Will the Fourth of July become a vanishing holiday? That thought came to mind when I read of a May 2011 study by Harvard academics titled “Shaping the Nation: Estimating the Impact of Fourth of July Using a Natural Experiment.” Paul Bedard of U.S. News & World Report highlighted the paper in his Washington Whispers column, “July Fourth Parades are Right Wing.”
In a 40-page paper complete with detailed tables and data, Jan Erik Andreas Madestam, an Assistant Professor at Bocconi University in Italy, together with David Yanagizawa-Drott of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, addressed an interesting question: Do childhood events shape adult political views and behavior?
In particular, do Fourth of July celebrations on sunny days (the report makes much of the weather) cause children to grow up with a greater inclination to vote, and to cast their votes for Republicans? The authors say yes: “The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican Party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.”
You don’t have to be Harvard scholar to know that Fourth of July celebrations foster patriotism among Americans of all ages. Children who organize or participate in neighborhood parades with bikes and red wagons festooned in red-white-and-blue tend to grow up patriotic. Love of country also swells when schools teach American history with accuracy and admiration, say the Pledge of Alliance every day, and sponsor classroom classes and pageants featuring songs like “America the Beautiful” and “This Land is Your Land.”
I’m not convinced that this is a partisan phenomenon, but it is worth thinking about. The nurturance of patriotism in young people is, after all, a national defense issue. America is not defended by ships, planes, and high-tech weapons systems. It is defended by patriotic men and women who used to be kids. Many individuals volunteer to serve in uniform for personal career reasons, not because of childhood celebrations.
But a survey of the troops probably would find a majority whose families were likely to observe Independence Day every year. Parades, picnics, fireworks, patriotic music and ice cream on the way home are lots of fun for kids and adults who commemorate or learn what the Fourth of July is all about. Two scholars from Harvard–the same institution that historically has excluded ROTC programs from campus─question these celebrations as Republican-biased and therefore suspicious. Elitist implications that sunny-day Fourth of July observances inspire partisan Republicanism are a bit unfair to Democrats, but putting that aside, the Harvard paper raises a greater question of concern.
Will academics and teacher unions who are impressed by this study start discouraging celebrations of the Red-White-and Blue Fourth of July, in the same way that they have tried to stifle Christmas celebrations in schools, public squares, and popular culture? If that should happen, love of country and patriotism could become controversial and politically incorrect, vanishing from the American scene in a single generation. If that ever happens–and I don’t think it will–who will defend the country?
The success of the All-Volunteer Force depends on patriotism–a quality of pride that needs to be encouraged year-round─not just on the Fourth of July. Putting a partisan face on the holiday misses the larger point.
National security–and America’s independence–depend on patriotism. Celebrations such as today’s Fourth of July foster that quality. Americans should cherish this holiday and others that foster love of our country, from one generation to the next.