(This post appeared as a column in the Staunton, VA News Leader)
I’ve heard there are grumblings that “The Star Spangled Banner” should be removed as our national anthem. It’s too antiquated, those grumblings say. And the words are not only hard to understand, but hard to sing. What kind of national anthem do you have if it’s hard to sing?
And to tell you the truth, some of those grumblings are right. I’ve heard the anthem positively butchered by well-meaning folks who were simply mystified by the phrase “O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.” I couldn’t sing that, either.
That isn’t to say, though, that I’m all for replacing the words of Mr. Francis Scott Key with “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” or “America the Beautiful.” I’m not. I like things the way they are just fine. Not because I love our anthem. Not because I love the words.
But because it’s endured.
We are a people who look ever forward. Hope and change are our new touchstones, and neither of those are readily found by glancing over our shoulders. No, the promised land of better times lies ahead. Just there, over the horizon.
We say that the past doesn’t matter, just the future. Not where we’ve been, but where we’re going. And while that may be correct in some aspects, it isn’t in others. In many ways the future is dependant upon the past, and you don’t know where you’re going unless you take a look behind to see where you’ve been.
That’s true in both the life of a person and the life of a country. We are not the product of our tomorrows, but our yesterdays. The freedoms we enjoy may be sustained by the continued sacrifice and vigilance of today, but they were granted by the courage of those who have gone before us. Men who held firm to the believe that freedom was worth persecution and that death should be favored over oppression.
Men who put country and people ahead of party and self. Who believed leaders were not above the public but subject to them.
Who believed that the ultimate authority was not themselves, but God.
That we continue to cling to what some see as a worn and outdated song for our national anthem is to be reminded that there was a time in our country when such men existed. Perhaps that’s why there is this slight but steady push to modernize the singing of praise for our country. It will help us cope with the knowledge that such men seem to be more difficult to find now.
Whereas our leaders of yesterday are revered, our leaders today are ridiculed. Our trust with those first great Virginians, Washington and Jefferson and Madison, have been replaced by a mistrust for those who lead us today. This, I suppose, is inevitable. The natural consequence of favoring a winning smile and a photogenic face over substance and wisdom.
Those ideas of freedom and liberty that inflamed the hearts and minds of our forefathers seem to have burned to embers now. What caused them to stand and fight now allows us to sit and rest.
So this Fourth of July weekend when we’re surrounded by the present and looking forward to the future, perhaps it would do us well to pause and look back, far back, and remember the kind of people it took to found this country. Because that is exactly the kind of people we need in order to continue it.
Let the words be sung, and let that flame of freedom and liberty ignite again. Let us all make sure that when the question is asked, “O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” the answer will always be yes.