Yesterday, on the Fourth of July, I was on a bike ride with my son shortly before the sun was ready to set in the west. My son is five years old and really has not had any experience with fireworks in his conscious memory. I'm not much of a fan of watching explosions with the accompanying colorful patterns spilling across the night sky. It just never appealed that greatly to me, even as a child.
We pulled into our driveway on our bikes just as our neighbors began to set up their fireworks display on our road. My son wanted to watch, so we sat down in the grass and I watched colorful sparks, bright lights, amongst intermittent explosions as the smell of smoke permeated the air. We were treated to this display by our neighbors son, Eric and his friends. Eric is a 22 year old male, who floundered around after high school and couldn't find a job after failing several tests to become a union employee for heating and air conditioning installation and maintenance. He joined the armed services a year ago and is waiting to be shipped to Iraq this September. He seemed unusually poised, mature and calm as he answered my sons questions before lighting the next display. I am sure he spent a few hundred on this 25 minute fireworks performance that gave him only minimal pleasure as judged by his reaction to it.
Perhaps, I am reading too much into his temperament as he readies himself to go to Iraq where explosions will be commonplace and the "rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air," will give proof to nothing more than horrible maiming, killing and destroying of his comrades and the Iraqi population.
For a nation that constantly trumpets calls for peace in the world and holds a self-image as a civilized country where democracy rules, it is strange that we have such a fascination and a glorification of that beastly human construct called war. From our national anthem to the annual fireworks display that are supposed to remind of us of our independence, we hardly place freedom, democracy, peace and humanity on the same pedestal we place war and the destruction that accompanies it.
My son watched with fascination as the display continued while my dog huddled shaking in his kennel from fright. When my son was two, I was coaxed to attend a fireworks performance on the fourth at a small town in Minnesota by family and friends. As the performance began my son ran quivering into my arms and buried his face in my chest as he cried inconsolably. Last night, at five, he was visibly excited to watch this much smaller display. I could not help but wonder what he was being conditioned to as Eric bent over to quietly light the next firework with his cigarette, knowing this won't be the last, and assuredly not the most spectacular, display - but it might be his last fourth of July.