San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem has garnered so much attention, you would think he was actually relevant. Let’s leave the poor guy alone – it sounds as though he’ll be spending a lot more time this year on the bench than just during the National Anthem anyway.
One notable response, however, to this news story was the reaction of musical superstar John Legend. Legend is a superb musician and singer, but hit the wrong note when he tweeted the following earlier this week:
“For those defending the current anthem, do you really truly love that song? I don’t and I’m very good at singing it. Like, one of the best.”
“My vote is for America the Beautiful. Star spangled banner is a weak song anyway.”
Weak? Seriously? Mr. Legend may have powerful lungs, but he is sorely mistaken when calling the national anthem weak. We mean no disrespect to America the Beautiful (which we have pondered atop Pikes Peak in Colorado and love, but for different reasons) when we say that it is not national anthem material.
The Star-Spangled Banner is a symbol of strength and hope. Judging it by solely by its first verse is like judging Mr. Legend’s hit All of Me solely by its first verse, which ends as a question, without adding the chorus. (Look it up – the chorus completes the song.) Without the chorus’ response to his initial question, his song, too, is weak.
Below is a brief summary of how our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, provides strength and hope to a nation, such as ours, facing uncertainty and doubt.
For the history of Francis Scott Key’s well-crafted, beautiful poem, click here. The poem, set later to music, tells a story of fear, hurt, anger, freedom, bravery and ultimate triumph. Have you ever read or listened to each verse? Let’s dissect the anthem and you will see it is anything but weak. It provides the ultimate strength to a nation struggling with uncertainty about its own future.
What does this anthem represent? It represents the pride and joy felt when the author, Francis Scott Key, saw the flag flying after a terrible night of battle, in which he sat hostage, and possibly hopeless, on a British ship.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
The first verse leaves us with an unanswered question. Is the flag still there? As it is sung so often, without the subsequent verses, we just do not know the answer. Perhaps the reason some find weakness in this anthem is because they expect an immediate answer to the question posed. Certainly, Key felt weak when he sought reassurance that morning, when he longed to see the banner waving at sunrise. Perhaps this first verse was intended to create a feeling of weakness, of doubt. He knew if the flag was gone, the battle would have been lost, but also that if the flag continued flying, the American forces would have withstood the onslaught of bombs and mortar attacks and freedom would have been protected.
We MUST continue and read verse two, and then three, and then the final verse four, to feel the true strength put forth by this anthem and by the flag.
On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream,
‘Tis the star-spangled banner – O long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Finally, the question is answered. Yes. Yes. Yes! The flag, though tattered and torn, still flew over Fort McHenry. It was there. It had survived the night, which meant that America had prevailed in battle against the British invasion.
What a powerful message, this second verse. Now we know the answer – the star-spangled banner still flew. The Americans had survived the night; the British had retreated and America would survive to fight another day.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
A somewhat controversial verse we rarely hear. Key was not yet finished with his inquiry. He had some remaining questions. He knew the British had vowed to destroy the nation that had so recently won its independence in the hard-fought Revolutionary War. He knew the war hadn’t yet ended, but felt hope and confidence that the fledgling nation could prevail over the greatest navy and military in the world, a second time. He gloried in the success of his nation’s army and navy. He gloried in the thought that no one could hide from consequence of attacking his beloved nation.
Take note, that despite using the word “slave,” Key was not advocating the killing of slaves or even taking a position on slavery. He was speaking a truth that the British Navy made it a practice to include in its ranks slaves, often taken against their will to fight on behalf of the crown. He did not, in authorship of this anthem’s lyrics, advocate for the killing of slaves because they were slaves. Reality is that U.S. slaves fought for both the United States and for the British during the War of 1812. He was referring generally to those fighters employed by the British (whether they were hired or taken as slaves) to fight against the United States. But, here we are not discussing slavery or the ridiculous premise that the national anthem was adopted from a racist, pro-slavery poem.
O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with vict’ry and peace may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d 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.
Francis Scott Key expressed through his beautiful poetry his fear, his doubt, even his weakness, but ultimately expressed his excitement and his feeling of triumph at the success his nation had seen overnight. The sight of the American flag flying brought a faith that victory would be won, even if through hard, terrible battles.
Key had still one more emotion to express, perhaps the most important of the entire poem. He recognized, as should we all, the influence of the Almighty in the protection of the young nation. He thanked God. He did not forget His hand in the preservation of freedom and of the nation. And, finally, he appealed to all who would read his poem and ultimately sing his anthem that the motto of this great nation should be – In God we Trust.
There is true strength in The Star Spangled Banner. This national anthem is anything but weak. To call it weak is to demonstrate a true misunderstanding of what makes the United States great.
We fear there is a movement to replace The Star-Spangled Banner with a new national anthem. As much as we love all of the patriotic songs out there, including America the Beautiful, none convey the hope and triumph one feels when seeing and saluting Old Glory. This song should ever remain the national anthem of the United States of America because it addresses the very real feelings of fear, doubt and hurt we all experience (as a nation and as individuals), while next memorializing the true joy of victory over evil and adversity, and ultimately recognizing the hand of God in our lives and in the preservation of this nation, reminding us to remember the motto – In God is our Trust.
No other anthem or song comes close to providing the strength and hope delivered by The Star-Spangled Banner.
A great battle is being waged place this year – the battle to determine the next president of the United States. One thing we know for sure, regardless who wins, the great standard of this nation, the American Flag, will continue to fly and on January 20, 2017 we should all stand and sing all verses of The Star-Spangled Banner.