Singing the national anthem last Sunday in church brought me to tears, especially when I recalled a recent news item that quoted a radio talk show host who declared the anthem is gory, glorifies war, and should be replaced by something easier to sing. Well, the version in our hymnbook is in a fairly universal key, so I can check that complaint off the list.
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 rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thru 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?
It's clear to me, as I read the text of the poem, that the depictions of war in it are not there to glorify the destruction that was taking place. Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the battle of Fort McHenry, simply asked if the flag, the symbol of this intrepid experiment in self-government, still flew. And does it still fly over people willing to sacrifice for freedom?
When a citizen asked Benjamin Franklin what the Constitutional Convention had given the people, Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." We are naive if we think keeping it will never involve having to protect and defend it. As we sat and watched artificial bombs bursting in air at a family fireworks display on Wednesday night, I felt like singing the national anthem again. I realized that though we strive for peace, we have to recognize that sometimes it takes a war to achieve peace, and war is messy and cruel, a gritty, hellish nightmare. But it is the non-negotiable price of freedom.
More Franklin: "…the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: That God governs in the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We've been assured in the sacred writings that unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."
No, not all wars are justified, and not all political leaders have been the selfless statesmen we thought we were electing. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater has always been foolish. Yes, there are other political systems out there, but history proves they've never worked better than a constitutional republic. As Margaret Thatcher said, "The trouble with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money."
What do we need in this country? We need better Americans--those who put honor above everything else, those who pay their taxes even when they disagree with how the taxes are spent, those who are willing to become more committed citizens, those who are willing to fight even in quiet ways for a cause larger than themselves.
More than a decade ago, a president was re-elected partly by his flippant slogan, "It's the economy, stupid." I said then, as I've said many times since when public figures have tried to define a situation the same way--"No, it's the morality, stupid." Thus will if ever be. If America fails, it will be because Americans failed to live up to the morality required by the principles of freedom.
And I will proudly sing the national anthem and be thrilled that the flag still waves because it will mean that we have survived the battle. Again.