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New Fourths For Old

( Originally Published 1927 )



BY MRS. ISAAC L. RICE

"When you are past shrieking, having no human articulate voice to say you are glad with, you fill the quietude . . . with gunpowder blasts, and rush home, red with cutaneous eruption of conceit and voluble with convulsive hiccough of self-satisfaction. . . . It is pitiful to have dim conceptions of duty; more pitiful, it seems to me, to have conceptions like these of mirth."—John Ruskin.

WHEN the preparations for the celebration of a great anniversary are identical with those for a battle, it is time to pause and reflect whether a better observance of the day might not be advisable — to ask ourselves whether one might not be planned which would honor and not dishonor a glorious memory.

When Physicians, Boards of Health and Hospital Superintendents annually prepare for the reception and treatment of hundreds, or rather thousands, who will — before the close 0f the day—be brought in torn, burned, blinded; when undertakers prepare for the hideous aftermath of our National Birthday; when hundreds of thousands of the sick look forward with dread to the recurrence of this season of noise, which to them brings so much distress ; when fathers and mothers all over the country shudder at the thought of what the Fourth may bring to their dear ones, I believe that one is justified in characterizing as a national disgrace that pseudo-patriotism which is responsible for so much agony.

It is impossible to exaggerate the stigma of shame incurred by the intelligent, adult proportion of the population in deliberately and scientifically preparing for the massacre and maiming of the youthful, ignorant and heedless members of the community. One city, for instance, added twenty-six surgeons to its ambulance corps, while another engaged twelve distributors of tetanus antitoxin, had field dressing stations prepared by its National Volunteer Emergency Service and sent around fifteen hundred vials of anti-toxin serum to its hospitals. And thus many cities anticipated the return of their Day of Carnage, pre-paring to bind wounds and lacking the courage required to insist on the passage of drastic prohibitive ordinances which would have rendered impossible the shedding of blood.

I am sure that the thanks of all are due to one of our medical publications which, for years past, has compiled statistics upon statistics, based upon the price that we pay for our present-day mad celebration of the Fourth, for without the splendid work of the Journal of the American Medical Association we should be unable to estimate the cost of our annual holiday. As for the figures, so laboriously compiled, they are simply amazing. To think of fifteen hundred and thirty-one deaths and thirty-three thousand and seventy-three accidents, the fearful sacrifice voluntarily offered by us, within the last seven years, to our false ideals ! And yet these tables, shocking as they are, give so inadequate an idea of the suffering involved! For of these fifteen hundred and thirty-one deaths, practically none came painlessly, almost all being accompanied by the convulsions of tetanus, the torments of fire, or the shock of injuries which changed healthy, happy children into shapeless, agonizing horrors. While as for the thirty-three thousand and seventy-three who were injured, but not fatally, how many are dragging out their wretched lives, blind, maimed or crippled !

What, perhaps, is the saddest feature, is the fact that almost all the victims of the Fourth are children, whose youth and ignorance and inexperience and helplessness would certainly seem to merit all due protection at our hands. Poor little ones, who play delightedly with danger ! And then how many among the victims of the Fourth are those who have not been " celebrating," but who have been shot down or burnt to death by the wanton recklessness of In-dependence Day " Patriots " (God save the mark!). Bullets, cannon-crackers, blank cartridges, and strings of Chinese crackers spare none. Little babes have had their heads torn open, mothers have been killed as they sat beside their children, scores of girls have been burnt to death by having lighted firecrackers or fireworks thrown in their direction. Runaways have been frequent because hoodlums love to throw great "bombs " under frightened teams, and one 0f the merriest sports has been to place large torpedoes on car-tracks. In Vincennes (Indiana), for instance, one Fourth was " celebrated " by placing boxes 0f ex-plosives on the tracks, by means of which car windows were shattered, passengers terrified and injured, and traffic blocked for hours ; after these boxes had all been picked up it was found that two barrels of explosives had been collected. In Boston, only two years ago, seventy arrests were made for using fire-arms, while in Pittsburg a party of rich, young hoodlums terrorized the holiday crowds by dashing along in an automobile, firing volleys of shots up and down the streets and into the shops. Pittsburg's arrests July 4, 1907, numbered 300. But, then, what can we expect when we repeal for a period of twenty-four hours almost all laws regarding safety and sanity?

As for the licensed recklessness, responsible for so many accidents, the recital of some of the mad acts to which it has led in the past is simply incredible. Some of these acts were : the throwing of dynamite bombs and giant crackers and the firing 0f revolvers into holiday crowds, the tossing of lighted firecrackers into the laps, or against the thin clothing, of women and girls, resulting in their being roasted t0 death ; the filling of pipes and tin cans with dynamite, or the stuffing of bottles with lighted firecrackers — all with inevitable con-sequences. These are but a few of the acts which caused these 33,073 accidents, but the excuse for all was always the same Patriotism ! If this, however, is Patriotism, then it recalls — with but a slight variation as to meaning— that utterance of Dr. John-son's: " Patriotism which is the last refuge of the scoundrel." However, it is not Patriotism, but only craving for noise and excitement and danger which kills and blinds and maims on our Day of Carnage. Some, indeed, go so far as to declare that the usual celebration of the Fourth is " due to desire to break loose into a day of savagery and wallow in the unusual." Perhaps, if a stop is not soon put to this mad orgy, we shall find ourselves changing the words of our National Anthem, as suggested by one of our dailies, and singing :

"My country, 'Tis of Thee, For Thou hast Crippled Me."

However, it is not Patriotism but Hoodlumism and the desire to revel in a day from which all sane and safe restrictions have been removed, which may be said to guide most of the celebrants on the Fourth, for most of them are undoubtedly ignorant of its glorious significance. That this is true was amusingly shown in one of our large eastern cities where between thirty and forty thousand children were asked in the public schools why they celebrated the Fourth of July. The favorite answer was said to have been " For shoots," others were : "For a band," " For chicken to eat," and most astounding of all " For the King of the Jews" (the similarity of sound between Jew and July doubtless suggesting the last).

The duration of our " noise-fest " varies in different localities, in some being limited to a few hours, in others being permitted to extend over several weeks. Where this premature celebration is allowed, it naturally entails great suffering on the sick, not to speak of the additional danger incurred by the youthful participants. It is this early start which, doubtless, prompted the remark : " The Fourth of July is the only holiday which begins before it happens." As for the celebration proper, it generally starts on the evening of the third and lasts until the morning or the afternoon of the fifth. In some cities, however, it does not begin until midnight, in others not until four o'clock in the morning. However, even where the noisy period is the shortest, the suffering borne by our hospital patients is sufficient to excite the sympathy of all those with whom they come in contact.

Regarding the monetary cost of our celebration, New York City is reported to have spent about $14; 000,000 on the celebration of two holidays, with a resultant loss of II persons killed and 768 injured. As for the total monetary loss to the whole country, it can scarcely be calculated, nor can the fire-loss be estimated. Regarding the latter, however, I have been enabled, through the courtesy of Mr. Miller, General Agent of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, to obtain a few figures which show that during five years (from 1898 to 1902 inclusive) there were 4,827 fires in the United States due t0 fireworks ; in Massachusetts from 1902 to 1906 inclusive there were 278 fires due to the same cause; and in Boston in one year, 1906, 72 took place. But quite apart from the effect 0f these conflagrations on our fire-loss (which is about nine times as high as that of the chief countries of Europe — $3 per capita as against 33 cents), many accidents might perhaps be traced to carelessness engendered in the young by the annually repeated spectacle of a whole community playing with fire and explosives. I firmly believe that this one day of dangerous license exerts a pernicious effect upon the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year.

An example of what an enthusiastically patriotic and yet sane and safe holiday observance can be, was given last May, when England and her colonies celebrated " Empire Day." This fete was observed by tens of millions, scattered over one-fourth of the world's surface, and yet not one death was reported — not a single accident marred the glory and the happiness of the day. In this splendid world-pageant, the citizens of to-morrow were the chief actors, and it is estimated that fully eight millions took part. Children in long procession, thousands of them in uniform, wearing flags on their breasts and carrying them aloft in an endless blaze of color, marched along to render homage to the Union Jack, which fluttered out above their heads as the little soldiers were reviewed, 0r as they sang the National Anthem. The floral emblems of the day was the daisy or, failing that, the bachelor's button, marigold or marguerite — the watchwords were " Responsibility, duty, sympathy, self-sacrifice." In addition to the National Anthem, Rudyard Kipling's " Children's Song " was also sung by millions of little ones :

" Lord of our birth, our faith, our pride, For whose dear sake our Fathers died, 0, Motherland, we pledge to thee Head, heart and hand through years to be."

As for France, everybody knows how joyfully it enters upon the celebration of its Day of Liberation, July 14th. Military reviews, artistically beautiful street decoration, free theatrical and operatic performances, music, splendid displays 0f fireworks from the bridges, and public dancing in the streets and squares, make up a day of happy and sane observance —a huge kermess. Perhaps no other country celebrates its birthday with quite the same stern simplicity, the same touching faith as Switzerland, when on August 1st, no outward manifestation of the national thanksgiving is remarked, except in the ringing of bells and the blazing of bonfires on the mountain peaks, or in the singing of a few inspiring songs. The whole nation seems to be listening to the voices of the past, while continuing its daily tasks, this sturdy band of mountaineers! And thus with the celebrations of yet more European countries, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and still others, everything is marked by sanity and order, and yet by true thanks-giving and joy.

But although the American abroad may well blush with shame in comparing our " Horrible Fourth," our "Tetanus Day,'- our "Annual Massacre," our " Modern Massacre of Innocents," our " Carnival of Lockjaw," our " Bloody Fourth," or our " Day of Carnage," with the fete days of other lands, let him take courage, for at last it really seems as if " Ex-plosive Patriotism " were " on the run." Throughout the Union, scores of cities have already passed or are considering the passage of restrictive or, better still, of prohibitive ordinances, and countless organizations are getting into line in their efforts to substitute attractive features, such as children's processions and merry-making, pageantry, musical festivals, picnics, and other safe observances for our present orgy of death. In order to show at a glance what has already been gained by legislation in preventing Fourth of July accidents, let us place side by side the results obtained a few months ago in two groups of cities. In the first let us put Washington, Cleve-land, Baltimore and Toledo, which cities protected by prohibitive or restrictive ordinances, gave last Fourth of July a total of twelve accidents. The other four, New York, Philadelphia, Boston and St. Louis, which were all relatively unprotected, gave a total of thirteen hundred and ninety-seven accidents, or an average of almost three hundred and fifty apiece. Drastic ordinances and stern enforcement are required if we are ever to down our National Disgrace.

Let us protect our little ones from death and danger, and then the next step will be to learn to express " social ideals in action," for as Mr. Luther Gulick so well says : " If there is any one thing, any one occasion, in connection with which there should be national community expression, it should be in connection with our celebration of American independence. This constitutes not only the pivotal point in the history of American institutions, but is the pivotal idea upon which democracy rests."

Nothing is more inspiring than love of country, therefore let us advocate a "religion of patriotism" and do away with a false death-dealing patriotism which, annually, on our National Birthday disgraces us in the eyes of the whole civilized world.



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