ARLINGTON, VA - JUNE 14: Honor Guard soldiers from the The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, called ''The Old Guard,'' participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery June 14, 2012 in Arlington, Virginia. The oldest active Infantry Regiment in the U.S. Army, The Old Guard took part in the ceremony to mark the 237th anniversary of the founding of the Army and to honor ''soldiers' sacrifice defending freedom and democracy around the world.'' (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)2012 Getty Images
Two hundred and thirty six years ago we began the fight for the independence that we celebrate today, freeing ourselves from the tyranny of a monarchy that treated “Americans” as second-class British citizens.
Although we eventually won our freedom, we learned that liberty was worth dying for, and we’ve been doing it ever since for the good of the entire world.
Since 1776, no other country has done more to secure independence, democracy, and freedom across the globe. Our own revolution ignited one in France. We sacrificed hundreds of thousands during the Civil War so that others could be free. We fought and died to relieve our brothers in Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines from a Spanish dictatorship. We sent troops to the front lines of WWI to stop imperialistic countries from preying on the weak. We fought an evil dictator in WWII who eyed world domination and the extermination of his enemies and their belief systems. We sacrificed to impede the spread of communism, promoting democracy and freedom in Korea, Vietnam, Central America, and the USSR. We beat back the dictator Saddam Hussein, securing Kuwaiti independence and eventually the same for his own people.
No one entirely understands the political interests that eventually seduce us into the hell of war. But in the end, what makes us different is that we have always maintained a principled belief that only through freedom can there be “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
In between our military efforts, the U.S. has given the rest of the world more aid than all other nations combined, providing for the infrastructural, economic, and social development of countries around the globe.
In our own country, we cared so much for the welfare of our fellow Americans, that we created a system to insure both the poor and the elderly will always be taken care of.
Throughout our history, we’ve maintained a welcoming attitude that provided an opportunity for tens of millions of immigrants from every nation on Earth.
Our historically unmatched munificence alone is something to be proud of.
Today is no different. Today I stand here on Afghan soil, joined by tens of thousands of my American brothers and sisters who make up the greatest fighting force to ever walk the Earth. My fellow troops have come here from every state in the union - as well as Puerto Rico and Guam - and from dozens of other countries, to promote the same mission that our Founders died for.
Although the freedom of the Afghan people, who have been war-torn, occupied, and ravaged for the last 30 years, might be enough to entice our fighting forces to action, we also fight for our own freedom back on American soil.
We fight for the freedom of our people to celebrate the Fourth with typical summertime fare, some time at the beach or poolside with family, or a little rest and relaxation with friends at a restaurant or mall.
We fight so that our friends and family can live without fear that a suicide bomber, IED, or another 9/11 will interrupt our normally secure lives.
We are taking it to our enemies here in Afghanistan, and suffering ineffable personal costs, so that our loved ones can maintain the freedom and uncompromising independence that was won by the blood, sweat, and tears of our forefathers.
No matter one’s personal feelings about war, or about this war in particular, do not belittle the sacrifices we make so that others may be free.
Never forget that 236 years later, there are still freedom fighters who will give their lives and sacrifice their own personal liberty so that our loved ones, our brethren, our fellow Americans, and even citizens of the rest of the world, can celebrate and remember a moment in time that provided us all with hope, independence, and freedom.
July 4th is no longer an American holiday, but should be celebrated by the world.
Justin Vélez-Hagan is the Executive Director of The National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and an Adjunct Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland-University College. He can be reached at JustinV@NPRChamber.org or @JVelezHagan