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.
The Star Spangled Banne, however, should. It’s a lousy song with a racist message. We need a new anthem — or to acknowledge many anthems.
Likewise, we can do better than that dotard illegitimately occupying the White House.
So let’s combine the campaigns.
The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, a slaveowner. His song commemorates 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 the U.S. military burning their Canadian headquarters at York, now today’s 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; those lyrics were then set to a drinking tune, To Anacreon in Heaven.
The Navy adopted the song in 1889, followed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916. Wilson was stirring up fervor for U.S. entry into World War I, which the majority of Americans strongly opposed. He used the 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 Great Depression.
Then the iconic version came from Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock in 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.” But unlike most of them, Hendrix had actually served in the military.
Now his version is played at Fourth of July 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 many 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
Someone also could write a new anthem.
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.
The 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, financially, ecologically, spiritually.
His despotic 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.
The killing in war is glorified in The Star Spangled Banner.
[B]lood has wash’d out the[ British] foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave …
Those racist lyrics are rooted in contempt for social justice, an inability to handle human diversity, an embrace of for-profit militarism.
Our national anthem 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.