Thursday, August 26, 2004

Patriotism in Song

As I posted a few days ago, patriotism is defined as "love of country and willingness to sacrifice for it," according to I accept that definition as a starting point, but I want to take a harder look at patriotism. Why should an American, to be precise, love his or her country? And why and how might an American sacrifice for the sake of America?

The most familiar verses of America's popular anthems express love of country in a variety of ways. There's the hippy-dippy sentiment of "This Land Is Your Land":
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
Nothing there, unless you're a welfare-state liberal who likes scenery.

Let's try the first verse of "America the Beautiful":
O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties above thy fruited plain!
America, America, god shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea
It's "This Land Is Your Land" without the socialism.

"God Bless America" -- composed in the years before World War II -- begins to get it right:
While the storm clouds gather far across the
Sea, let us swear allegiance to a land that's free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, as we
Raise our voices in a solemn prayer.

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above.
From the mountains to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home sweet home.
Now we have "the land that's free" as well as beautiful.

The first verse of "America" gets to the heart of the matter by focusing on liberty and its deep roots in America:
My country ‘tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From ev’ry mountain side,
Let freedom ring.
And the "Star Spangled Banner" reminds us that war is sometimes the price of liberty:
Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
It's hard to sing, and it lacks the lyrical beauty of its competitors, but the "Star Spangled Banner" still says it best: America is the beacon of liberty, and Americans so cherish liberty that millions of them have been willing to go to war for its sake.

In my next post on this subject I'll look at sacrifice for liberty's sake. It won't be all about going to war.