Our Violent National Anthem

No one who has spent much time reading about America’s college campuses (campi?) will be surprised to learn that an institution has banned the singing or playing of the “Star-Spangled Banner” before sporting contests.

Who was behind it? The anti-American crowd?  The Marxists?   The hippies?  The greens?  Cornel West?

Try the Mennonites:  Goshen College in Indiana, the school which banned the tune, is a Mennonite school with the motto “Healing the World, Peace by Peace.”  The rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air are too violent.

The anthem is being replaced at Goshen sporting events by “America the Beautiful,” so we can assume this isn’t really a commentary on the nation we all call home being a haven for imperialist capitalist pigs.  Part of what makes America beautiful is that each person has the right to express their patriotism as they see fit.  If the students and administrators at Goshen don’t want to play the national anthem before their Division 8 field hockey games, that’s fine.  Those of us who have never donated to or attended Goshen have no right to tell them otherwise.

On the other hand, as an educational institution, so one would hope Goshen’s choice is educated.  And the idea that the anthem is a violent song is a bit misguided.

Of course, the “Star-Spangled Banner” does use military imagery, because it was famously written during the War of 1812 as a poem by Francis Scott Key – specifically, during the bombardment of Baltimore.  That was a fight that was brought to American shores by then-mortal foe England; we were on defense for that one.

Though set during a battle scene, the theme of the poem – especially the part used for the national anthem – is perseverance through difficulty.  Turbulence and war may come, Key writes (much more eloquently), but American ideals of freedom and peace endure.

Delve a little further into the story behind the poem, and it becomes even more apparent that it is hardly a call to arms.  Remember that Key saw the flag over Fort McHenry from a British ship; he was aboard on a peaceful mission to argue for the release of a popular Maryland doctor.  To make his case, Key presented letters from British soldiers lauding the care they received from American doctors (and this was before the current mess that passes for a British health care system).  The British acquiesced, but held Key and the doctor on the prison ship because the bombing of Baltimore was about to begin; they didn’t want to release a prisoner only to blow them up minutes later.  In the midst of war, both Key and the British officers demonstrated some level of civility and mutual respect.

The fact most worth noting is that the folks America was fighting in the background of Key’s poem, the British, are our closest allies today.  Despite fighting two wars within  30 years, Americans and Britons are fast friends.  (Heck, we can’t even launch a television show without swiping the concept from them, and they have, what, four channels?)

So in an educated historical context, the “Star Spangled Banner” is a song about perseverance through adversity and, after your business on the battlefield is over, making peace with your enemies.

Hey, that sounds like a pretty good song to play before an amateur sporting contest.

Cross-posted at PunditLeague.us.

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