Every year, we read about the annual tradition of self-harm on the Fourth of July. And, really, it is true, and tragic. As we drove home tonight from a very pleasant evening with family, we passed some--er, smoky, regions, where amateur fireworks flew, and at least on fire truck rushed by us. For what it's worth, I, like Ian Howarth, have never minded fireworks--when set off by a professional. It's the amateurs who get hurt.
It has also been going on for a long time; in 1907, Mark Twain visited England (the day he arrived, the Times had two headlines in close conjunction--the announcement of his arrival, and the report of the theft of the Ascot Cup); as a guest, he spoke at an Independence Day celebration:
The American Ambassador proposed "The Day We Celebrate." Mark Twain supported the toast in a humorous speech, beginning with a reference to the stolen Ascot Cup. He said he had tried to convince people that he did not take the cup, but had failed: so he might as well confess that he did take it, and be done with it. Nor did he think it fair, when England had been attempting to take a cup of theirs for forty years, to make so much trouble when he tried to go into the business. Continuing, he said:I wish all a happy, and safe, Independence Day.
"Our Ambassador has spoken of the Fourth of July, and the noise it makes. We have a double Fourth of July in America. We honor it all through the daylight hours, and when the night comes we dishonor it. Just at this hour the pandemonium would be about to begin. More than the noise, there would be people crippled and killed, all through the permission which we give to irresponsible boys to play with fire-arms and fire-crackers. Really we destroy more property on the night of the Fourth of July than the whole of the United States was worth a hundred and twenty-five years ago, and to thousands it is turned into a day of mourning.
"I have suffered in that way myself. I had an uncle in Chicago -- as good an uncle as ever I had, and I have had a lot of them. He opened his mouth to express his patriotism, and a rocket went down his throat. And before that man could ask for a drink of water to quench the thing it had scattered him all over the forty-five states. Really, this is true. Twenty-four hours after that it was a sort of raining buttons on the Atlantic seaboard. A man cannot have a disease like that and be entirely cheerful during the rest of his life. These things grieve me, but don't let them make you sad."