Thomas Jefferson wrote: "I prefer the dream of the future to the history of the past." Given the state of ugliness and chaos that has come to characterize our commemoration on the Washington Monument grounds of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we too might prefer to dream about the future rather than dwell on the past.
Why should the U.S. Park Service, or anyone else, feel obligated to sponsor what has become an uncivil mass trash- in? One suspects that the Beach Boys' offer to contribute $130,000 toward the event may have something to do with the decision to hold a rock concert/brawl. But even this amount can't begin to cover the loss of what used to be, before the first rock concert, a day of family picnicking, music by national military bands, a few choice political speeches and some really great fireworks.
We should go back to that.
To avoid the recent fiascos, we must prevent overcrowding and the consumption of too much alcohol. We must also provide more kinds of entertainment.
To cut down on the number of people in a concentrated area, we should stage a variety of smaller events throughout the day at different locations along the Mall, omitting a big- name rock concert on the Monument grounds itself. We should follow the model of the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival by increasing the number of performance stages that stretch from one end of the Mall to the other. That way, people can spread out along the "fairway."
The Park Service should not open the grounds of the Washington Monument to picnicking and blanket- laying earlier than 6 p.m., and it should turn away those who are drugged or drunk or want to carry in excessive amounts of alcohol. Vendors should provide a larger selection of food and drink (not beer), at reasonable prices.
We would do better to reinstate as musical entertainment the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and/or Marine bands, asking the talented directors of these bands to include among their arrangements an assortment of pop and rock tunes, such as might be played by the Beach Boys, or even Jimi Hendrix. I don't think they would resent such a request. But let's face it, on Independence Day, we all want to hear at least one, and preferably a dozen, good marches by John Philip Sousa, a lively round of "Yankee Doodle" and a stirring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner."
We should provide a forum of this country's most distinguished philosophers, historians, writers, scientists and artists, who would speak throughout the day on the meaning of Independence Day. They could be scheduled at indoor locations, such as the various auditoriums of the Smithsonian museums. A military band could play on the Sylvan Theater stage for an hour or so. Then prominent members of Congress from each political party might give some brief and moving speeches. Finally, there would be a fireworks display that left no doubt that the Fourth of July pyrotechnic spectacle in the nation's capital is still the one to beat.
And the whole shebang should be televised. That way, citizens throughout America could share in the thrill of their national Independence Day pageant.
George Washington believed in dignity, discipline and order. If we take time to study his views, and those of his friend, Thomas Jefferson, a Framer of the Declaration of Independence, then surely we can gain the insight to stage a dignified and orderly Fourth of July on the Mall, one with proper regard for America's diversity and freedom. In that way we can do more than dream about the future -- we can experience it in a way that is not only wonderful but wonderfully American.