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Friday, May 16, 2014

America the Beautiful

A key scene in Casablanca takes place in Rick's Café Américain. Patriot Victor Laszlo strides intentfully to the band and demands that they play La Marseillaise. It's a stirring moment. Unfortunately the lyrics of La Marseillaise conjure up a time that the modern world would not wish to celebrate:

Do you hear, in the countryside,
the roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms
to cut the throats of your sons and women!
To arms, citizens,
form your battalions!
Let's march, let's march!
Let an impure blood
water our furrows!

History explains these lyrics. Until 1939, France was often a belligerent nation -- and, in the process, helped the U.S. to win the Revolutionary War. Hitler and Ho Chi Minh put an end to France as a global military power, although the French continue to field nuclear weapons. Nevertheless there is controversy in France at present about La Marseillaise. I see why.

I'm reminded that in the days after September 11, 2001, America the Beautiful was often sung at civic and sporting events in addition to the Star-Spangled Banner. I am no fan of the SSB. The tune is excruciatingly difficult to sing on key, and like La Marseillaise the lyrics of the SSB are excessively militarist. In contrast the lyrics of AtB tell a far more comprehensive story about this nation, what it stands for, and how it should be true to itself.

Will AtB ever displace the SSB as the official national anthem? Sadly, I doubt it. Meanwhile we can admire our neighbors to the north. When Canadians came to Raleigh for the finals of the Stanley Cup in 2006, they were astonished to hear North Carolinians singing O Canada as loudly as the SSB. There were many reasons why that happened, but I attended every game and sang O Canada also. As a national anthem, O Canada is as good as it gets.