Friday, June 29, 2012

A Festival Overture for Independence

In the spangled twilight, on the West Lawn of the Capitol, the conductor points the baton. Cellos and violas create a pastoral scene that is interrupted by horns competing with cymbals. The culmination is an explosion of percussive sound, sound that descends into ringing victory bells. With the dying of the final thundering victory sounds, a counter point appears in the sky, first as a hissing sound that becomes a sprinkling of lights, and then a whizzing sound that becomes a light splay of multi-colored clusters, and finally a thundering as the crowd below “ah”s at the dome of light. This is a “Capitol Fourth” enjoyed on the Mall of our Nation’s capital city.

The 1812 Overture was written in 1880 by Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky to commemorate the Russian “victory” over Napoleon’s forces on September 7, 1812 in the Battle of Borodino. In June 1812, the United States declaration of war against Britain caused British attention to be diverted in its fight with the French. Napoleon took this opportunity to invade Russia. The forces met just west of Moscow and the fight resulted in a tactical victory for the French; however, the retreating Russian forces burned Moscow leaving the French forces without supplies for the winter. This forced the Grande Armèe, now abandoned by its leader, on a long, cold retreat west that lasted until December.
Two years later, in April 1814, when Napoleon abdicated, the British turned their attention to the conflict with United States. The British poured additional men into this conflict, but found that during the previous two years the American army had experienced steady improvement in its competency. Ten months later, in February 1815, this conflict ended in a stalemate.

For a hundred years following neither Russia nor the United States would be threatened by western European nations. When they were, one country would leave the fight to redefine its independence and the other country entered the conflict reluctantly but with boldness and certainty in itself.

On July 4, 2012, whether around the Rockingham County courthouse or watching the Capitol Fourth on PBS, one can participate in the 236th celebration of independence in a way that John Adams prescribed. In this celebration, one should remember 100 years ago, 150 years ago, 200 years ago and many times in between our independence requires our effort.

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