The World’s National Anthem
I only know a few things. Most relevantly, that you probably don’t care what I think. So I will be brief:
Set your mind’s eye for America’s revolutionary war. It is dusk. This round of fighting has ended, the dead have been counted and the disturbed earth has again resettled. A group of American soldiers decompress on the roof of their fort. In the distance the American flag waves. It is dirty and tattered, but nearly whole and with every flutter reminds viewers that the hope for freedom yet lives.
Not many words are spoken between the soldiers. They sit in quiet reflection. They attempt to forget the day, but not before mastering its lessons. They attempt to put off tomorrow, so that they may benefit from necessary sleep. Some admire the flag, barely visible now and much more still. Soon, only the lookout remains.
Just before sunrise, the enemy strikes. The artillery is counter-productive. Fully-uniformed American soldiers leap automatic from make-shift beds, grab readied muskets and sprint into the fog of war. A small group find themselves huddled in the same foxhole. Some injured, some dead, the rest with their backs pressed against the dirt wall not two-hundred yards from the morning’s alarm clocks. One of them speaks:
“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
A second soldier interrupts, “Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched were so … gallantly streaming.”
A third soldier remembers the previous night’s image as well, “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there!”
The first reiterates, pleading now, “Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
In other words. Is there still something for which to fight? More accurately, is there still something for which I will happily give my life? Does the potential for freedom and individuality still exist? I understand that by not feeling included your answer maybe no.
But you are included, and I don’t even need to see you to say that.
It is important to remember our National Anthem is a song. Its lyrics are the first stanza only of a multiple stanza poem. The entire poem seems to exclude slaves from this dream of freedom. Hopefully, that is why we only sing the first verse.
After all, why shouldn’t our country pull something unimaginably beautiful from the wickedly decrepit.
Symbols can be a bridge between the insufficiency of language and the limitless nature of our brains. But it is the ideas that really matter. The answers to the questions implied by our National Anthem depend on our willingness to face difficult realities inherent to humanity. If we are strong enough and courageous enough to do so, then the answers to those questions will always be yes.
If our National Anthem is an attempt by some group to imply that slaves will never be free or that slavery is good or some other nefarious concept, then they did a terrible job. Because rarely have words ever been able to so accurately marry such a dichotomous, near-paradoxical concept.
As Americans, our willingness to die should be directly related to the visibility of our “flag”.