Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— If Madison Avenue advertising executives were to pick a song that would best represent America, the last one they would choose is “The Star Spangled Banner.”
The song is set in the War of 1812, an obscure conflict in American history. The muddled causes included resentment of Britain’s interference with American international trade and impressment of American sailors combined with America’s desire to expand into Canada, leading Congress to declare war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.
On August 24, at Bladensburg, Md., 5,000 British troops defeated an American army twice its size. That night, British troops entered Washington. They set fire to the Capitol, the White House, and other public buildings.
When the British Navy attacked Fort McHenry at Baltimore, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old lawyer and amateur poet, saw “by the dawn’s early light” of September 14, 1814, that the American flag soared above the fort. Knowing then that Fort McHenry had not surrendered, Key was moved to compose a poem on the back of a letter he was carrying.
With no clear-cut victor, the war ended with the U.S. gaining some fishing rights in eastern Canadian waters and both sides returning occupied U.S. and Canadian land. That is the sorry origin of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which became the national anthem by President Woodrow Wilson’s executive order in 1916. In 1931, Congress passed a law affirming the song’s status as the national anthem.
My mother, Minuetta Kessler, was a concert pianist and composer who performed at Carnegie Hall and Town Hall. She always questioned why the country would adopt “The Star Spangled Banner” as its national anthem. She pointed out that the song’s range of one and a half octaves makes it difficult for even trained professionals to sing. As a result, the song often sounds like screeching.
|Mitt Romney sings "America the Beautiful" at a campaign rally.
More important, celebrating an obscure war does nothing to represent what the U.S. is all about.
I recently attended the funeral of Virginia Whitehead, a 95-year-old family friend who had been a secretary in the White House under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Patriot that she was, she incorporated “America the Beautiful” into the funeral service she designed for herself.
Sung by the choir and congregation at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Damascus, Md., the song reminded me of everything that makes us proud to be Americans. Instead of “rockets’ red glare” and “bombs bursting in air,” “America the Beautiful” is an uplifting song that reminds us of this country’s “spacious skies,” “amber waves of grain,” “alabaster cities,” and “purple mountain majesties.”
The song pays homage to the pilgrims who gave us freedom, “liberty in law,” “brotherhood,” and “the heroes” who “proved in liberating strife.” Thus it recognizes not only our military but our other heroes such as FBI agents and CIA officers who keep us safe. Beyond being a stirring tribute to this country, the song is beautiful and easy to sing.
Given that the current occupant of the White House has a dark view of America, one of the first things his successor should do is urge Congress to make “America the Beautiful” the national anthem. Our country deserves an optimistic anthem that makes us swell with pride and gratitude when we hear these lyrics:
"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!"
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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