During 36 years in the U.S. Army, my family and I moved 19 times. But each year, we celebrated Independence Day the same way: with lots of noise. If we were in the US, we fired off our rocket “stash,” usually after feasting on dogs, burgers and watermelon. If we were overseas, we banged pots and pans.
These were always great events but in 2007, the reality of sacrifice hit home. I was commander of an Army engineer division in Iraq and on July 4th, my team celebrated Independence Day with hot dogs, burgers, a fun run, and lots of banging pots and pans. I spoke with my headquarters team about the power of our American Experiment and the need to protect it.
Six days later, a 40-year-old Captain working at a hospital across the street was killed during a mortar barrage while on a run. She was a nurse. She was born in Puerto Rico and joined the Army to protect our freedoms.
What brings us together as a nation and what keeps us apart from oppressive nations of the world is our American Experiment, the power of an idea. The American Experiment started when our forefathers decided they should sever the colonies’ bonds from Great Britain. From the steps they took and the actions they put in motion, ordinary men and women assembled to support this experimental idea.
Ever since, this idea has been a crucial part our national DNA. As the Declaration of Independence held and as Martin Luther King, Jr. famously repeated in 1963, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Today we view concepts such as just government resting on consent of the governed as normal. But it was unprecedented in the days of kings and queens. It is also unprecedented in countries ruled by dictators and oppression.
The power of the ideas underpinning our American Experiment have been tested repeatedly. They were certainly tested during the American Civil War. They were tested when Harry Truman ordered integration of U.S. troops and when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.
On this Fourth of July, a great anniversary of our Nation’s birth, we remember the ideals of our American Experiment and those that protect them.
Maj. Gen. (ret) Michael J. Walsh Senior Advisor
A former Deputy Commanding General for Civil and Emergency Operations and commander of three Divisions in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Michael has unparalleled expertise in water resources policy and operational experience.