The Independence Day celebration fireworks display at NAS Sigonella, Sicily in 2016.

The Independence Day celebration fireworks display at NAS Sigonella, Sicily in 2016. (Ramon Go/U.S. Navy)

The Fourth of July weekend celebrates community, local as well as national. Parades featuring people in uniform — Scouts, firefighters and police as well as our military — traditionally are a fixture.

Military uniforms remind us of the role of war in our history — and present. That in turn introduces a key point about this holiday. We gained our independence from Great Britain and that nation’s global empire through our Revolutionary War, a particularly long struggle and, like all wars, ugly and extraordinarily violent.

That underscores what peaceful July 4 ceremonies obscure, that our great nation was founded on an idea that was truly revolutionary in the 18th century. The concept that we all have inherent rights, including the right to rebel, turned the status quo of that era upside down.

John Locke (1632-1704) was a shy, mild-mannered and extraordinarily productive English scholar and physician who literally changed the course of history. His “Two Treatises of Government” developed the case for individual natural rights, including the right to rebel against authority.

Locke experienced the extraordinarily bloody English Revolution and Civil War, and associated political turbulence. For a time, he lived in exile. A brilliant recent examination of his impact on the United States is “America’s Philosopher — John Locke in American Intellectual Life” by Claire Rydell Arcenas (University of Chicago Press 2022).

While July 4 celebrations honor military service, reintegration of returning war veterans is also important, indeed vital to society. Gen. George S. Patton Jr., a brilliant combat leader, was mindful of this recognition. He and Gen. James Doolittle, who led the first air raid on Tokyo, were featured in a special ceremony in the Los Angeles Coliseum after the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Patton celebrated the accomplishments of our U.S. Third Army in the drive across Europe. In honoring his troops, he stressed in particular the 40,000 who lost their lives in that final year of the war in Europe. Patton made such statements regularly in the months remaining until his own death.

Confirmation is particularly important for warriors representing modern democracies. Emphasis on equality and efforts to maintain peaceful rule of law contrast starkly with military combat.

In the Second World War, Allied troops were welcomed warmly by peoples liberated from Axis occupation. Understandably, our media gave special emphasis to this dimension.

The Vietnam War was distinctively different. During that long, divisive conflict, military personnel were strongly discouraged from discussing the subject with civilians. Opposition to the war became hostility to our own military.

President Richard Nixon abolished the military draft, diluting anti-Vietnam War sentiment. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars involved much smaller forces. Nevertheless, those serving still confront challenges. Constant rotation back into active theaters has created intense psychological pressures.

Enormous emotional strains have been added to physical dangers, and families suffer heavily. Too often, our military is sacrificed to domestic political considerations, fostering alienation.

This July 4 weekend is not best suited to specific foreign policy discussion but is particularly appropriate for celebrating and honoring veterans.

If your local community does not have special July 4 celebrations, please try to organize an event you and your neighbors will support. Recognizing local veterans, individually and collectively, should always be a priority.

Also, encourage veterans to run for public office. We won the Cold War in part because members of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” who served in the military also served in government. Every U.S. president from Harry Truman through George H.W. Bush was a veteran.

Government needs above all is the sort of sensible realism such men and women often bring to policy.

They help realize Locke’s “civil society.” Arthur I. Cyr is and author of “After the Cold War — American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia.”

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