Land of the free, home of the brave?

Our national song made news recently, thanks to the launching of the National Anthem Project.  Highlighting widespread ignorance of the Anthem's lyrics,

...the Project aims to 'get America singing 'The Star—Spangled Banner' while spotlighting the important role music education plays in giving Americans our patriotic voice. 

That public school music programs are ritardando e diminuendo al fine is indeed sad.  But review of the lyrics themselves raises the question whether, in our age of revisionist history, there are other reasons the Anthem's strains aren't gracing the halls of America's public schools. 

A Harris Interactive poll cited on the Project's web site found that 61% of Americans don't know all of the words to the first verse of 'The Star Spangled Banner.'  Even the well—versed 39% would likely find these last three stanzas unfamiliar:

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep.
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the Star—Spangled Banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Stanza Two, aside from being a lovely example of another dying art — rhymed, metered verse — promotes a disturbing 'us versus them' mentality by describing the opposition as 'the foe's haughty host.'  That this kind of hate speech would not be tolerated amid the inclusive, loving, pluralistic discourse of public school classrooms (except possibly in reference to the Bush cabinet — is it just me or have I seen that phrase in a Maureen Dowd column?) is beyond question.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the Star—Spangled Banner, in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

A modern—day parallel to the 'band who so vauntingly swore' would be Kerry's international chums, the anti—Bush, anti—America coalition.  Fancy accusing them of error, much less flaunting their error in their face, much much less commemorating their bloodshed.  Horrors.  The last thing we want to impress on the public school students of this country is an idea of U.S. hegemony.  (The only hopeful fragment of this stanza is the mention of 'pollution,' which could prompt fruitful classroom discussion on the Kyoto Ttreaty and general backwardness of U.S. environmental policy.)

O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heaven—rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must when our cause it is just
And this be our motto: 'In God is our Trust.'
And the Star—Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Stanza Three is beyond repair, and may well be unconstitutional.  We can all anticipate a stack of legal pleading from Newdow & Associates the minute this stanza weasels its way into an Elk Grove school district music curriculum (which thankfully won't be anytime soon).  About the only redeeming quality is the reference to 'freemen,' an obvious launching pad for discussion of the rampant racism and sexism of Francis Scott Key's day.  Never mind the free men (and women) even now standing between their loved homes and the type of desolation we all witnessed on 9/11.  The rest of the stanza offends not only Establishment Clause jurisprudence, but appears to endorse the warmongering of certain madmen who preach the political heresy that a just cause is a mandate to conquer.  Is it any wonder that public school students are being shielded from Mr. Key's religiously—tinged bellicose screed?

Though its song goes unsung, the banner still waves.  But, we should ask ourselves, waves over what?

Emily Younger is a 21—year—old attorney in Orange County, California.  She can be reached at