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Fourth of July -- One Veteran's Thoughts

Posted by Give an Hour Admin on July 3, 2015 1:15 PM EDT
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Written for the Huffington Post by Give an Hour board member Justin Constantine

The Fourth of July seems like a pretty straightforward holiday: We celebrate America's independence and its commitment to freedom. But this year in particular it seems like the trouble is in the details.

As a Marine who was wounded in Iraq, I had a lot of time during my recuperation to think about what our nation's values mean. I've always believed that America was not a perfect country but one that was on a path of improving itself and striving to live up to its cherished ideals. Our own Declaration of Independence only guarantees "the pursuit of Happiness," after all, not happiness itself.

But some recent events have made me wonder how hard we are trying.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, we struggled to ensure that everyday people had the opportunity to vote, yet here at home we institute voter ID laws that raise significant barriers for some voters. We lamented the treatment of women in the Middle East, yet in America women still earn less than 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. We worked hard to convince the Shi'ites and Sunnis to work together, yet the reaction of some in our country to the Supreme Court's ruling about same-sex marriage shows that not everyone considers all of God's children to be equal.

America remains a work in progress. But we are striving to be what presidents Reagan and Obama have both called "the shining city on the hill."

Just like anything else worth having in life, our American ideals require constant care and attention. In fact, our Founding Fathers envisioned that we could continue to take such action - that is why they designed a process for constitutional amendments, a system of checks and balances, and a vibrant democratic process. They understood that America will always be a work in progress, and that is a good thing.

Internationally, then, America must continue to lead by example, to show the world that we never stop striving. During my patrols in Iraq, I thought that freedom for Iraqis meant something as basic as not being persecuted by their government or harassed by insurgent forces. But it does not stop there. Freedom is woven into the fabric of our everyday lives: how we choose to worship, where we choose to live, what we choose to do.

President Abraham Lincoln said that, "The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing."

As we approach July 4, I've been thinking more about my own definition of our American ideals, trying to resolve the conflicting aspects of our diverse country.

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