I was first exposed to the 'piles of bodies' around the flagpole of Ft. McHenry Star-Spangled Banner origin story a few years back at our church. It's an inspiring story, emotional, heart-wrenching, one could even say 'glurge-filled' - and, sadly, not terribly true.
But what IS true is far more important, and more amazing indeed.
Our country has an inspiring history - full of successes and defeats, amazing advancements and progress as well as unfortunate failures and mistakes. The people of the time did the best they could with what they had to hand, and we should cherish their memories of what they did - not make up what they should have done in a patriotic movie.
Let's step back a bit and take a look at the state of the country in the 1600s and 1700s. The people lived pretty much as they had for the last 500 years - rural agrarian society, bad sanitation, and limited educational opportunities were the norm. There were firearms and the clothes were better, but not much other change from 1200 to 1700 or so. Over in Europe, that bastion of civilization - things were much the same, the colleges were better and the roads marginally so.
The Colonies grew, and prospered, thanks to many things - a rich land, room to expand, a lack of the stultifying rules and regulations and deeds of ownership that so wrapped the Old Country that growth was difficult... if not impossible. With that room to grow came people from all over - and those people had lots of new ideas.
Innovation was really kicking in - birthed in the coffeehouses of the day. Strange what a little caffeine and a whole lot of talk could do, isn't it? In the tea and coffeehouses of the time ideas were born and discussed, refined... and then printed out for all to share and talk over.
(Hmm. Coffee - the gateway drug to technological civilization?)
And this funny idea took root, almost like LOLcats - maybe the Colonies should be independent of the Crown?
The idea spread - and through perseverance and war we won our independence.
Fast-forward 230 years. The advancement that occurred during the intervening centuries is the stuff of science fiction. To take a mostly-rural agrarian nation and turn it into a technological powerhouse is an epic, amazing achievement. Our social advancement has been little less phenomenal - from a nation where slavery was acceptable and women couldn't vote to one where all are free and nobody is denied the vote through law. (Except for felons - and even there the rule's not hard and fast across the 50 states.)
What is not to be proud of - in the amazing advancement of this country of ours? Our mistakes? Well, we've pulled some big ones along the way - but what country hasn't? And which of us - in their own lives - haven't done some pretty stupid things... even when we knew better?
But what about our successes? Of the people this country birthed who changed the world? The people who brought us telegraphy, flight, and telephones, and electricity? Who took chances to do things that had never been done before - and made them work? Who got us to the MOON, for pete's sake.
And it's not stopped. It's been about 35 years since some geeks in a garage built a small computer out of off the shelf components... and sparked a new industry. You're reading this on the fruit off the tree they planted - and man how that thing has branched out!
That's what makes our country great. That's the blood in our veins - the heartbeat (not to steal a phrase) of America. To be free to TRY to do the impossible, to create, to innovate, to do things that had never been done before.
Our country is still young - and we've got a long way to go. Look around you at the marvels that exist, at something so mundane as a 7-11 or QuikTrip or Waffle-House or In-and-Out Burger, and think of the people behind such things - of the logistics necessary to keep even such a simple thing as a convenience store stocked with items that were unthinkable in the 1700s.
What are we going to see in the next two hundred years at this rate?
And it's all because of people who decided they needed to split from the Crown way back then, and fought for the right to do so. It was people who created a legal framework for this country, who managed to structure something that's stood pretty well while other nations tried and failed to reinvent their governments. It was people who built the canals for trade, who built bridges and roads and houses, who built the cities and the factories, who developed vaccines to prevent childhood scourges like polio.
Celebrate our history today - our history as a people. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly. Learn from the mistakes that were made, and do not repeat them.
The story itself is wonderful and amazing. There's no need for false, glurge-filled stretching of the truth, or creating fables that distort reality.
The reality is incredible enough.
Happy 4th of July!