The Star-Spangled Banner: A Blessing of Victory and Peace; But What Kind of Blessing and Peace?


Jerome Irwin I Society & Culture I Analysis I November 2nd, 2017



America's Star Spangled Banner national anthem was written by Sir Francis Scott Key in 1814 to celebrate America's victorious resistance against the British Royal Navy's bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, and so honor The Flag as it triumphantly flew above the fort. It means many things to many different people, but to some revisionist historians it represents the embodiment of a constant stream of warfare that has continued non-stop since the nation's tempestuous birth in 1776, and reflects ever since a penchant for a militaristic, Spartan way of life that they describe as a classic modern-day version of ancient Sparta.

Sparta, the ancient Greek city-state that around 650BC rose into prominence to become the dominant military power in its day in ancient Greece as America has done in the New World since its very inception. Sparta having defeated Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars between 431 and 404BC at a great cost of human lives as America has done throughout its own history of wars of independence fought against the British, Canadians, Indian Nations, Spain, Cuba and Mexico; followed, in turn, by its Civil War in the 19 th century that pitted brothers and sisters against one another, and then a series of wars against North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan in the 20th century and a host of still other undeclared political, cultural, economic, military, cyber wars throughout the world against other nations on into the 21st century.

Before Sparta's defeat by Thebes in 371BC, and eventual fall to Roman conquest in 146BC, Sparta's social system and constitution, dominated by military adventurism and excellence of armaments, ruled the world around them for a period of some 279 years, just as America's own inspirational social system and constitution has similarly sought to dominate the world around them for some 241 years. But like the divisive, violent historical trajectory of Sparta in its day, some historians point to how what now is likewise going on in America continues to show increasingly troubled signs of being on that same destined fatal trajectory. But if America still has some 38 years yet left to match Sparta's nearly three centuries-long record of world aggression and dominance, one can only wonder what new rising power will end up being its own conquering 'Thebes' or 'Romans' to rule in their place? If Sir Francis Scott Key's anthem reflects a blessing of victory and peace, how must its words now be changed to reflect what kind of victory and peace has since transpired over the past two centuries up to the present day for all its citizenry?

At every turn in American culture, be it in the military, political, sports or corporate realm, no matter what events may transpire, the American citizenry is taught, some would argue brainwashed, to unequivocally believe in The Flag and "For which it stands!", whatever that may mean. It's a veritable religion that one only dares criticize at their peril. Political Correctness 2.0 - at every turn in the schools, movies, politics, business, on the grid iron, diamond or court - teaches young and old alike to believe in 'My Country Right or Wrong'. Whether it's on Main Street USA, the local sports arena, a Wall Street trading floor, or some distant, foreign battlefield, whatever aggressive, machismo actions are needed to be waged to defeat whomever is deemed to be the adversary or hated 'Other' on the opposing side, is generally deemed acceptable with no holds barred and few questions asked.

As a result, the American populace, annually, willingly and gladly, gives up however untold billions of dollars of their hard-earned monies to: continually expand America's gargantuan military forces, larger than all the world's military forces combined; pay for local law enforcement anti-riot, anti-terrorist 'United Shield', SWAT, and 'Wall of Separation' border defenses against the unwanted; give away to world dictators and authoritarian governments however much monies and military hardware are needed to murder and subdue whatever rebellions, civil society movements or societal protests among their own people, as well as; passively accept the fact that our finest hero-warrior, gladiator-athletes are paid a veritable king's ransom just to entertain us for a few hours each week in whatever local 'Coliseum' arena. These monies are willingly given away even when this means that American society itself must forego the benefits of their labors and suffer the constant stripping of their own desperate basic needs that includes: a minimum livable hourly wage; universal healthcare; critical public school funds; municipal infrastructure for police-fire-rescue emergency services; tax relief for the lower and middle classes; social services for the homeless and destitute, as well as for the many institutions dedicated to the general enhancement of America's cultural, social, spiritual life. Like the translated lyrics of a Guns & Roses song goes: We're all in the jungle now and all gonna die!"

Forget for a moment what all the corporate media does day in day out to brainwash the populace to think and believe in the same way. Instead ponder what occurs at the beginning of every major American sports event and ask yourself what element in these events might provoke and embed such blind, mindless obedience to such harsh realities? Long before 9/11, many of America's professional sports teams held flag-raising, national anthem ceremonies. But since 9/11, such rituals have escalated in drama and scope to the point that begs the question: "What came first: The chicken or the egg?" Could the cause possibly be because of the degree to which the U.S. Government and its military branches have focused their attention upon national paid patriot propaganda in sports, purely for recruiting purposes, or, as a way to unduly influence the attitudes of the American populace towards war and militarism in general? Is this why they sponsor ceremonial rituals such as the repetitive singing of the Star-Spangled Banner national anthem at the beginning of every major American sports event? Why aren't such rituals likewise required at the beginning of movies, plays and other major cultural gatherings or religious events? Or has it always been intentionally and purposefully cultivated and enhanced through sports because the comparable levels of aggression and macho behavior required in both the military and sports world responds to the same primal psychological human drives? Can the dominant natural inclination within the American psyche, that always seems to lean towards reactionary, right-wing, militaristic attitudes and beliefs, be traced back through certain defining displaced impulses of patriotism since the nation's very origins; as manifested by the erection of so many controversial memorial statues to otherwise questionable military hero's of the American Confederacy, the American Indian Wars or a long line of ruthless, warmongering Generals or Presidents from Andrew Jackson's up to Donald Trump and all those who will come after them?

The United States is the only country in the world that requires its professional sports teams and the general public to adhere to such patriotic rituals around every sports event. Before 9/11, many professional American teams even stayed in their locker rooms during the playing and singing of the Star Spangled Banner national anthem, even though the historical record shows that in the much-touted 'American Game' of baseball, the patriotic ritual goes back to the days of World War One, until the National Baseball Association finally made it a requirement in 1942 during World War Two, with the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League following suite in 1946. But it wasn't until many years later that America's teams were finally expected or actually required to come out of their locker rooms to participate in these patriotic rituals. Since 9/11, the U.S. Government and its military branches have even signed "paid patriotism" contracts with the five major American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS), not counting NASCAR sponsorships, for ceremonies to raise the flag, sing the national anthem, hold 'Support The Troops' nights or sponsor recruitment drives for 'new troops', the cost of which now is estimated to be over $100 million, the actual total amount for which the Department of Defense can't even fully account.

So, at the beginning of each sports event, the citizenry is called upon en masse to dutifully rise to the occasion and stand at attention to show their unquestioning unity every time a military guard, representing all branches of the armed services, solemnly marches in with the Star-Spangled Banner waving, to be greeted by some popular personage of the people who will sing the country's national anthem in homage to war, the nation's continued survival and future success for 'God & Country', whether on the playing field or battlefield.

The citizenry in attendance, unless they possess the requisite courage and backbone required to protest by remaining seated, at the risk of being hostilely put upon by those around him or her, such as what has since happened to the former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick who did, can either choose to stand in silence, begrudgingly mumble the words or loudly sing along with their right hand held over their heart; as a wing of the latest military combat fighter jets, in a noisy, awe-inspiring demonstration, does a dramatic low fly-over to display for all to see and marvel at the awesome, invincible power of the state. As they listen to or sing the full four verses of the anthem's lyrics, that some consider racist in nature, what are they thinking about when they repeat the words that, in its third verse, speaks of "No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of fight, or the gloom of the grave"(i.e. those Indians, Black slaves, White colonists who supported British rather than American Imperialism)? When they next sing the words, "And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave/O'er the land of the free/And the home of the brave", who are the free and the brave they're singing about? Or when they herald, with their hand solemnly held over their hearts, "Then conquer we must/When our cause it is just/And this be our Motto/In God is Our Trust", who must next be conquered, what or whose just cause are they talking about, and with which particular conquering God are they placing their trust?

When whomever it is that is pledging their allegiance to The Flag, is it to the 1% who deprives the other 99% of the people from also realizing the American Dream? Are they thinking of America's long history: of slavery, systemic racism and social injustices in American society; the Indian Wars that cleared out the native populations from almost everywhere in the land where white immigrants chose to settle; the conquest, occupation and displacement of Mexican nationals in California & the Southwest; the endless War of Terror in the Middle East and the constant blowback that it continues to create?

Perhaps with the singing of the national anthem they're thinking of all the powerful mining and fossil fuel interests and their political allies in North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Indiana who are pushing the last leg of the Dakota Access Pipeline through Indian lands and those of white farmers? Or maybe, perhaps, their pledging allegiance to those interests in Arizona and Utah who are also pushing hard to remove all protections from America's national lands and urge President Trump to lift the Obama-era ban on mining uranium around the Grand Canyon?

In that moment of pledging are they swearing an oath to support President Trump's intention to expand fossil fuel development everywhere in the world, climate change be damned, wherever under which the Star Spangled Banner may happen to fly?

Or are they joining in a covenant with President Trump and his Republican leaders in the Senate who continue to very quietly - very secretly - force upon the American people a cruel, heartless, radical stealth bill called 'Trumpcare' that: by 2026, will take health insurance away from 23 million Americans; cut $834 Billion from Medicare that will destroy it; defund Planned Parenthood that will strip women of the right to control their own bodies; increase health care premiums for seniors on fixed incomes, force low-income Americans to go without necessary care and punish those who have pre-existing conditions; while handing out some $661 billion in tax cuts for the filthy rich 1%'ers?

As the band plays on, and the gathered multitude sing of, "Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation", are they all thinking of the innocent 17 year-old Muslim girl who was recently struck by a hater with a metal baseball bat who killed her after she was leaving a Virginia mosque following her religious observances during Ramadan?

By singing the anthem and pledging their obligatory duty to abide with whatever actions America's elected politicians may choose to do in their name, are all the singers voicing their approval of the acquittal of a cop in Minnesota who poured five bullets into the body of an African American man after he had duly informed the officer, according to the procedural letter of the law, that he was carrying a legally licensed firearm?

As they repeatedly sing the Star Spangled Banner at every sports event is the citizenry en masse tacitly deferring to President Trump's new Cold-War policies that will drastically change the U.S.-Cuba relationship and sweep away former President Obama's policy of cultural exchange that sought, through tourism and trade, to bring about a greater sharing of democratic ideals? Or are they signaling their collective duty to return to the retrograde, embargo-style policies of earlier decades; that also just happens at the same time to benefit and aid President Trump's own business interests in Cuba? Or, perhaps, they're also knowingly pledging themselves to President Trump's sprawling business empire whose brand name is becoming virtually fused within the day-to-day operation of every aspect of the American Government and essence of its way of life to the extent that it will make it all but impossible to ever distinguish again between the two?

The Star Spangled Banner's final stanza declares, "Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven-rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation" But where is the victory? Where is the peace that heaven has rescued for America's lands? What Power is to be praised?

The litany of inhumanity that has been waged over the past two and a half centuries under the banner of The Flag against: every Black Man & Woman, every Brown Man & Woman, every Yellow Man & Woman, Every Red Man & Woman, every White Man & Woman, not to mention what has been waged against the sacredness of the Earth & all its denizens, is far too long and vast to be repeated here.

Suffice it to say that the lights are everywhere on in America, but no one really knows if anyone is home because the masses of faces of all those seen in the stands as they sing the Star Spangled Banner somehow seem vacant or inscrutable!



Jerome Irwin is a freelance writer and author of "The Wild Gentle Ones; A Turtle Island Odyssey" ( www.turtle-island-odyssey.com ), a three volume account of his travels as a spiritual sojourner, during the 1960's, 70's & 80's, among Native Americans & First Nations in North America. It encompasses the Spiritual Renaissance & Liberation Movements among native peoples throughout North America during the civil rights era. More recently, Irwin authored a series of articles on the "NODAPL/KEYSTONE XL/CLIMATE CHANGE" protests against the United States Government. Irwin also is the publisher of The Wild Gentle Press.