Archive for Thursday, June 16, 2011

Be respectful of anthems

June 16, 2011

If someone were to ask me when “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem, I would have guessed that it probably happened in the 19th century, possibly after the Civil War. Well, I would have been wrong. President Herbert Hoover signed the law setting “The Star-Spangled Banner” as the official anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Before that, the United States had no official national anthem and there was considerable discussion about the selection. “My Country Tis of Thee” was popular but it is the same tune as the anthem for England, “God Save The Queen.” There was some support for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful.”

The United States was late in selecting a national anthem. I discovered the Dutch national anthem was written between 1568 and 1572 during a revolt. The Spanish national anthem, “Marcha Real” (or royal march), was adopted in 1770. The French Revolution provided the backdrop for France’s national anthem “La Marseillaise.”

The English national anthem was first performed in 1745 and there is considerable controversy about the identity of the composer. In April of 1984, Australia officially chose an upbeat, patriotic tune, “Advance, Fair Australia” as its new national anthem. Canada has its own national anthem, “O Canada,” however there are different lyrics for the nation’s two official languages, French and English. New Zealand actually has two national anthems, “God Defend New Zealand” as well as “God Save the Queen.”

Our national anthem probably has the most interesting history. Most Americans are aware that the words were written by Francis Scott Key, a 35-year old lawyer and amateur poet. In October of 1814, during the War of 1812, he came to Baltimore to negotiate the release of some prisoners from the British. He was detained on a British war ship due to an attempt to destroy Fort McHenry. The fort took a heavy bombardment from British war ships all during the night and, according to the story, Key rushed to the deck in the pre-dawn hours and strained to see if the U.S. flag was still flying over the fort, which meant, of course, it hadn’t been surrendered. There in the early dawn light, he saw the tattered flag flying over the fort and he was inspired poetically. The poem was published in the Baltimore newspapers and soon was set to the tune “The Anacreontic Song,” which was a popular drinking song written by John Stafford Smith in 1780.

It soon became a popular patriotic song and was recognized for official use by the Navy in 1889 and by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Prior to the naming of an official national anthem, “Hail Columbia” was used at official government functions. One source said it was first played before a sporting event at the 1918 World Series.

Now the anthem is played before sporting events, concerts and a variety of other public events, which brings me to a pet peeve. There are far too many people who don’t show proper respect to the national anthem. People have to be reminded to remove their caps and stand at attention with their hand over their heart, which is something we should do automatically. In fact, if you look around at a ball game during the playing of the anthem, you’ll see people visiting or paying no attention. Frankly I don’t believe that the patriotic respect for the national anthem that existed in times past continues today. Maybe that all changed during the anti-war protests of the 1960s, and it is unfortunate. The national anthem is a symbol of our country and it deserves respect.

The next time you are at an event where the national anthem is played, come to attention and be a good example of patriotism.

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