Friday, April 28, 2006

Bush wants you to sing the National Anthem in English, damn it

George W. Bush said today that the National Anthem should be sung in English, not Spanish. ae of arse poetica justifiably says she thinks it would be a nice start if Bush spoke English. Putting the obvious (to us) irony aside, Bush also said that, sung in Spanish, the National Anthem does have the same value it has when sung in English.

Perhaps this would be a good time to remember that it was immigrants who founded the thirteen colonies, on which the rest of our American character is based. The native Americans were already here, but instead of asking them to help write an anthem, we killed them. A small thing, perhaps, but it does represent reality.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is an offensive song, as far as I'm concerned, because it glorifies bombing. Other Americans are offended by it, too, and many of them want to replace it with "America the Beautiful," which has a much nicer message, but which also offends me because it insists that God is male. It also presumes the existence of God, which probably makes it offensive to a great number of Americans.

Anyway, to spit in the faces of Spanish-speaking immigrants who wish to sing their loyalty to this country strikes me as tacky, at the least.


This Anthem-in-English meme is one of the planks being pushed by the U.S. English pack, that crowd that want to make English the official language of the U.S. -- because, you know, English needs to be protected, because, you know, otherwise those Hispanics are going to swarm over us and make us speak Spanish and assorted other racist nonsense. They're the ones responsible for destroying bilingual education in CA and other places, despite the evidence the bilingual education works better than the sink-or-swim method they're so fond of pushing (because it preserves their own hegemony, which is what they're actually interested in protecting, as if we didn't know that)...oh, don't get me started.

By Blogger delagar, at 10:09 AM  

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is an offensive song, as far as I'm concerned, because it glorifies bombing.

How does it glorify bombing? The whole point of the song is that Fort McHenry survived being bombed by the British in 1812.

By Blogger Dave Menendez, at 12:28 AM  

There's some commentary in _Angels in America_ about why the Star-Spangled Banner is a sucky song. It has an awkward structure for one thing.

For another it is definitely a hymn to the worst kind of nationalism; to the notion that "we're a great nation because we can whip your ass," which is of course the dark soul of all patriotism.

Abbie Hoffman recommended America the Beautiful. Since reading that, I've paid attention to its lyrics.

I think it's a big improvement over the Star-Mangled Spanner (cf Arthur C. Clarke, short story called "Neutron Tide" or something like that...) in that it first praises the land itself, and then people trying to rise to the high ideals the land deserves.

It isn't so much that it is theistic--I really don't think that will offend so many people, even among progressives--as that it is culturally a bit chauvinistic, particularly in the later verses. "...for pilgrim feet/whose stern impassioned stress/a thoroughfare for freedom beat/across the wilderness" indeed! My favorite howler in it is "thine alabaster cities gleam/undimmed by human tears." Oh really? It is very easy to be offended at these smug WASP self-opinions with their blind eye to the seamy underside of our history.

OTOH if we don't see it as simple-minded self-satisfaction, but a setting of goals, I do think that the best aspects of the American dream are contained in some of these very same verses. Indeed if we put our minds to it, our cities could gleam with less grounds for weeping than ever seen anywhere in history before, and the kind of attitude needed to accomplish this is perfectly in line with our best historical heritage.

At any rate it is more singable and far less militaristic than the official anthem, written by a Southern racist.

I've recently read somewhere on the net that America the Beautiful in contrast was written by a socialist lesbian.

You know of course that the Star-Spangled Banner had no official status as late as the beginning of the 20th century and I think later than that. There is nothing quite so ephermal and subject to sudden revision as "traditions!" A whole lot of the panoply of patriotic trappings were actually legislated into official status between WWI and 1960, the "Under God" in the Pledge being put in only in the 1950s, "In God We Trust" on coins only in I think the 1930s. The Pledge of Allegiance itself wasn't even written (by a socialist!) until the 20th century. And through most of our history we had no official anthem; it was traditional to play "Hail to the Chief" if the President was involved, and that was as close as we had to an official national song.

So there. We can mess with it now if we want to.

And of course sing it in as many languages as Americans like.

By Blogger Mark H. Foxwell, at 2:13 AM  

The Star-Spangled Banner quite simply cannot be read as a celebration of bombing. It is about enduring a naval bombardment, and the near destruction of Baltimore, in a war that led to the razing of DC. It was written when the United States was still a nascent republic, weak relative to its British,French and Spanish foes. It's a song celebrating that despite that, the nation survived.

That said, I think people should be free to sing it in any language they choose.

By Blogger simon, at 10:23 AM  

Both of you are correct that the intent of the lyrics is not to glorify bombing, but I would be willing to bet that 1 in how many thousand Americans know the origin of the song. Not to mention the fact that there are so many other things one could put in a national anthem without ever mentioning bombs and rockets, regardless of the context.

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