The Star-Spangled Banner: a question for our country

My View

Volume 117, No. 1January, 2017

Lindy Clarke

The national anthem that we all so proudly sing is the only national anthem in the world that begins and ends with a question mark. Not a period. Not an exclamation point.

Let’s think about those questions each time we hear or sing “The Star Spangled Banner.” If we consider our flag a symbol of our country’s ideals – freedom, equality, courage, brotherhood and sisterhood – then our national anthem poses two questions:

“O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed by the twilight’s last gleaming?”

Do we now still have sight of those ideals that we so proudly hailed in the past?

“O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Are we still “the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”

Shouldn’t we hear this anthem as a call to courage and scrupulous moral self-questioning during this time of fear and turmoil in our country and the world?

Do we, as a nation, still have sight of our aspirations: the generosity and courageously gallant spirit that made (and can make) this country great? Is our flag now flying over a brave, just, and free nation?

Who are we?

Are we as a nation living up to our ideals?

In our hearts, let’s change the anthem from a self-congratulatory battle cry into a song that asks questions, and demands that we – and the people we elect – fulfill the promise of our best selves, blessed with a beautiful land, (see: “America the Beautiful”), and a long history of welcome and liberty, for those fleeing persecution or seeking a better life. (See: “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and the Statue of Liberty).

I wish that every time “The Star Spangled Banner” were heard, sung or played at a ball game, school event, political rally, or gathering anywhere, we’d remember the questions it poses and renew our individual and national commitment to work for the ideals our flag represents – those expressed in the anthem itself! It’s a question, not a statement.

We must hold ourselves, and our leaders, accountable. Today’s answer is up to us.