certain events could not be foreseen. They knew that eventually something would have to be done about slavery, which most of the founders realized was antithetical to the concept of freedom upon which the nation was founded. So they wrote a document that allowed for the possibility of change, to give specificity to the broad ideas it contained. How little we appreciate that we can read our federal law in its original form, and know that the changes that have been made have been open and decided by the will of the people, rather than hashed out in secret.

Thursday night, my band (the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division Band) played a concert at Ft. Drum, NY. Our closing piece (not counting the encore of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever") was Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." Yet again, the cynic will complain that this piece was written to commemorate the Russian victory over Napoleon and has nothing to do with the United States. (In fact, the closing section of the overture contains the Russian hymn "God Save the Czar," a sentiment that is certainly at odds with the non-kingly nature of American government.) What the cynic forgets is that we play the music for other reasons: it's exciting! It's popular! And we get to fire cannons! (Believe me, the performance is much more exciting with real artillery. You don't hear the difference so much as feel it.) American audiences love it because it is great music, and they connect with the emotional triumph that the piece represents. (In the same way, our national anthem is "The Star-Spangled Banner" because of its association with Francis Scott Key's poem, not because we remember the Anacreontic society that inspired the tune's composition.)

Sometime within the past week or two, I saw a headline somewhere about how poor Americans are more likely to suffer from obesity. I think this says something about how blessed we are as a nation: we are probably the only place in the world where the poor are too fat rather than too thin.

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