An Ode to “The Star Spangled Banner”

Although it has flaws, “The Star Spangled Banner” should be kept as the national anthem.

Canon Grant, Political Analyst

“The Star Spangled Banner” is synonymous with apple pie, fireworks, and Fourth of July barbeque. According to the History Channel, it was written by Francis Scott Key during the Battle of Baltimore to commemorate the victory of the American garrison at Fort McHenry. The poem was put to an English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” In 1916, Woodrow Wilson made the song the country’s anthem, and in 1931 it was made the official national anthem by Congress. This song is the quintessential piece that represents America to its core: it promotes resilience, freedom, and unity. However, in the modern day, the merit of the national anthem is being called into question. It has been called difficult to sing, to memorize, and to defend from allegations of racism. Despite all this, “The Star Spangled Banner” should continue to represent America at ballparks, celebrations, and the world stage as it clearly embodies the American spirit.

  When the poem was written, it was not made to make money or to garner fame—at least that’s what David Hildebrand wrote in The Guardian. It was created out of pure emotion and relief. When Key penned the words to the song in question, he wrote with passion about the joy he felt when he saw the American flag still waving and his love for his country. It is a song of perseverance and fight that captures the American spirit both during the War of 1812 and today. When the national anthem plays, it tells everyone that we can overcome any challenge, whether that be British injustice, the threat of fascism, or even the injustices committed in our own nation against historically oppressed groups. The national anthem is also a song of unity, applying no matter your gender, creed, or race. While Key and the United States may have had a dark past, the values of the United States and the anthem that it represents transcends the evils perpetrated in the past. When “The Star Spangled Banner” is sung, it is for all Americans.

An opinion piece for the Miami Herald put it best when it was written as far back as 2020, when Colin Kapernick along with several others kneeled during the national anthem. The national anthem isn’t just a song played before sporting events and other celebrations. It represents American culture, “an ideal we strive for.” “The Star Spangled Banner” is a cultural icon ingrained in America, just as baseball, the superbowl, and the Dodge Challenger are. And just as American culture varies, Jimi Hendricks played “The Star Spangled Banner” on his electric guitar and José Feliciano sang a folk version of the song at the 1968 World Series during the Vietnam War. “The Star Spangled Banner” is a testament to the beauty and diversity of American culture.

James Madison, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson were all Founding Fathers and all slave holders. In spite of their slaveholding, the work they did in creating America was substantial. The words “All men are created equal” eventually came to fruition after years of fighting, marching, and activism. America certainly has blood on its hands, from the slaughter of Wounded Knee to the dropping of the atomic bomb. But like those Founding Fathers, there is something that separates America from being the villain of history. The difference between good and evil is a simple one: evil chooses not to change. It says to itself that it is fine the way it is, that it is perfect. Good, however, is aware of its flaws and wishes to change. America is thus good in its progressive fight to right its wrongs. Francis Scott Key, like those Founding Fathers, was a slave holder. He sometimes even fought against the cause of abolition as a lawyer. That should not spoil the universal values espoused by the current national anthem.

The Intercept, a left-wing news source, wrote an article about the apparent racism in the third stanza of “The Star Spangled Banner”:

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.

However, the writer admits to the fact that “hireling and slave” was a term used to describe those who served the monarch. The history isn’t particularly questionable; this part seems unlikely to be a defense of slavery. And while “The Star Spangled Banner” is hard to sing, that should be no reason to replace it. What does that say about America if we replace our national anthem because it’s “too difficult”? If anything, the difficulty is a testament to American strength. If “The Star Spangled Banner” was replaced, what would take its place? “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is too militaristic and ecclesiastical for a secular nation that wishes to spread peace across the globe. “America the Beautiful” is too peaceful and solemn for a nation that wants to spread peace across the globe, and while these songs are great and amazing, they just don’t have what “The Star Spangled Banner” has. When the current anthem plays, it unites us, fills us with resolve, and imbues us with love for our country.

“The Star Spangled Banner,” despite its flaws, is the song that best represents America. It is the song of baseball and football, the song of a mother’s homemade apple pie, the song of the grand ol’ flag, and the song of unity, reliance, and patriotism. Replacing it now would be a mistake; it’s the best national anthem available.