I have been watching a documentary about the War of 1812. I didn't like the beginning, but it got better. They did a pretty bad/sensationalistic job with the burning of Washington D.c. Their retelling of the battle of Baltimore was very good. Their retelling of the battle for New Orleans was rather sensationalist as well. At one point, they mention that the British forces were not the greatest of England's forces. Then, they say that Jackson defeated the best forces in the world. They get too carried away with themselves.
Paul Johnson suggests in A History of the American People that the War of 1812 created the ability for England and America to get along later. This was, according to him, because the treaty of Ghent was equitable to both sides, an unusual document to be sure.
The story got me thinking about our national anthem.
We never sing the other verses. Why is that? Hmm.
Violence. The first verse is violent enough, but the third verse gets really violent...
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wiped 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.
Although I do like parts of the final verse, it could hardly work. No doubt people would take offense to the last verse..
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, for our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Hmm. Critics of the war in Iraq could become very snide after this stanza. Snide or no, I don't like the idea of including conquest into our national song, just or not.
Some have suggested America The Beautiful for an alternate national anthem. I like this song, but again, we would have to trim the verses of the sadness of experience...
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
I like the recognition of America's brilliant beauty. But our nation is not a land. America is not, like other places, a place defined only by its location, but rather by the ideas and freedom...
Who more than self the country loved
And mercy more than life!
The song would also serve as a reminder to us...
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!
But I suppose many would dislike it for the very reasons I like the song...
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!
Here, Gold is not money, but rather a reference to character and goodness, to generosity and love, those valuable things that reside inside a person's heart, not a person's wallet. I would like to live in an America whose successes can truly be called noble. That day is not here.
But America The Beautiful is not pithy enough for our current time. Any replacement anthem would likely have no more than 5 or 6 lines to be repeated ad nauseum in any arrangement.
I don't think the essence of this amazing place can be captured fully in a song. It has many faults, many flaws -- it's made of humans. But it is exciting to know that freedom truly reigns in America, not a single man, not a single idea, not a party or a weapon, but rather the coming together of many millions of people in cooperative concord. It's a tough world out there, but it's good to know that we can work together.