Do you know what day this is?

By Dennis Byrne, a Chicago-area writer and consultant

Published July 4, 2005. Copyright Chicago Tribune.

Most people call today the 4th of July, or just the 4th. That's fine. But what we're really celebrating today is Independence Day.

The distinction is worth a thought. The 4th is parades, fireworks, squirt guns, bands and picnics. Independence Day is freedom and the community we call the United States of America.

But as sweet as it is to celebrate our independence, we should boldly celebrate something more: our delivery of the gift of independence to millions elsewhere.

Few nations have had the rare privilege of bestowing such a magnificent gift. It has happened only twice in the past 60 years, when the United States and its allies released tens of millions from fascism's grip, and when we and the Free World (we used to capitalize it) peacefully released millions from the captivity of Soviet communism.

Historically, you can't get much bigger than that. Yet, what's happening now might be as historic.

We have liberated two nations, and their millions of people, from brutal tyrannies. We have brought the prospect of democracy to the Middle East, a region that has rarely, if ever, known it. We have confronted today's most rancid oppressors.

It is notable that in all instances, we--the United States--were instrumental in these global victories. Can anyone really believe this was an accident? Can anyone doubt that our national character and our values had something to do with it? America's main export is freedom, and not just as an idea. Our actions have bettered the lives of millions. The price is high, but it's worth it.

Yet, some would turn this mountain into a molehill. They will not allow us to bask in what should be a proud time in our history. We should feel ashamed, they tell us, with some success. Just like during and after the Vietnam War, when we engaged in a period of self-loathing perhaps unmatched in our history.

Among those who would pull us back to that sorry time is Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), with his clumsy, irresponsible and inaccurate attempt to equate the Iraq war with the Vietnam War. Kennedy, who lived through that stormy period, should know better. Scolding Kennedy for his "quagmire" comparison, Gen. George Casey said: "You have [in Iraq] an insurgency with no vision, no base, limited popular support, an elected government, committed Iraqi security forces that are fighting and dying for the country every day. Senator, that is not a quagmire."

Sadly, the Kennedys of the country fail to let us in on what they would do, other than to crawl into a hole of isolationism and leave the world's fate in the hands of the United Nations. Some plan.

Kennedy and other critics are playing on a growing national naivete that big things, like wars, can be done quickly and flawlessly. Or that if things are not done quickly and flawlessly, then they were not worth the effort. Or that incompetence or politics is to blame.

As historian David McCullough noted, if our War of Independence "had been covered by [today's] media and the country had seen how horrible the conditions were ... and what a very serious soup we were in, I think that would have been it."

Giving up seems to be the name of today's game. Widespread skepticism greeted the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Wise counsel said we'd never march into Baghdad because our military "supply lines were too long." The U.S. handover of authority would never happen. Nor would the elections. Nor would Iraq's National Council.

Now some critics of the war demand a "timetable" for the removal of U.S. troops, but fail to offer their own. Meanwhile, the public is subjected to a drumbeat of bad news in which we're supposed to believe--because of omissions in the news reports--that not a single Iraqi wants us to stay and that not a single improvement has been made in their lives.

We can't bestow independence on every country, although we're roundly criticized when our efforts to bring cures, prosperity, stability and peace to suffering nations fall short. And certainly, where we spend our lives and treasure in the cause of freedom is subject to cool-headed debate.

But what's it worth to us? Why care about spreading freedom? The answer is here, in this question: When was the last time we were invaded by a free nation?