Fourth of July: What Americans Can Learn from Israel

There are patterns in human events that disclose a unity of consciousness or spirit.  These patterns connect people of diverse languages and customs.  Accordingly, we realize that the American Revolution was not simply a war against a British tyrant.  It reaffirmed the universal march toward freedom.

History, according to Thucydides, is philosophy taught by concrete illustrations.  In other words, history is composed of events instigated by human actors because they were guided by great ideas.

The great idea illustrated by the American Revolution was that liberty is both a right and an obligation.  But this was not a new idea.  It originated among the Hebrews, who described their Deity as liberty itself.  The fact that liberty begins and remains in the mind, as Spinoza and J. Stuart Mill argued, has been demonstrated by the history of a nation that, although crushed and driven from its own land, managed to find its way back.  Soil, Will Durant believed, is the first element in becoming a civilization.  The Jews knew that without the land of Israel, they would wither away.

Yet another "teaching moment," as Thucydides would say, took place as we were celebrating our own struggle to be free.  Forty-two years ago on the Fourth of July, I was at the customary barbecue, watching the fireworks.  Hostages had been taken by Arab and German terrorists to Uganda.  There was a news item about the hostage situation that I heard only in bits and pieces.  The newscaster repeated that the hostages were on their way to Israel.  I cheered.  It was after all the Fourth of July, and as we ate our burgers, we were reminded again of who we are.  While the rescue team was not composed of Marines or the Delta Force, it was animated by the same spirit.

The capital of Uganda is Entebbe, and it was there that the hostages, who had been on an Air France flight, were taken after their plane was hijacked.  Some of the terrorists were Germans, and the airplane and crew were French.  Neither German nor French soldiers came to their rescue.  But then, Germany had only recently been liberated from Nazism – not by rebellion, but by the Allies.  France had capitulated to German aggression, preferring occupation to resistance.

In a way, whose subtlety demands a philosophical perspective, America did arrive at Entebbe on that dark night of July fourth.  It was American-made transports that carried the IDF force.  It was the American ability to take a dare that resonated in the decision to act.  And it was the American belief that wherever freedom calls, "we'll be there."  This time, the boys getting off the plane did not speak English with a Southern or Midwestern drawl.  They spoke Hebrew with an ancient accent.  Like our boys on Guadalcanal or Omaha Beach, they moved quickly and decisively.

The boys from Bastogne and Okinawa are probably no longer alive.  The boys from Entebbe are old men now.  But memory becomes history, which is the repository of great ideas.  What we learn from July fourth and from Operation Yonatan (Entebbe) is that liberty must always be defended.

The function of memory is to demonstrate transcendence over time and place.  We study history not as antiquarians, but because it helps to explain who we are or, more accurately, who we should become.

July fourth had become a time of hot dogs and car sales, of grand openings and commerce.  American greed overshadowed American pride and faith.  It was true of my own July fourth – until July 4, 1976.  That was the date that I was reminded of what America is all about.  Although it was a handful of IDF soldiers storming the terrorists, I knew that our boys from Lexington, Concord, Argonne Forest, and Iwo Jima were with them.

Shortly after Entebbe, I met a young soldier, a Ranger.  We chatted about the Rangers, and the topic of Entebbe came up.  He told me that when he and his buddies heard about the raid, they went out and "hoisted a few."  I guess that was the Ranger way of saying, "Well done."

For me, the Fourth of July will always be a celebration of America – not as a territory defined by borders or spatial limits.  The Fourth of July acknowledges an America that transcends time and space and even language and custom.  It is the celebration of the idea of America without which we would be lesser and weaker.

The idea of America was conceptualized not in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.  It is an ancient idea that explains why Americans have named their cities and places Jericho, Salem, New Canaan, and Zion.  Transcending commerce, politics, and competition is an Idea that belongs to no man and to all men.  The Fourth of July is all about this idea and the people who continue to defend it.