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The Tentacle


June 14, 2002

A Perfect Day To Sing Our Nations' Praises

David 'Kip' Koontz

Flag Day. A day to commemorate a very recognizable symbol of our nation and in turn, the nation itself.

Another obvious representation of our country, the national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner," is a most often criticized song that frequently illicits calls to have stripped of it's national anthem status.

"The song is difficult to sing," some say.

"It objectifies war," claim others.

"It isn't relevant today," say others.

Let's take a moment to analyze this piece of music, which to those who like it find the words and the tune to be quite moving.

Francis Scott Key penned the words to this song while detained on a British ship during the British invasion of Baltimore of September 13-14, 1814.

And yes, it may have been impossible for him to have actually seen the fort from where his ship was located as some historians now claim, sometimes sentimentality is okay.

Maybe it helps give a nation and its people a soul.

Baltimore had come under attack. As a major port with well-known anti-British sentiment, capturing Charm City would have been a tremendous victory for the British, coming off their smashing success down the road in Washington.

The British had just sacked and plundered Washington, having burned the city, the Capitol and the White House.

The commander of Ft. McHenry, the largest of the forts defending Baltimore, Major General George Armistead, having anticipated an eventual invasion of Baltimore, commissioned Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore flag and banner maker, and her daughter to make a huge flag for the fort.

As Major General Armistead put it: "I want a flag so large that the British would have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance." So they made one 42 feet long by 30 feet high. It had stripes that were 2 feet wide and stars that were two feet across.

(An interesting aside is that when commissioned, Mary Pickersgill was aging and was said to have been arthritic. She, her daughter and various nieces worked until midnight and beyond for only 8 days to complete their monumental task believing fully it was their patriotic duty to do so.)

The British thought the tiny forts around Baltimore harbor would be no match for their armada and elated victorious troops.

Yet, thousands of regular army, militia and more than a few townfolks flocked to Baltimore to see what they could do to help prevent a sacking of the city.

The Brits, thinking they could simply walk into town, landed 3,000 troops on September 12 at North Point to the north and east of the city.

That night after a small battle at North Point, the Brits moved west toward the city only to encounter an estimated 10,000 Americans blocking their path atop Hampstead Hill.

The Brits in turn, believing their naval power could crush Ft. McHenry and give them direct access into the heart of town, decided a naval attack would be the best action to take.

The fort, while outgunned and lacking in ammunition, was built well and the armaments they had were situated well for a defensive battle.

It helped that Major General Armistead was in no way a dummy when it came to naval warfare.

For 25 hours the British rained shell after shell into the fort. Bombs did burst in air and rockets glared red.

Yet, somehow, the band of patriots fighting by day and by night, thwarted the superior British naval power and Baltimore was saved.

Mr. Key, so excited by the unexpected victory for the Americans, penned his now famous words.

Let's look at them,

"Oh say can you see by the dawns early light, what so proudly we hailed through the twilights last gleaming?

"Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

"And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that out 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?"

Okay, the song talks about bombs and a battle, but let's think about it. The real point of the song is that through the adversity, the symbol of our nation, and thus the nation itself, survived.

Practically speaking, the "perilous fight" can be the adversity of World War I and World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Dessert Storm, our peace-keeping work in Kosovo, the War on Terrorism.

Metaphorically speaking, "the bombs bursting in air, the rockets red glare," can be the trials and tribulation of Watergate, the scandals and impeachment of Bill Clinton, the horror of segregation.

They can represent the injustice of discrimination that is still inflicted upon citizens of this nation, or economic injustice, or countless other areas in which our government fails us or we fail each other.

Yet, somehow we still manage to pull through.

During the tragedy of 9-11, the symbol that was unfurled upon the side of a burning Pentagon was a huge flag.

"Giving proof through the night that our flag was still there."

Later, in the ashes of the World Trade Center, workers discovered a tattered yet relatively intact flag that flew on one of the towers, which has become a symbol of strength and remembrance.

"Giving proof through the night that our flag was still there."

Yes, it may be "difficult to sing." But when the words were put to music, a popular British tune (that was easily sung back then) "To Anacreon in Heaven," it was done in part to poke the Brits in the eye one last time, as we were taking other popular British tunes and turning them into our patriotic hymns.

One must question, though, if it really is all that difficult to sing? Maybe we just need some practice at it.

Maybe it shouldn't just be brought out and dusted off at sporting events.

Maybe it would do us some good if we returned to having it played before a run of a movie or at concerts or at other places where people gathered.

And not just on special patriotic occasions.

Maybe singing it will make it more singable.

Maybe listening to the words and understanding them will make us understand that we as a nation have survived a lot in our short history.

And maybe that just as our star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave, we will realize we have an awfully good national anthem that sums us up perfectly.



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