Freeman: Independence

As we celebrate the 247th anniversary of our independence from British colonial rule, we should reflect on the meaning of “independence”, how we achieved it, and how we maintain it.

We are an immensely successful nation, and we rightfully should be proud of the many good things we have accomplished. Our pride should be a humble pride, not an arrogant pride. Our pride should tempered by an awareness we have not always lived up to the principles and ideals upon which our magnificent nation was founded.

We need not beat ourselves up over our failures and shortcomings; but we must be aware of them if we desire to move toward the objective our Founding Fathers set for us in the Constitution—“to form a more perfect Union”. As everything in human life, our nation is a work in progress. But it is not a work we can accomplish alone.

As much as we want to believe our independence as a nation means we can stand alone in the world, that we can go it alone in the world, that we do not need other nations, those beliefs are a myth. Even during our Revolutionary War, we needed the assistance of others; specifically, France. With out that help, our War of Independence might have failed.

In this ever (metaphorically) shrinking world, our independence increasingly is tied to our dependence on other nations. We have alliances, such as NATO, to protect ourselves and other nations from foreign aggression—as we currently are doing in Ukraine. No nation, not even the mighty United States of America is strong enough to stand alone.

There are economic dependencies as well. We need raw materials from other nations for our industries; markets in other nations for our products. We benefit from creations and inventions made in other nations. As just one example, NBC News reported on 28 June the U.S. obtains 60% of its semi-conductors, ad 93% of its advanced semiconductors from Taiwan. Where would we be without those semi-conductors? We are dependent on the people’s of other nations in ways we generally do not realize or understand. We should think about how our independence depends on these dependencies on other nations. It’s a small world, and getting

smaller. Our dependencies on other nations are going to continue to increase.

On a very simple level, think of the foods we eat. How boring would be our meals if we did not have the diversity of Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian foods? And that is just to name distinctive foods from 5 nations. For me, I love Viet Namese (2 words, not 1) food—authentic Viet Namese food, which is difficult to find in the Rio Grande Valley unfortunately. But there are amazing Viet Namese restaurants in Europe. We can learn so much from travel to other nations, to gain a better understanding of history and the importance of history, to see other cultures and learn from them. And this brings us to ourselves as individuals, and how our individual independence is rooted in dependence on others.

There is a myth in the U.S. of the “rugged individualist”. That is a person who is completely independent, who can fend for himself, who meets all of his needs himself without relying on anyone, who is completely self-sufficient.

But no one can survive alone. The most independent person in the world is still dependent on other people for many things. We do not feed ourselves. Someone produces our food for us; harvests it, processes it, packages it, ships it, puts it on the shelves. Yes, of course, farmers can feed themselves by producing their own food. But to do that, they are dependent on others for virtually every aspect of their farming—seeds, fertilizer, farm equipment, barns. While they can feed themselves, they still are highly dependent on others.

We don’t dress ourselves. Someone makes our clothes. We do not house ourselves. Someone builds our houses. We do not transport ourselves. Someone makes the cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, bicycles, motorcycles we travel in. We don’t heal ourselves when we’re sick. Someone provides the medical care, and someone provides the medicines.

Ironically, depending on all these people actually allows us to be independent; to be able to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves in our profession, where we live, where we go and what we do for pleasure. I am a very independent person. But I look at all the people I’ve depended on to enable me, and to allow me, to live the life I have. Those people number in the hundreds of thousands, probably millions. People I’ve never met, and never will know—nameless, faceless; but they helped me in infinite ways. And I thank them for everything they do for me and the independence they give me as a result of their help and my dependence on them.

Please think about this for a moment. How independent is a person who has to provide all of their own food, their own clothing, their own housing, their own transportation, their own medical care? That person is not independent. That person is not free. That person is a slave to the necessities of daily survival. And the life of that person, to borrow from Thomas Hobbes, will be “nasty, brutish and short”.

It is highly ironic. Our independence, as a nation and as individuals, is rooted in our dependence on others. Yet, as a nation, as a people, today, we are deeply divided and polarized. We quite probably are more divided than at any time in our history other than the Civil War. Thankfully, and I say this as a southern boy some of whose ancestors fought for the South, we remained one nation. Yes, there have been enduring cleavages— especially regional and ethnic. But, in times of peril, as in World War I and World War II and in times of disasters such as hurricanes, building collapses, we set aside those animosities to work together to defeat forces that would take away or freedoms and our independence.

I saw it in Viet Nam as African American and white soldiers risked, and sometimes sacrificed their lives to save the life of each other. Did Freddy Gonzalez give is life trying to save the life of another Mexican American, or of an African American or a gringo? We don’t know because, at that moment, those differences were irrelevant to Freddy. That Marine was Freddy’s brother, and ethnicity did not matter a damn bit.

Today, as we stand highly polarized, we seem to have lost sight of some very important facts. No matter how much we disagree, how angry we get at each other, we still are one people, “one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.

No, sadly, we do not live up to those ideals even though we pledge allegiance to them. We do not live up to the principles and ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights amended to the Constitution, and the subsequent

amendments protecting and expanding our rights as citizens. But these shortcomings in no way mean we are not one people. We are; and our prosperity, our very lives depend on us being one people irrespective of whatever differences we have.

On our Independence Day, as we celebrate our magnificent nation’s independence as well as our own independence, we should pause for some serious reflection. We should think about all of the sacrifices that have been made to establish and preserve our nation’s independence. We should reflect on the truth that ultimately must be seen as self evident—we are one people; our differences not withstanding, or how strongly we disagree, or how starkly our visions differ. We are one people. Our individual independence is predicated upon this simple fact. Our dependence on all of the people of this nation is clear and indisputable evidence we owe our independence as individuals to our dependence on others. Respect them. Be thankful for them.

If we recognize these simple, undeniable truths, perhaps we can eliminate the polarization, the animosity, the hatred even as we maintain our differences.


Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by writer and educator Samuel Freeman (pictured above). The column appears in the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. Freeman can be reached by email via:

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