Some musings on the National Anthem

by Bernard Brandt

What with the fact that even a hermit like me, without newspapers, television, or cable, and with the radio permanently stuck on the local classical station, KUSC, has still heard of the fracas about footballers and others not standing for the American flag or the National Anthem, it is obvious that teh Interwebz has an inordinate effect on the weak-minded, such as yours truly.

That being said, and the fact that like most of my fellow weak-minded souls, I’m armed with a weblog, and I’m not afraid to use it, I might as well do so likewise to deliver my uninformed and cantankerous opinion upon an already weary world.

‘But Bernie’, you might say, ‘Why are you even interested in this? You don’t go to any sports events. The only time you even watch sports is when you’re visiting your friend Larry, and you’re being polite. You don’t attend any political functions, like town hall meetings and the like. Why, the only time that you stand and sing the National Anthem is when you’re at the Hollywood Bowl, and the first-class pick-up band they call the Los Angeles Philharmonic trots that old number out, before the real music begins. Wuzzup with that?’

To all of this, I must answer: True, and guilty as charged. It would appear that patriotism is as marginal in the functions of my soul as my vermiform appendix is to the functions of my body. But it’s still there, even if only to the same nature and degree.

Yes, I stand for the National Anthem when it plays. I even put my right hand over my heart, and, since I’ve managed after all these years to correct my vocal production, I can even sing the final notes of the stanza in full voice. And envy those few soprani and even fewer tenors who can hit the high C above.

So I suppose I might as well admit it: I’m a closet patriot. I love this country. I love living here. I always have. Even when I was a noxious little atheist at the age of 13, I would always stand and proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance.  I will admit that during my years of high school, and until I was 18, I omitted to say the words ‘under God’. But that’s just because my mother and my father taught me never to say anything that I didn’t mean.

But I meant the rest. I still do. I went through the years of Vietnam, when a lot of people died, and a lot more people got really screwed up, in the service of that war. I thought then, and I still think it, that that was both an unjust and a stupid war. It was not waged honestly, by open declaration and act of Congress. It was not undertaken in the defense of this country, as WWII most certainly was. I believed then, and I still do, that it had been a war which was waged for the purposes of a minority oligarchy, which was in control of this country.

So, I looked then into what would be involved in being a Conscientious Objector. I found a good counselor, who was very knowledgeable of history,  political theory, and the law. He informed me that the only way I could, under the law, be recognized as a C.O. was to express the belief that all wars were unjust and evil. I thought long and hard about that, and then came back to my counselor, to tell him that I just could not do that.

You see, I believed then, and still do, that some wars are just. And since I was afflicted both with a thirst for knowledge, which I exercised to read as much as I could, and a high school which actually did an excellent job in teaching world, English and American history, I had seen too many examples of just battles and wars, fought in defense of self, or defense of the country. The battle of Agincourt was one such. And I believed that the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and World War II, were all just wars, fought in defense of this country.

I mention the War of 1812 in particular, because it was in that context that our National Anthem was written. Great Britain, having lost its former colonies, tried to regain them. While Britain lost, probably in large point because it is never a wise idea to wage a war on two fronts, especially when Napoleon is involved in one of them. Nonetheless, they managed to do a great deal of damage, including the sacking of Washington, D.C., and some military bases.

The words of the Star Spangled Banner were written after one such sacking. The first stanza (which is usually the only one sung at most gatherings) asks whether our flag is still there, after the terrible battle. The second stanza answers that yes, our flag, and the country it represents, is still there. The third stanza asks the question, and what happened to our enemies, and immediately answered: they all died in the battle.

But the final stanza is the most important:

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.

In short, and for anyone who knows the full text, one who does not stand at the singing of the Star Spangled Banner, is saying that they will not stand for the defense of this country.

And I have a problem with that. So do a lot of other folk living here.

The problem is that if you are not willing to say, either in words, by symbols or in action, that you love this country, or are willing to stand or act in its defense, then what the hell are you doing here? And especially, what are you doing here, when you are getting the benefit of this country’s freedoms to make millions of dollars, by playing the games you do, but are spitting on the flag or of the anthem of the country that is giving you those freedoms

Now, I can understand someone saying, ‘I do not believe that this country is in fact the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’. I can also understand someone saying, ‘I do not believe that the wars that have been fought by our nation since and including Vietnam have been just.’

I quite agree with those sentiments. America was not the ‘land of the brave, and the home of the free’ when it kidnapped millions of Africans, transported them to this country, and enslaved them. It wasn’t that when it evicted millions more Native Americans from their own land, to let them rot in concentration camps that we like to pretend are ‘reservations’. And it wasn’t that when we imprisoned hundreds of thousand Japanese-American citizens in similar concentration camps during WWII. And it is not that now, as a result of the consequences of the wrongs done to all these people, which exist to the present day. And the wars that we have  fought since and including Vietnam were not undertaken in self-defense, were not just, and were just plain stupid. I get all that.

But, as the double-plus P.C. social justice warriors are so fond of saying: ‘Words matter. Actions matter.’ Yes, they do. You are certainly permitted to express yourself, courtesy of the First and other Amendments. You are also permitted to protest wrongs, and to petition the government for redress of those wrongs. But when you use a form of speech or action which undermines the nation whose ordered society has given those freedoms, well, it’s going to cause some talk. And it’s also going to be looked upon, especially by those who are paying for your multi-million dollar salaries, to be a bit like sawing off the plank you are standing on, which is the only thing that’s keeping you from falling into the abyss below.

That’s why a whole bunch of people are carrying on so cranky about people sitting during the singing of the National Anthem. Those people are using the freedoms they have been given, to say that they will not act in defense of the country which gave them those freedoms. And they are in effect sitting in judgment of that nation.

There are some among us who think that that is just a little bit hypocritical, and as one smart fellow said, ‘above their pay grade’. We especially think it so when people like soldiers, who have sworn an oath to defend this country, say by their actions that they are dishonoring that oath.

This is not to say that we want to silence all protest. ”Shut up’, he explained’, has never been advice that I’ve been willing to follow. No, leave that sort of foolishness to the SJWs, whom we will ignore or ridicule at our leisure.

What I am saying, anyway, is that if you wish to protest, understand the language of the protest you are using, and try not to make ambiguous statements. This is why I, for one, appreciate those who protest the wrongs done by this country, by flying the American flag upside down. What is being said here is ‘This country is in distress. I am a witness to this distress, by flying this flag, which I honor, in a manner that is recognized to symbolize that distress.’ No problem.

This is why I think that this Mr. K. guy might actually have a point, when he has recently bowed his knee, instead of either standing or sitting,  while the National Anthem is being sung. This says, in so many words: ‘No, I don’t believe that this is the ‘land of the brave and the home of the free’. But I still honor this country, and its defense. I will bend the knee in fealty, to protest the wrongs, but still to respect the land and its people.’

And I’m okay with this.

POSTSCRIPT: I posted a clip of Paul Simon’s ‘American Tune’ at the beginning of this rant. That is because I personally believe that at this time, it is a better statement of honoring this land than the National Anthem. It avoids the jingoism that has gotten us into so many unjust wars in this and the last century. I will, of course, still sing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, and mean every word of it.

But I’d rather be singing Paul Simon’s, ‘American Tune’. It’s a bit nearer to where I am just now.