By Robert A. Vella
Once again, the calendar has brought us Americans to a really bizarre time of the year when the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence spurs us into gluttonous and warlike behavior. The centerpiece of these celebrations is, of course, pyrotechnic displays known as fireworks. Since these devices can be dangerous to use (see: Jason Pierre-Paul has finger amputated, expected to play in ’15) and can start costly wildfires, state and local governments typically regulate them to varying degrees. In fire-prone areas, they may be banned altogether. However, most Americans can still enjoy watching large, licensed displays that shoot spectacular bursts of color high into the sky for about an hour after sunset on each July 4th.
The situation is rather different where I live in western Washington state. The people here take their fireworks to a level I’ve never experienced anywhere else. This is no one-day celebration in the few hours after dark. No, no, no! It is a week-long affair of booming explosions which rattle across the landscape from late afternoon to well after midnight. Except for the licensed displays on the 4th, these are not the standard colorful air-burst variety fireworks. No, they are noisemakers only and are so powerful they remind me of the artillery simulators I experienced in the U.S. Army during war-games exercises.
The effects turn our residential neighborhoods into audio war zones, fraying the nerves of elderly people, triggering panic in domestic pets, and sending the local wildlife running for cover. But, it’s big business here. There are so many fireworks tents selling their wares that a person literally cannot travel more than a couple of city blocks without seeing one. And, not surprisingly, God has gotten into this truly weird act of commercial exploitation. Not only are many Christian churches selling fireworks in their parking lots, but they have put up signs associating God with their use as well.
Hey, drop some bombs for God… it’s the American thing to do!
I’m left wondering how much the consumers of this celebratory and religious commercialism truly understand or truly care about both the principled founding of America and the terrible human costs of real warfare fought with real bombs. Not much, I suspect.
Thousands of miles away, men – not God – are dropping real bombs in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and scores of other places. Although no one is celebrating, situational exploitation by the deeply religious is ever present there too.
I also wonder why the holidays remembering our nation’s other wars are much more somber celebrations than this one marking the start of the American Revolution. Did not people die on both sides in our revolt against the British Empire? Did not people suffer grievous injury and loss? Why is this such a happy day?