Cockburn is going to get ahead of things and announce it right now: ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ is doomed. Accept it, and the pain will be lessened.
Over the weekend, conservatives were piqued (as they almost always are) when the track and field athlete Gwen Berry turned her back on the American flag as the national anthem played. How could she dare sully the integrity of the women’s hammer throw in this manner? Dan Crenshaw says Berry should be booted off the Tokyo Olympic team. Ted Cruz asked why the left ‘hates America’.
They should have just let it lie. Instead, the GOP has let Berry’s stunt become a multi-day controversy. And in doing so, they have sealed the anthem’s fate. Because now, Berry has made the content of Francis Scott Key’s old ditty into a new front of America’s ‘racial reckoning.’
‘If you know your history, you’d know the full song of the National Anthem,’ Berry said in an interview on the Black News Channel. ‘The third paragraph speaks to slaves in America, our blood being slain… It’s disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans. It’s obvious, there’s no question.’
The line Berry refers to in particular goes as follows:
‘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 wash’d out their foul footstep’s 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.’
Hmmm…sounds dicey. The Daily Wire, in a piece titled in part ‘Gwen Berry Makes False Claims About The National Anthem,’ responded thusly:
‘Regarding those four lines, Mark Clague — associate professor of musicology and American culture at the University of Michigan and a co-founder of the Star Spangled Music Foundation — told CNN:
“Hirelings were the professional British troops. Key’s mocking them for doing it for the money, along with their stealing and ransoming. They were like pirates. And I think ‘slaves’ is a reference to the Colonial Marines, who were slaves held captive by the Americans that escaped and were offered the opportunity to fight on the British side to earn freedom.”’
That’s the defense? The anthem isn’t disparaging slaves, it’s just disparaging the English for freeing them? In what universe will that make anybody who thinks the anthem is racist change their minds?
And the most galling thing is that it’s not even true. Key was just disparaging the English for fielding a professional army; mocking such soldiers as ‘hirelings’ and ‘slaves’ was completely routine at the time.
But that is to apply understanding or nuance in a field where none is allowed. Superficially, the writing is off-putting — and some people are already angry. The meme has been established. And so America’s national anthem will change, not now and perhaps not in five years, but inevitably, just as Confederate statues that survived in 2015 came tumbling down in 2020. Like rabies, the disease is fatal as soon as the first symptoms are seen. For now, the GOP will stand up for the anthem, but some day Kevin McCarthy will eagerly point out that Francis Scott Key was…a slave-owning Democrat!
This is the 1619-ification of the entire American pageant, where slavery becomes the cudgel used to obliterate every piece of American history, culture and law. Just like with poor Mr Key’s old poem, the factual reality will scarcely matter. What matters is not truth, but narrative, and the moral ferocity of the person advancing it.
Where did police come from? Slave patrols (ignore that the first modern police force was in London — and definitely ignore that police exist literally everywhere). The US Capitol? Built with slave labor. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Adams, Lincoln and so forth? All are slaveowners, or slavery enablers, or slavery tolerators, or insufficiently zealous abolitionists, and thus intolerable.
Cockburn can continue forever. Future Gwen Berrys will find America’s founding documents just as ripe for attack as its official song. Why do we have the Second Amendment? So the armed public could suppress slave revolts. Why do we have the First? So that people could say ‘slavery is awesome!’ The Fourth? To prevent government from seizing slaves. The Third? Um…so that the government couldn’t stick troops in your house and have them free your slaves while you were away!
America’s institutions survived a bloody civil war over slavery. But will they survive the memory of slavery existing?
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