Category Archives: Star-Spangled Banner

QUESTION: The National Anthem

Isaac Asimov, the great science fiction writer loved the ‘Star=Spangeled Banner.’. All four stanzas. I must admit that I only know the first, second and fourth verse by heart.

Initially, though, one needs to deal with the tune. Not only is it an old English drinking song, but it generates countless complaints from anyone trying to do the difficult melody differently, such as in Spanish.

Back to the lyrics. I know the first one, the second verse confused me, the third verse I hadn’t seen since grade school, and the fourth verse made me a more than a little uneasy. That it came out of the little-understood War of 1812 is an issue. But you tell me:
1. Which verses, other than the first, were you familiar with before?
2. What you think of the poetry of the anthem?
3. What is your favorite version of the song? I’ve always had a bizarre affection for Marvin Gaye’s, which I heard in real time. Rhythmically, it is SO strange.
4. Should the anthem be replaced by something more “singable”, such as “America the Beautiful”? Not calling for it; wouldn’t bother me.

Meanwhile, read the Declaration of Independence today. Preferably aloud.
Answer to the question you didn’t ask: 26. That’s the number of times Bill Withers says “I know” in a row in Ain’t No Sunshine. Bill Withers turns 70 today.

One Nation Under God

On vacation, I was reading an old Newsweek from early May. The cover story was about military chaplains, and how they balance serving God in a time of war. I thought the Editor’s Desk piece by Jon Meacham, who has a background covering religious issues, was particularly interesting:

Historically, the most fervent of believers have often been the most bloodthirsty of warriors. [The Newsweek writers] note that religion can be a dangerous element in the lives of nations. From Saint Augustine to Shakespeare to Lincoln, some of history’s most searching thinkers and politicians have wrestled with the question of God and war, of how we can know for certain that the blood we are spilling is being shed in a just cause.

Which brings me to our national anthem. One of the verses of the Star-Spangled Banner that has long brought me pause is the fourth and final verse. (I know by heart the first and the last; the second and third in part.) It goes:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our Trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Again from Newsweek’s Meacham:

How can we tell when religion is playing too great a role in our politics, or in the decisions made by our leaders? Lincoln offers a useful test… He prayed…that he might see “the right as God gives to see the right”…He resisted seeing any political course of action as divinely ordained…Are [current and future leaders] curious and probing, believing, as Lincoln did, that “probably it is to be my lot to go on in a twilight, feeling and reasoning my way through life, as questioning, doubting Thomas did?”

Perhaps it is that discomfort, that questioning, that Abraham Lincoln felt in the midst of war that we ought to embrace. It is that thoughtfulness, that wariness, I believe, that best serves God and country.
Roger Ebert remembers his friend, and fellow movie critic, the late Joel Siegel