Oh, say can you see,
By the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed,
at the twilight’s last gleaming.
When the sun went down on the night of September 13, 1814, all of the Americans in and near Baltimore harbor knew they were in the fight of their lives. The British, who had already sacked the capital city and burned down the White House, had arrived in numbers to invade Baltimore with land troops and bombard the harbor night and day with heavy artillery. Many expected that by the morning, the British would overtake Fort McHenry and the city of Baltimore. The British certainly expected to replace the American flag that flew over the fort with the Union Jack that day. However, when the sun came up on the morning of September 14, the American flag still flew.
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched,
Were so gallantly streaming.
The Americans had prepared for this day. The military and the citizens of Baltimore banded together to make the fort ready for the British bombardment they knew was sure to come. They knew that the British bombs had a longer range than the cannons at the Fort. They were ready to hunker down and outlast the British, saving energy and resources for those rare times when the British did come within shooting range. The fort’s commander, Major George Armistead, also prepared a symbolic representation for the British. He had a seamstress make a giant American flag, and this is what he flew on the morning of September 14, after the British had spent the night trying to break the will of the Americans quartered there. Major George Armistead understood the flag as a symbol of hope and determination.
And the rockets’ red glare,
The bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night,
That our flag was still there.
When the sun came up and the Fort was not only still visible, but essentially whole, the British must have been stunned. They had just thrown the might of a great empire at a young and fledgling nation and been defeated by….perseverance, by…commitment, by… collaboration. The sight of the flag flying over Fort McHenry ended their hopes of winning the both the Battle and the War. They turned around and went home.
Oh, say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free,
And the home of the brave.
We sing the National Anthem at almost every event where people gather. Many times, we ask a popular artist to sing it. The artist performs this song with multiple licks, veering off the path of the main melody so that sometimes the National Anthem as we know it is unrecognizable. At times, a singer gets to a certain point, like “the land of the free-eeee,” and they sing the high-high note that brings dogs running. People cheer at certain points when the singer performs vocal acrobatics. There’s a production quality to the song; special lighting, pre-recorded orchestration, interpretive dancing, confetti cannons, and elaborate costuming.
If I had my way, we’d change the way we approach the National Anthem. The producers of the Super Bowl would go into the audience before the game starts and find a first grader who just cut his or her own bangs, an auto mechanic, a single mom who can barely pay the electric bill, a cancer patient, a great-grandfather. When it’s time for the song, these ordinary folks, who may or may not be able to sing a lick, would stand on the field with nothing to prop them up but Old Glory. They would sing our National Anthem and every person in the audience would sing along with them.
Because this is a song about how a group of people got together and won a war by the sheer power of their will not to lose. These people were ordinary, and they were responsible for keeping the country we now live in intact. Let’s give this song back to the same kind of every man who makes the wheels of this country turn. Let’s give this song to members of our military who have been our country’s skeletal system, preserving the same rights that the defenders of Baltimore risked their lives to maintain. Don’t turn it into a circus. Don’t lick it to death and fill it with runs, just sing it, so that everyone can sing it with you.