by Harvey Wasserman
The immensely powerful, deeply moving and historic protests of our nation’s athletes against the absurd rantings of our Great Dictator make one thing abundantly clear: the diversity of this nation is not going away.
But The Star Spangled Banner should. It’s a lousy song with a racist message. We need a new anthem—-or to acknowledge many of them.
Likewise the dotard illegitimately occupying the White House. We can do better.
So let’s combine the campaigns.
Words to the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. He commemorated the failure of the British to conquer Baltimore in the War of 1812, an utterly useless conflict. The Brits had just burned our nation’s capital, partly in response to our burning their Canadian headquarters at York, now Toronto.
As Jason Johnson has shown in his “Star Spangled Bigotry”, buried in the lyrics was a clear racist put-down of freed slaves fighting for the English. They were set to a drinking tune, To Anacreon in Heaven.
The Navy adopted the song in 1889, then Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Wilson was stirring up fervor for US entry into World War I, which the majority of Americans strongly opposed. He used that war as cover to crush the Socialist Party, which had millions of supporters. He jailed our greatest labor leader, Indiana’s Eugene V. Debs, for daring to speak against a war that killed at least 10,000,000 people and accomplished nothing.
Congress turned down the song a number of times before it was officially adopted in 1931, in the midst of the Depression.
The iconic version came from Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, 1969. He did it with no lyrics. But in the midst of the useless, worthless war in Vietnam, he inserted a version of Taps.
Right-wingers freaked out and branded him “unpatriotic.” Unlike most of them, Jimi had actually served in the military.
Now it’s played at July 4th celebrations everywhere. I use it to start all my college history classes. Nobody stands.
According to political scientist Bob Fitrakis, in the 1930s American farmers and workers celebrated our country with Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land.
There are other candidates…and some heated opinions. The great activist Sheila Parks says:
“I am hoping you will listen, again perhaps, to these songs and see what they have to say about white people and Native American Peoples
Buffy Sainte Marie : “My country ‘Tis Of Thy People You’re Dying”
Johnny Cash: From Bitter Tears – “As Long As the Grass Shall Grow”
Maybe someone should write a new one.
Or celebrate our diversity by adopting different songs for different events and different teams. Sweet Caroline seems to work for the Red Sox. We Shall Overcome would do well for many public rallies. Hey Hey, Goodbye will serve beautifully at upcoming impeachment hearings.
This athletes’ rebellion fits the massive wave of grassroots social democracy that rocked our country just a year ago. Hopefully it will help propel its revival.
John Nichols shows in his Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse that Trump’s antics are a clown’s distraction while his corrupt cronies loot our public treasure, financial, ecological, spiritual.
His fascistic rantings echo Wilson’s brutal, unConstitutional assault on the farm-labor movements for social democracy a century ago, when he first pitched this anthem, and then stuck us with a catastrophic intervention that killed more than 110,000 Americans and devastated Europe.
Those racist lyrics are rooted in contempt for social justice, an inability to handle human diversity, an embrace of for-profit militarism.
The Star Spangled Banner is awful, both as a song and for what it celebrates. Let’s get rid of it, along with that Bum in the White House.
Harvey Wasserman’s History of the United States is at www.solartopia.org.