Sunday, July 3, 2016

Let Freedom Ring

by Dan Applegate
President, The Arlington Memorial Gardens

July 4th is a holiday when vast numbers of U.S. flags populate gravesites on our grounds. To those Arlington visitors setting the flags, it’s another way to vividly memorialize and pay homage to their deceased loved one signaling not only their love for the deceased but also indirectly and publicaly identifying their loved one as a patriot.

Love of country and patriotism are the defining meanings of Independence Day. We celebrate our nation’s birthday and express our collective sense of national pride through parades, festivals and firework displays. And while we’re focused on such things, it’s a good time to reflect on our nation’s greatness and what separates and distinguishes it from all others around the world.

Obviously, one way to gauge our greatness is through our enormous economic and military might.  Despite experiencing an extended era of political incompetence, intransigence and malfeasance, and regardless of the raging growth of other foreign powers, it’s undeniable that America has managed to maintain its standing as the world’s strongest power. Indeed, America remains the world’s one true superpower.

But economic and military might is not, and should not be, what is celebrated on July 4th. Instead, we should celebrate those values that, throughout our history, have enabled us to form a “more perfect union.” Among that list of core attributes would be individuality, freedom, liberty, democracy, fairness, justice, equality and diversity.

In the challenging times in which we now live, when the disfiguring blight of terrorism has scared our collective psyche and rattled our confidence, it’s easy to slip from patriotism to the crudeness of nationalism with terrifying speed leading some to believe that patriotism means “my country – right or wrong.” Of course, as Americans we’re all biased and we want to and hope that we can always support our nation and its policies. Sometimes, however, patriotism means dissent and criticism.  As writer and journalist Sydney J. Harris once commented, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.”

Today as we celebrate the events that took place long ago in Philadelphia, as we raise flags in places both public and private, as they appear on graves in Arlington, all in the name of patriotism, let’s not forget that as the descendants of those original 1776 patriots, we have a sacred duty to hold ourselves to the values so eloquently articulated in the Declaration of Independence.  Doing so is how we truly "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All The Land And Unto All The Inhabitants Thereof.”

Daniel Applegate became part of The Arlington Memorial Gardens organization in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state cemetery association.  He was appointed by Ohio Governor George Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science.