By Ambassador Mark Green (ret.)
There are a few greater privileges for an ambassador posted overseas than being able to host an Independence Day celebration.
When I served as our ambassador to Tanzania in 2008, I was determined to make our July 4th festivities a thrill for both our embassy family and Dar es Salaam’s broader diplomatic community. I made sure we had plenty of Americana on hand: hot dogs and hamburgers, family games, red-white-blue face painting, patriotic music — even a dunk tank.
I was particularly excited about the opportunity to make remarks during the most formal part of the ceremonies. After all, I was a former congressman with lots of experience in speech making, and Independence Day would give me a chance to remind those in attendance of America’s virtues and history.
I spent hours writing and rewriting my remarks. I looked at past patriotic speeches, and perused more than one book of quotations.
After the color guard brought forth Old Glory and the national anthem was played, glasses of wine were distributed in anticipation of toasts to both America and Tanzania. Then came my remarks, focusing on Jefferson and Madison, what led to our Declaration of Independence, and the courage it took for our founders to sign on.
As I finished, I looked up to see heads nodding and I acknowledged the polite applause.
According to tradition and protocol, my remarks were to be followed by an official response from a representative the Tanzanian government. In this case, a well-educated young minister who was a rising political star in his country.
He came forward to the podium, pulled out the pages of his prepared remarks and began with formal acknowledgements of those present. But as he looked around at those present, the families and that Americana, he suddenly paused.
He slowly rolled up his prepared text and put it back in his coat pocket. As he looked around his audience, he said very simply, “We want to be who you are. We want to have what you have.” Then he stepped back.
That was the best July 4th speech I’ve ever heard. It was certainly superior to mine —vastly so.
As we approach America’s Independence Day this year, a year when so much is turbulent and unsettled, let’s remember that so many around the world look to us, want to look to us, for inspiration and aspiration.
In times when we fall short of America’s promise, let’s not look away from our flaws and faults, but admit them freely and tackle them openly. Not merely for our own sake, but for countless others in far off lands. They don’t expect a country that is perfect, a country that has arrived; instead, they’re looking for a country that knows where it’s going — like them, chasing that shining city on a hill.