*cross-posted from Assoluta Tranquillita*
Now more than ever, we all need to be mindful of WHY our flag, our heritage is so important:
I wrote this piece a few years back, and posted it on Tanker Bros. Now seemed like a good time to post it here. :)
I first heard the Star Spangled Banner at a July 4 community barbeque many years ago. Fresh from my homeland just two days previously, I stood in small town America and watched, and listened, as everybody joined to sing this anthem. (And yes – that was my first exposure to that great American institution: barbeques!)To this day, whenever I hear this, I remember that first July 4 and am reminded of the amazing display of patriotism, unity.
Those were the days when America was torn apart by the Vietnam war, when neighbour argued with neighbour over the back fence about the validity of the US involvement in a land far away. But, at that barbque, celebrating a most American holiday, there was no evidence of the tears in the fabric of American society. For those few shining moments, there was a unity, a common bond of purpose.
Many years have passed since that first time. I have travelled many miles of the heart, and learned many things – worked with thousands of children from around the world in both America and Canada. You have to know that I was raised with a visceral love of my country. To this day I get goosebumps whenever I hear MY national anthem, no matter the miles separating me from my homeland. I can sing every word, and taste, and feel, and smell the land of my birth.
So here we are in another war in a land far, far away (for now! We all know that in reality, THIS war is already in our own backyards.) And yes, the Star Spangled Banner is still sung in small towns, and big cities across the land. Today though, because of what I have seen, I often pause and wonder: do these people really REALLY understand, mean, what they are singing? Do Americans today LIVE the meaning of the words? Sure, we all teach our children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (at least until it is totally outlawed by the dimtwits), and we still raise the young people of our nations to revere the flag – that symbol of what their forefathers and mothers fought for, bled for, and died for. My daughter is blessed. She has been nurtured in the love of two countries. For her, it is as natural as breathing to know all the words of MY national anthem, and sing them with pride and allegiance. She also, because of her birthland, is able to sing another national anthem (in both official languages no less!) and understand what every word means. She LIVES them, because we have been discussing what the words mean – the concepts behind them – since she could talk. Years ago, James Clavell was struck when his young daughter came home from school and proudly recited what she had learned that day. Word perfect, she recited rote fashion:
| I pledge allegiance to my Flag,
and to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation indivisible,
With Liberty and Justice for all. October 11, 1892
A really interesting history of the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance here.
Clavell asked his daughter what that all meant after she had finished. She had no clue. Imagine that. Clavell then wrote a short story (by his prolific standards anyway. lol) called “The Children’s Story.” You can find the text of the whole story online – I did. Please, go read that here. I came across a copy of this a few years back, and I remember how it resonated for me. At the time, I had worked with many kids, was a mother myself, and was currently working in a classroom of impressionable 5 year olds. Is there anything more precious? That may sound like a throwaway comment, question, but it really is not.
And then just last week I got an email about the Star Spangled Banner from an American friend. In it, is a speech which Isaac Asimov gave in 1991 about The Star Spangled Banner. And yes, I went and actually found a copy of this speech on the Freepers site (lol) You can go here for that. Is well worth a look for the comments alone. However, because I think it is important, I am going to copy and paste the entire email my friend sent me – with HER comments as a preface…;)
“When I was a teacher, I taught English and reading, but for several years I taught history. I was very familiar with the national anthem, and my students enjoyed when I told them the story of how it came to be written. I, too, told it in story form and the kids loved it when I pretended to peer into the early morning fog while asking, “Can you see it? Whose flag is it? Who won?” I think they understand it better now. It has some…..uh..ahem..rather antiBritish sections, but that was a loooooong time ago! We’re buddies now! LOL” (my note: Yes – we ARE!!!)
NO REFUGE COULD SAVE : BY DR. ISAAC ASIMOV
I was once asked to speak at a luncheon. Taking my life in my hands, I announced I was going to sing our national anthem — all four stanzas. This was greeted with loud groans. One man closed the door to the kitchen, where the noise of dishes and cutlery was loud and distracting. “Thanks, Herb,” I said.“That’s all right,” he said. “It was at the request of the kitchen staff”
I explained the background of the anthem and then sang all four stanzas. Let me tell you, those people had never heard it before — or had never really listened. There was a standing ovation. But it was not for me; it was the anthem.
More recently, while conducting a seminar, I told my students the story of the anthem and sang all four stanzas. Again there was a wild ovation and prolonged applause. And again, it was the anthem and not me.
So now let me tell you how it came to be written.
In 1812, the United States went to war with Great Britain, primarily over freedom of the seas. We were in the right. For two years, we held off the British, even though we were still a rather weak country. Great Britain was in a life and death struggle with Napoleon. In fact, just as the United States declared war, Napoleon marched off to invade Russia. If he won, as everyone expected, he would control Europe, and Great Britain would be isolated. It was no time for her to be involved in an American war.
At first, our seamen proved better than the British. After we won a battle on Lake Erie in 1813, the American commander, Oliver Hazard Perry, sent the message,“We have met the enemy and they are ours.” However, the weight of the British navy beat down our ships eventually. New England, hard-hit by a tightening blockade, threatened secession.
Meanwhile, Napoleon was beaten in Russia and in 1814 was forced to abdicate. Great Britain now turned its attention to the United States, launching a three-pronged attack.
The northern prong was to come down Lake Champlain toward New York and seize parts of New England.
The southern prong was to go up the Mississippi, take New Orleans and paralyze the west.
The central prong was to head for the mid-Atlantic states and then attack Baltimore, the greatest port south of New York. If Baltimore was taken, the nation, which still hugged the Atlantic coast, could be split in two. The fate of the United States, then, rested to a large extent on the success or failure of the central prong.
The British reached the American coast, and on August 24, 1814, took Washington, D.C.Then they moved up the Chesapeake Bay toward Baltimore. On September 12, they arrived and found 1,000 men in Fort McHenry, whose guns controlled the harbor. If the British wished to take Baltimore, they would have to take the fort.
On one of the British ships was an aged physician, William Beanes, who had been arrested in Maryland and brought along as a prisoner. Francis Scott Key, a lawyer and friend of the physician, had come to the ship to negotiate his release.
The British captain was willing, but the two Americans would have to wait. It was now the night of September 13, and the bombardment of Fort McHenry was about to start.
As twilight deepened, Key and Beanes saw the American flag flying over Fort McHenry. Through the night, they heard bombs bursting and saw the red glare of rockets. They knew the fort was resisting and the American flag was still flying. But toward morning the bombardment ceased, and a dread silence fell. Either Fort McHenry had surrendered and the British flag flew above it, or the bombardment had failed and the American flag still flew.
As dawn began to brighten the eastern sky, Key and Beanes stared out at the fort, trying to see which flag flew over it. He and the physician must have asked each other over and over,“Can you see the flag?”
After it was all finished, Key wrote a four stanza poem telling the events of the night. Entitled “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” it was published in newspapers and swept the nation. Someone noted that the words fit an old English tune called, “To Anacreon in Heaven” — a difficult melody with an uncomfortably large vocal range. For obvious reasons, Key’s work became known as “The Star Spangled Banner,” and in 1931 Congress declared it the official anthem of the United States.
Now that you know the story, here are the words. Presumably, the old doctor is speaking. This is what he asks Key:
Oh! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro’ the night that our flag was still there.
Oh! say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
(“Ramparts,” in case you don’t know, are the protective walls or other elevations that surround a fort.)
The first stanza asks a question.
The second gives an answer:
On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mist 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 on the stream
‘Tis the star-spangled banner. Oh! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
“The towering steep” is again, the ramparts. The bombardment has failed, and the British can do nothing more but sail away, their mission a failure. In the third stanza I feel Key allows himself to gloat over the American triumph. In the aftermath of the bombardment, Key probably was in no mood to act otherwise? During World War I when the British were our Staunchest allies, this third stanza was not sung. However, I know it, so here it is:
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 washed 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.
(The fourth stanza, a pious hope for the future, should be sung more slowly than the other three and with even deeper feeling):
Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
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 is just,
And this be our motto –“In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I hope this will help you to look at the national anthem with new eyes. Listen to it, the next time you have a chance, with new ears. Pay attention to the words. And don’t let them ever take it away … not even one word of it.
So back to my question: Is there anything more precious than young children earnestly reciting the words on which your country was founded.
My answer? Yes – there sure is. More precious than the recitation, is the teaching ALL our children what love of country means. Concepts like loyalty, honour and duty to one’s country seem to be in short supply in some schools these days.
But I suggest to you that it is critical today, that we each read, re-read words like this, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Not just read, or mouth the words, but really understand, feel and taste the importance of what our founding fathers gave us.
Now it is imperative that we stand firm at the gates. Now – as parents, educators of the precious young minds we are charged with moulding, it is vital that we instil in every child what ‘country’ means. Today, just as throughout our history, we must remind ourselves what we stand to lose if we are negligent in OUR duty. We dare not abdicate our responsibility for our young ones. We MUST teach our children well.