American Ambassador to Eritrea, Ronald K. McMullen’s July 4 Speech

US Ambassador to Eritrea …So tonight, as we gather in a spirit of friendship and common humanity, I ask you all to think about your own country’s National Day. What does it mean to the nation, and to you? Has your country remained true to its founding ideals? Most importantly, how do they impact the daily lives of ordinary citizens?…

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends,

Thank you for joining us this evening as we celebrate America’s Independence Day.

Before my official remarks, I’d like to thank my wife Jane, who spent many days working on this reception—as an unpaid volunteer.

I’d also like to thank the members of the embassy staff who helped prepare this event.

We’ll be sad to say good-bye to our very able Deputy Chief of Mission, Melinda Tabler-Stone, who departs Eritrea on Monday to return to Washington, D.C. for her next assignment and to be with her family.  Melinda, thank you very much and best of luck with your next assignment.

The world’s 194 independent countries have chosen their National Days for a variety of different reasons. Some celebrate the birthday of a king or queen. Others select a date of a famous battle or war, or when a notorious prison was stormed. Some countries celebrate the ratification of a constitution, or the date of decolonization. Why does your country celebrate its National Day when it does?

We Americans traditionally celebrate our National Day on the Fourth of July. Yet July 4th, 1776 was not the start of what we call the Revolutionary War — it had begun 15 months earlier in Massachusetts.  Nor was it the day we triumphed in a particular battle or won the war.  Rather, it was the day the Continental Congress in Philadelphia voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence.

Actually, everyone originally thought July 2nd (today) would be the date celebrated, because that was when the delegates adopted the resolution of independence. Two days later they passed the Declaration of Independence to explain to the public why they chosen the radical course of complete independence from Great Britain.

The Declaration of Independence focuses on the acts of a single tyrant (or dictator as we would say today) and was not aimed at the entire people or country of Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence describes the tyrannical acts of that dictator, including: his failing to implement laws necessary for the public good, for obstructing the administration of justice, for restricting trade and commerce, for press-ganging people into forced labor, for “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world,” for “imposing taxes on us without our consent,” and for depriving people of the right to a trial by jury.

When a people suffer under despotism, the Founding Fathers concluded, “It is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government.” These are the ideas and words that have inspired Americans for 234 years.

Besides setting us on course for independence, the Declaration also established the principle of individual freedoms and liberties. Abraham Lincoln would later characterize these ideals with the phrase, “government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people.”

We saw a clear exercise of these freedoms in February, when a large number of well-behaved demonstrators gathered outside the State Department in Washington, D.C. They gathered to protest their government’s support of a UN sanctions resolution imposing an arms embargo. Many of the demonstrators were immigrants to America or the children of immigrants.

They were exercising their constitutional right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, rights protected even when– or especially when– used to criticize the policies of their government.

The weekend following the demonstration, the protesters were free to attend any mosque, temple, or church, if they so chose. Perhaps some were members of the Methodist church, like me, and attended a Methodist service. If they did, no police broke down the doors of the church to drag the worshippers off to prison.

Perhaps some of the protesters were 12th grade students. Those 12th graders enjoy the freedom to live at home with their families and study in a local high school. No one forces them to go to a government-run boot-camp in the harsh western deserts of New Mexico or Nevada in order to get a high school diploma.

Some of the protesters were probably university students. They have the liberty to apply to any university in the country – none of which has been shut down by their government.

Some demonstrators may run their own businesses or be employed by large or small companies. Some may even work for the U.S. government. Despite having publicly opposed policies of their government, none of the protesters were “frozen” in place by their employers; none were fired from their jobs; none had their business licenses revoked; none were imprisoned; and none were made to disappear.

Most of the demonstrators probably have U.S. passports and enjoy the freedom to travel anywhere inside or outside the United States whenever they want—their government does not decide if they are loyal enough to get an exit visa. In fact, they are free to emigrate to any other country in the world, but they have chosen to live in the United States because of the freedoms and opportunities available to them there.

The protesters are aware that there is an immigration problem in their chosen homeland, but the problem is not that border guards shoot or arrest people trying to flee the country. Rather, the issue is how to manage the millions of people clamoring to get INTO the country to benefit from its freedoms and opportunities—those basic freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

When Melinda sang the final line of our national anthem “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” it reminded me that we have attempted to remain true to the ideals of July 4th, 1776.

So tonight, as we gather in a spirit of friendship and common humanity, I ask you all to think about your own country’s National Day. What does it mean to the nation, and to you? Has your country remained true to its founding ideals? Most importantly, how do they impact the daily lives of ordinary citizens?

These are serious questions. It is entirely fitting and proper, on occasions like this, that we pause and reflect on these fundamental issues.

Thank you again for joining us this evening. Please enjoy the rest of the party.

 

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