This Is What Freedom Looks Like

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American History, Civil Rights

Goshen College in Indiana has banned playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at sports events, including as a purely instrumental piece, because they think it is too violent. And naturally, rightie bloggers are righteously indignant about it. In a blog post filed under “liberals,” Robert Stacy McCain writes,

If Goshen College wishes to be even less significant than they already are, they’ve chosen a perfect path to obscurity. . . . It is pathetic that brave men died so that twerps like Goshen College’s president could have the freedom to repudiate their courageous sacrifice.

You see, in RightieWorld, the individual freedoms that brave men died for are just abstractions. You’re not supposed to exercise those rights if a majority of Americans do not approve. We are all supposed to think only conservatively correct thoughts and hold conservatively correct opinions, or else we are enemies of freedom.

For the record, I happen to love the “SSB.” Like “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” the SSB is an anthem that grew organically out of U.S. history — a poem written by an eyewitness to a historical event sung to the tune of a popular drinking song. I can imagine what Francis Scott Key must have felt when he saw the flag flying over Fort McHenry in the dawn’s early light. If you can imagine being in Key’s place that day, the words “our flag was still there” ought to give you chills.

And it’s a plus for me that the whole thing is easily within my vocal range, including the high Gs at “glare” and “free” (when singing in C major; in the more common A flat major it’s only an F flat). I own that high G. At public events I sing the SSB very loudly and pity the poor mortals who have to switch to a lower octave.

Anyway, the catch to this story is that Goshen is a Mennonite college. I don’t think you can rightfully categorize the Mennonites as “liberals,” their commitment to nonviolence notwithstanding. My impression is they are pretty durn conservative about most things.

But it does show how warped our political definitions have become, that pacifism is supposed to be a litmus test for liberalism. Historically, American liberals have been no more likely to be pacifists than anyone else. Theodore Roosevelt was, IMO, one of the patriarchs of modern American liberalism, and he was no pacifist. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were all presidents who were identified as, or called themselves, “liberals,” and none of them was a pacifist.

Even at the height of opposition to the Vietnam War, I doubt the majority of protesters were pacifists. It was that war we objected to, not war in general.

NBC:

Art professor John Blosser told The Goshen News that there is much national pride at the school, but that most people aren’t going to blindly accept what the country does.

That is genuine patriotism. Knee-jerk “my country right or wrong” sentiment is not patriotism but jingoism.

NBC Sports’ Rick Chandler weighed in, saying: “I suppose we could have followed the example of the Mennonites and simply fled, giving the nation back to the British. But then we’d all be playing cricket.”

I realize it is paradoxical to say that brave men died so that Mennonites have the freedom to oppose brave men dying, but that is in fact what they did. To try to ridicule or bully the Mennonites into compliance with social norms on the grounds of “patriotism” — or even more Orwellian, “liberty” — is a betrayal of the sacrifice so many brave men made.

The Mennonites can refuse to conduct ritual playings of a song about a war if they want to, just as Jehovah’s Witnesses (and me) can refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance out loud, and not be punished for it. This is what political liberty is.

It would be a disaster for me if the national anthem were switched from the SSB to (as many propose) “America the Beautiful,” and not just because the melody is less interesting and it’s hardly ever sung in a key that lets me show off. “God shed his grace on thee” doesn’t work for me, and I suspect the nation’s atheists have similar opinions.

Give me “o’er the land of the FREEEEEEE [trumpet flourish] and the home of the brave!” any day.

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25 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Lynne  •  Aug 27, 2011 @9:56 am

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, Barbara.

  2. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:07 am

    Maybe that’s my problem!
    I always tried to sing it in the key of I-sharp, so I always had trouble hitting that U-flat.

    How about this for the National Anthem?
    “THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND”
    Words and music by Woody Guthrie.

    Chorus:
    This land is your land, this land is my land
    From California, to the New York Island
    From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
    This land was made for you and me

    As I was walking a ribbon of highway
    I saw above me an endless skyway
    I saw below me a golden valley
    This land was made for you and me

    Chorus

    I’ve roamed and rambled and I’ve followed my footsteps
    To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
    And all around me a voice was sounding
    This land was made for you and me

    Chorus

    The sun comes shining as I was strolling
    The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
    The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
    This land was made for you and me

    Chorus

    As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
    And that sign said – no tress passin’
    But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
    Now that side was made for you and me!

    Chorus

    In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
    Near the relief office – I see my people
    And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
    If this land’s still made for you and me.

    Chorus (2x)

    Ok, ok, righties will HATE the last three stanza’s.
    And there’s NO God mentioned.

    Oh, wtf was I thinking?
    They’ll NEVER accept this song.
    Maybe if Woody had written from their perspective: “This Land Is MY Land – Now Get The F*ck Off Of It!” , and it ended with the immortal words, ‘Or Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?’

  3. khughes1963  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:24 am

    This silly set-to underscores the extent to which Christian rightist nationalism (dominionism) has warped both patriotism and religion. There is a dominionist group in the military that conflates the United States with a particular brand of evangelical belief, and uses the command structure to proselytize.

    Gulag, I am inclined to agree with you about making “This Land Is Your Land” the national anthem. I don’t have a problem singing the Star Spangled Banner, but it is not an easy song to sing.

  4. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:28 am

    khughes,
    I have trouble singing my “Do-re-mi’s.”
    My mother sang solo in Carnegie Hall twice in the early-mid 70′s.
    Did I inherit HER voice?
    No!
    Instead, I got my father’s. And he can’t even get to “Do!” :-)

  5. Mark  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:40 am

    A drinking song? I did not know this. You wouldn’t happen to know the name?

  6. maha  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:48 am

    Mark — “To Anacreon in Heaven.” Original words:

    To Anacreon in heaven where he sat in full glee,
    A few sons of harmony sent a petition,
    That he their inspirer and patron would be,
    When this answer arrived from the jolly old Grecian:
    Voice, fiddle and flute, no longer be mute,
    I’ll lend you my name and inspire you to boot!
    And besides I’ll instruct you like me to entwine
    The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’s vine.

    The news through Olympus immediately flew,
    When old Thunder pretended to give himself airs,
    If these mortals are suffered their scheme to pursue,
    The devil a goddess will stay above stairs,
    Hark! already they cry, in transports of joy,
    A fig for Parnassus, to Rowley’s we’ll fly,
    And there my good fellows, we’ll learn to entwine
    The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’s vine.

    The yellow-haired god, and his nine fusty maids,
    To the hill of old Lud will incontinent flee,
    Idalia will boast but of tenantless shades,
    And the biforked hill a mere desert will be,
    My thunder, no fear on’t, will soon do its errand,
    And, damn me I’ll swinge the ringleaders, I warrant
    I’ll trim the young dogs, for thus daring to twine
    The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine.

    Apollo rose up and said, “Prythee ne’er quarrel,
    Good king of the gods, with my votaries below
    Your thunder is useless – then showing his laurel,
    Cried, Sic evitabile fulmen, you know!
    Then over each head my laurels I’ll spread,
    So my sons from your crackers no mischief shall dread
    Whilst snug in their club-room, they jovially twine
    The myrtle of Venus and Bacchus’s vine.

  7. biggerbox  •  Aug 27, 2011 @10:54 am

    The tune is from the song “To Anacreon in Heaven”.

    I’ve actually heard it sung with the original lyrics, that being the sort of thing that entertains nerdy folk-dancers of the sort that spend time doing old English dances and hanging around in pubs after. I must say I prefer Francis Scott Key’s words, both for their poetry and their historical connotations.

    The idea that people are getting upset about the Goshen College decision is yet another example of the right-wing getting the symbols of our democracy confused with the essential principles of our democracy. It’s about the freedom, people, not the anthem. It’s about the love of country, not the flag pin. It’s about the one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, not the flag itself.

    They often have problems thinking about abstract concepts.

  8. Chief  •  Aug 27, 2011 @11:12 am

    I’ve always thought that the national anthem of Canada, “O Canada” was fitting anthem.

  9. Lynne  •  Aug 27, 2011 @11:22 am

    Chief – We’d have to call it something else, tho! :)

  10. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 27, 2011 @11:29 am

    Lynne – Instead of “Oh Canada,” maybe “You Canada – We U.S.”?

  11. maha  •  Aug 27, 2011 @12:01 pm

    We can leave the title “Oh, Canada” and just change the words.

    O Canada! The home of Canucks true!
    Oh Canada! We so wish we were you!
    In spite of snow and polar bear
    At least you can afford health care!
    Your murder rate is half of ours, a fact that we bemoan.
    A few miles south of Winnipeg, you’re in the Twilight Zone.
    Here in the states, we’re in the Twilight Zone.
    Here in the states, we’re in the Twilight Zone.

    Just a suggestion.

  12. Swami  •  Aug 27, 2011 @12:17 pm

    I’m just tired of the patriotism bullshit.. It’s the ultimate manipulation! It’s more insidious than Jesus……And Stacey McCain can kiss my ass…I’ve got no respect for a clown who tries to enslave people by diminishing their freedom under the guise of patriotism.

  13. James F. Epperson  •  Aug 27, 2011 @12:49 pm

    Robert Stacy McCain has no business objecting. If he had his way, his national anthem would be “Dixie”—he is a neo-Confederate of extreme sort.

  14. moonbat  •  Aug 27, 2011 @1:28 pm

    Righties are terrified of real freedom, as you wrote, and don’t have a clue as to what it really means. People like RSM should be laughed at for the weenies that they are.

    I never cared for the SSB, and so I applaud the Goshen College decision. I don’t know all the words, but musically “O Canada” moves me in a way that the SSB never could.

  15. buckyblue  •  Aug 27, 2011 @2:49 pm

    The United States of America, sweet land of liberty and conformity.

  16. Lynne  •  Aug 27, 2011 @4:24 pm

    I read some of the comments on the highlighted articles above, and now I’m mad! When will I learn?

  17. Kyle  •  Aug 27, 2011 @4:59 pm

    Righties embrace authoritarianism and conformity, which is why you never have real ‘liberty’ when they are in charge.

  18. Ken_L  •  Aug 27, 2011 @6:02 pm

    Why do so many people (like McCain) think that an ideology somehow becomes more worthy of respect simply because people were prepared to die for it? And if they are going to argue such an absurd position, can’t they at least be consistent and acknowledge the respect due to Islam?

    Oh wait, people who die for Islam are not humans but ignorant brainwashed savages so different rules apply. My mistake.

  19. Tom b  •  Aug 27, 2011 @6:41 pm

    Next thing you know, those Mennonites will be wearing head scarves, like Muslims.

  20. joanr16  •  Aug 27, 2011 @8:02 pm

    Yes, yes, Stacy, my dad typed his fingers to the bone in Italy during Dubya Dubya Too so that Americans could mumble their way through the SSB, and Roseanne could grab her crotch. Because these things are important.

  21. Porlock Junior  •  Aug 28, 2011 @3:47 am

    Mennonites! Gotta love ‘em. People have been beating up on them for 500 years, so why should they give a fig (I don’t think they give Damns) about this dust-up?

    It’s a very conservative bunch, but not anything like the familiar political Conservatives. Actually, there are two subgroups, one of which largely isolates itself from the world, rather like the Amish, and tends to be narrow minded by common standards. But the other ones are involved in the world and run businesses, which they regard as a ministry, and send people to poor countries via the Mennonite Economic Development Association, where they help people get small businesses running so that they can become self-sufficient.

    “Ministry” sounds ominous, like the Witnessing that Evangelicals are supposed to do: you know, Christian activities like praying loudly in public. But that’s not at all what they’re interesting in or what they talk about when talking to each other, as in the newsletter of MEDA. Rather, it’s about doing business with integrity, treating the workers fairly and generously, and that kind of thing. Actually they can sound a lot like crazy Liberals, especially when the pithy quotes they use as fillers are taken from people who would cause the Moral Majority to run screaming from the room.

    Sorry to run on so long, but I like paradoxical people like this. BTW their precursors, the Hussites, got their fill of war defending themselves a hundred years before Luther. They were quite good at it, being plainly smarter than their enemies.

  22. Porlock Junior  •  Aug 28, 2011 @3:56 am

    And it’s just like this blog to see such erudition about the Star-Spangle Banner, and the support of Woody Guthrie, and favorable judgments of the SSB, which are really unfashionable in many circles.

    There are flaws in the song writing; for instance, putting “Whose broad stripes” to three short notes is pretty bad, an error of which no Roman could be guilty, because they knew a long syllable when they heard it. But on the bright side, see how it treats the climactic high note. In “To Anacreon in Heaven” you have

    The myrtle of VE-
    nus and Bacchus’s vine.

    In SSB,

    The land of the FREE
    and the home of the brave.

    Which of these is trivial, and which is a dramatic use of a dramatic note?

  23. Theo  •  Aug 28, 2011 @7:03 am

    Maybe if Woody had written from their perspective: “This Land Is MY Land – Now Get The F*ck Off Of It!” , and it ended with the immortal words, ‘Or Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?’

    C U N D, Garrison Keillor did such a version on Prairie Home Companion. I wasn’t a regular listener but I happened to catch it on the radio on the way to the grocery store one night. The lyrics as I remember them (mixed up in my memories – the actual song was in line with Guthrie’s):

    This land is my land
    It is not your land
    I’ve got a shotgun
    And you ain’t got one
    This land was made just for me.

    (The preview shows a blank line before the last lyric line; can’t figure that out – it’s not the way I typed it.)

  24. maha  •  Aug 28, 2011 @7:48 am

    Porlock — From the perspective of a singer, it’s not good at all to stick an EEE vowel to a high note, because the way we normally pronounce EEE is incompatible with singing the note. The trick is to open the mouth and throat as if you are singing Aaaahhhh while kind of making an EEE with your lips. So you’re really singing “land of the frah,” but it sounds close enough to an EEE that nobody notices.

    And hey, maybe this is the land of the frah. It’s something to think about.

    But, you’re right, VE-nus is even worse than FREE. But I can’t imagine a pack drunken pub-crawling singers getting through those words at all. They were made of stouter stuff in those days.

    I had never thought about “whose broad stripes,” but I see your point.

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