This Fourth of July will be different. Not that there won't be fireworks and parades. Or that families won't gather for picnics, or bandstands ring with patriotic tunes. Americans know how to enjoy their national birthday.
But the backdrop, inevitably, is last September's terrorist attacks. Even as they bite into a hot dog or whistle along with a Sousa march, people will sense a seriousness this Fourth.
Vague warnings that new attacks may be geared toward the holiday may add to that feeling, but they're not at its heart.
Who can forget the thousands of American families that experienced tragic losses that indelible morning? Those families will have a place in everyone's thoughts and prayers.
Also in mind will be an awareness of what the United States came face-to-face with on 9/11 a hatred so intense it scrambles innocence and guilt, right and wrong. Through its distorted lens, the US becomes wholly evil, a sponsor of repression instead of a land of liberty.
How should Americans respond? Why not use this Fourth to think a little harder about why their country is worth loving. Think about the principles of justice and freedom that make prosperity and opportunity possible. Think about their value to all mankind, no matter how tortuous the road toward their realization.
While shots have been fired and bombs dropped in the war against terrorism, the main front in this conflict is the battlefield of ideas. And when it comes down to democracy versus theocracy, freedom of thought versus indoctrination in hatred, the power on the side opposed to terrorism is clear.
As they salute the flag this Fourth of July, Americans should arm themselves with a deeper appreciation of the ideas behind that symbol.