“The freedom to do your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best.”
-Gen. Colin Powell
As we approach America’s 242nd Independence Day, I’m drawn to this quote from our former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On the Fourth of July, we often hear praise for the patriots who declared the colonies free and independent states and fought for the end of British rule. But why did these patriots need to declare independence?
While tea and taxation without representation may be the first things to come to mind, that’s only part of the answer. Fundamentally, our founding fathers sought to establish a political system that created the conditions for each person, through their individual actions and character, to pursue a greater good for the Nation. Under the autocratic rule of King George III, that pursuit was impossible. In Harford County, the colonists clearly understood this, as they signed the Bush Declaration, a precursor to the Declaration of Independence supporting the patriot cause, in 1775.
Because independence isn’t just about being free from an authoritarian government that limits our ability to speak freely, assemble, or petition for a redress of grievances. It’s about acting on and applying our freedom to do our best and bring out the best in one another. In these United States of America, for 242 years we’ve been uniquely gifted with that opportunity. If we’re not putting our hard-fought independence to use for that purpose—to actively improve ourselves, each other and our Nation—it really isn’t much good at all, like General Powell said.
There are many ways to live our freedom and support and defend our Constitution. It could be serving in the military, volunteering at a non-profit or simply being a caring, compassionate neighbor who watches out for those with whom you share your community. And if all the men and women who’ve worn the uniform have been willing to die for our liberty and equality, it’s a sacred duty for each American to live his or her freedom to ensure those sacrifices were not in vain.
America isn’t perfect, and we are still working to ensure the first and greatest self-evident truth—that all people are created equal—truly manifests in our laws and institutions. But with each passing Fourth of July, America becomes a better place because of its people. The journey to create a more perfect union and be worthy of the sacrifice of our forefathers is just that—a journey—and we each have a role to play in achieving their vision.
America’s Army, Your Army!
Maj. Gen. Randy Taylor
Aberdeen Proving Ground