Jerry Newcombe: September 14, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the event that caused our National Anthem to be written. Here is a column I wrote about it more than two years ago.
Liberal Talk Host Says National Anthem Should Go
Liberal talk show host Bill Press is on a mission, what he calls “a major crusade.” He says it’s time to dump the National Anthem. As in, “Oh say, can you see?” (www.realclearpolitics.com)
Now, Press doesn’t want anyone to label him unpatriotic for his stance. It’s just that he finds the song “absolutely monumentally un-singable.”
He fears, in fact, that for taking such a stance, he’ll be accused of not being “a true American.” He adds, “I don’t think patriotism has anything to do with it.”
But he does go on to complain about the content of the song: “Are we the only ones who are brave on the planet? I mean all the brave people live here. I mean it’s just stupid, I think. I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed every time I hear it.”
It never even occurred to me, until I read Mr. Press’s criticism, that the song implies we are the only ones on the planet who are brave. (Or for that matter the only ones free).
When I hear the Anthem sung, I’m often tempted to turn to the person next to me and ask, “Can you name the war?” “Can you name the night?” “Can you name the place?”
To get a better appreciation of the National Anthem, consider its historical backdrop. When America was still basically an infant, we entered into our second major war—with the same foe as before.
Among other reasons, the war was sparked by British mistreatment of American ships. The Royal Navy would capture American sailors and force those who were British born into service of the British Empire—a practice called “impressment.” Thus, not only were they violating the sailors’ rights, they were treating the new nation as an upstart.
Numerous pleas to stop this practice and other abuses went unheeded, causing Congress and President James Madison (on June 18, 1812) to declare war on England.
During this war, the British were able to invade Washington, DC. They even burned down the White House and the Capitol.
Francis Scott Key served as the District Attorney at Georgetown, Washington, DC. During the War of 1812, President Madison authorized Key to negotiate the release of an American being held captive by the British in a fleet near the mouth of the Potomac River. This was on September 13, 1814.
As Key and his delegation set out for the negotiation, they were taken aboard a British truce ship and held as captives overnight—as the British fleet attempted to decimate Fort McHenry. The fort protected Baltimore’s harbor.
Through the night of September 13-14, Key watched helplessly as the British mercilessly bombarded the fort.
But when the morning came, at the dawn’s early light, Francis Scott Key was overjoyed to see the fort still standing, and the American flag still waving.
This incident inspired him to write a hymn with a month, dedicated to the “Defense of Fort McHenry.” The song, “The Star Spangled Banner,” became instantly popular.
In 1931, Congress adopted it as our National Anthem.
Although we’re all familiar with the first verse of the anthem, many people don’t realize that the 4th verse mentions God:
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heavn’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r 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!”
In 1956, Congress took up Key’s suggestion and adopted our national motto: In God We Trust.
Francis Scott Key, a great American, once said, “The patriot who feels himself in the service of God, who acknowledges Him in all his ways, has the promise of Almighty direction…He will therefore seek to establish for his country in the eyes of the world, such a character as shall make her not unworthy of the name of a Christian nation…”
I hope Mr. Press fails in his “major crusade.” Admittedly, the National Anthem is not an easy piece to sing—maybe that’s why it’s usually handled by well-trained soloists.
I for one am not embarrassed by the Star-Spangled Banner. But I have to admit I’m not sure if I can sing it correctly without shifting keys somewhere along the way.