Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. "Mankind." That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it's fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom... Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution... but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: "We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!"This quote has always inspired me, since the first time I saw the film from which it hails at age 10, just a few months shy from being 11 years old. Then, it was more a fascination with action and aliens, and this speech signified the last great battle of the movie. Now, the words mean more to me. It may sound silly to you, taking a fictional presidential speech from an alien flick and using it to introduce my Fourth of July post, but just give me a minute to explain.
— Bill Pullman as President Thomas Whitmore, Independence Day, 1996
The past few years have been very transformational for me. I started out my adult life as a neoconservative Republican, sitting just to the right of Attila the Hun. My upbringing was very conservative and religious, and joining the Army at age 17 contributed to those factors. Now before I go any further, let me get one thing straight — I am thankful for the blessed life I've lived thus far and for every aspect of my upbringing. I love God and country more than words, even well-crafted ones, can express. And I still believe there are no better men and women in America than those willing to put their lives on the line to serve their country and to protect its citizens. Now, back to the story: Josh goes to college.
Here's where the conservatives start thinking, Oh Lord, here we go again, another kid with a good upbringing who goes to college and becomes an atheist hippie. And the liberals think, Ha, he went to college — that'll show that country boy what the real world is like. I bet he won't know what hit him. Probably, he'll start recycling and smoking pot. Bet he'll even advocate for more-restrictive gun laws. OK, well, neither party count your chickens just yet.
So, as I mentioned, I've learned a lot in recent years. I've grown up a lot. I've taken on a lot of responsibility. I've had more jobs than some people twice my age. This isn't my arrogant braggadocio in play — I'm just stating that I've experienced quite a bit, and this has resulted in thinking about life from a new perspective. That kill-kill-kill mentality ingrained into my mind in basic training seems childish now, and the one-size-fits-all politics and lifestyle scenario seems to have plenty of holes in its argument.
I'm proud of my West Virginia heritage. You won't find harder workers or more honest people in most cases. You won't find more patriotic people who are more proud to be mountain dwellers. But let's face it, coming from West Virginia brings plenty of stereotypes with it — being one of the poorest states means West Virginians are some of the most undereducated people as well. Luckily, breakthroughs such as the PROMISE scholarship have opened college up to more students in recent years. However, as a product of the public school system, I can vouch that there is much work to be done. But West Virginia shouldn't always get the bad reputation it does. I've been to plenty of other places with ignorant people, and I know many well-read individuals in my home state. Besides, who says a college degree necessarily means you are educated?
And here's where the life-experience bit comes in. The older I get, the more my views on life change from what they used to be. Yes, much of this comes from education, but so much more of it comes from the respect that my parents taught me to give to other people. Listening to other perspectives and being open-minded isn't just for Buddhists or Woodstock attendees, it's for human beings. I am truly blessed in the opportunities I've been afforded in life because I've been able to meet so many wonderful people who have different outlooks on life. The ability to freely express these ideas and share them with one another is what makes America great.
I haven't always agreed with everyone else's point of view. But I have always listened to someone who was well-informed and had a decent argument. This is all part of learning and shaping new, collaborative ideas for growth. So, the more I witnessed and took part in this happening, the more I realized my way of thinking may not have originally been so grand. Perhaps I didn't need to kill every rag-head, as my drill sergeant told me. Perhaps I could call the homosexual in my dorm a friend, whether I agreed with his lifestyle or not. Perhaps my beloved George W. Bush did take us to war under false pretenses. And there's no speculation that many men and women have died needlessly because of it.
So, no, I haven't become a complete liberal. I still believe people should be able to carry guns and defend themselves if need be. I still believe we should retaliate against terrorists who can't be reckoned with and bring Osama bin Laden to justice. I still believe that religious institutions have their place in America, an important place, but I don't believe they should dictate how we run our government (Bush deceived the whole country on this basis, gaining his support from conservative Christians who basically gave him a mandate for continuing the war in Iraq). What I have become is a moderate, free-thinking, open-minded, patriotic person.
To tie the Independence Day speech back in — it speaks about uniting in one voice to fight for a common goal. We mustn't let our petty differences get in the way anymore. The United States of America has a tarnished image worldwide. Our economy is failing as people struggle to get to work, just to have enough money to buy fuel to get to work. People are losing their homes. Their homes! That is despicable in a land where we grow up being told anything is possible. Yet, this past month, we lost 62,000 jobs in America. The richest, greatest country on the Earth? I still believe it in my heart that we have the richest, greatest people and the best natural resource, ourselves. And we have it a lot better than others who live without food and other needs in some less-fortunate countries. But if we don't stop this spiral, where will we end up? Already, there are thousands of people who are just as needy in America, and families must pinch every penny just to stay afloat. What's worse, is we are losing our most precious resource, our young men and women, in the desert each day. We need not only a United States, but also we need a united worldwide effort for peace and prosperity. We must not go quietly into the night.
We have a chance for change coming up in November. We can turn the U.S. around simply by voicing the need at the voting booth. Simple, really. We can maintain the status quo by extending Bush's term with John McCain, the liberal-posing-as-conservative-except-for-his-warmongering-habits senator, or we can vote for Barack Obama, the Illinois senator and Democratic nominee. I can think of no better message to send on the Fourth of July than the message that America must turn itself around. This cannot be done by maintaining the same policies just because voters are paranoid of a black man whose middle name is Hussein.
I'll be honest, Obama wasn't my first choice for the presidency. John Edwards was. But now that he's the nominee, the one who isn't preaching the same old tune we've heard for eight years, he has my full support. Under Obama, we can begin to restore the economy. We can begin to withdraw our forces from Iraq and force the Iraqi government to take responsibility of its own country. See, just as we Americans are mostly open-minded, the Iraqis must follow our example. I may not prefer the Catholic religion, but I don't want to kill any Catholic I've ever met. Yet, here are sects of Muslims killing each other over petty differences rather than stepping up and taking charge of their new, free country (thanks to the taxpayers of the U.S. and the lives of American men and women). If they can't follow our lead, then let them be ignorant. It's not my job, and it's not any other American's job, to try to persuade them otherwise by putting myself out there to be blown to bits by a cowardly roadside bomb. Diplomacy should be in place, yes, but you can't make the horse drink even if you bring him to water, as they used to say in West Virginia.
I don't understand people who don't realize how much credibility our country has lost in the rest of the world. We've made so many more enemies in the hearts and minds of foreigners than we ever have or ever could kill. There is indeed a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone outside America when it comes to America. Another thing I don't understand is why there are still people who stand behind George W. Bush and his cronies in this war while they fill their pockets with the profits. Where's that money when American soldiers returning with PTSD and missing limbs need further care? Where's that money when the newlywed couple and their baby can't afford their mortgage payment or even find a job for that matter? Where is that money when our soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen are months behind on being paid? Does the Bush Administration even really care anymore? We must unite as Americans to initiate change, and we must re-extend our hands to other countries to re-introduce them to a United States that is friendlier and smarter than what they have known in the past eight years.
I sometimes receive chainletter e-mails about Barack Obama. His campaign and other myth-debunking Web sites continuously work to disprove these preposterous, sometimes racist, messages. Yet, there are still plenty, mostly in rural areas without much access to media, who believe the lies that circulate. No, Obama is not a Muslim (and what the heck would it matter if he were as long as he can successfully run a country?), and yes, he does put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance. The smear tactics used by the far right against Obama are just evidence that he will win the election in November. The neo-cons are running out of ideas, and their candidate is a stuffy, out-dated Bush lackey with no chance of winning, as long as conservatives take a moment to think about where the country is headed.
I'm not going to tell you who to vote for. As an American, that is the beautiful thing — you get to decide. I'll tell you I'm voting for Obama — not because I think he's perfect, but because the evidence shows we need new policies if we are going to turn our country around. Most importantly, though, what we need is a restoration of patriotism. Our forefathers would not be impressed today to see the bullying, divided country in crisis we live in. Remember how united we were after Sept. 11? We need that unity again, and we need to shout out in a clear voice that we are ready to get back on top of the world, setting an example for capitalism, patriotism, might, collaboration, environmentalism and education.
This Independence Day, please, take a moment to remember what this country stands for. Remember what we were founded upon. Think about the past lessons we have learned. Make the decision to help make a change for the better in some way, no matter how small. Be thankful for your freedoms. Be thankful you can say what you want and worship how you wish. I am. I truly am thankful and proud to be an American. And I want the rest of the world to realize why again. I want my neighbors to have jobs. I want to buy my own house someday. And I don't want my children to die in a desert for people who won't shake hands at the end of the day and share a meal, regardless of their religious preference.
My prayer this Fourth of July is that by this time next year, our brave men and women in uniform will be heading home and that our people will not be in economic turmoil. I pray that the energy crisis will be well on its way to being solved and that fewer Americans will be divided and that more will call each other brother, sister and friend. All we can do is make the most of our time here on Earth. Educate someone, help someone, care for someone, love each other, and love the United States of America.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!