Most of what we cover here at Controversial Times is gut-punch news. I’m about to break with that tradition for a moment and dive head-long into the controversy surrounding the National Anthem, which was written on this day in 1814, as dawn broke over a besieged fort on the Baltimore coast that stood alone against the onslaught of British bombardment.

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So why is The Star Spangled Banner under attack today? 200 years ago, America was fragile and young, and the British Empire really wanted to keep this jewel in its crown. When the Americans survived the night in Fort McHenry, Francis Scott Key penned this poem–which he called The Defiance of Fort M’Henry.

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The first verse is familiar enough. This is the one the jackasses are sitting through when they’re not cashing million dollar endorsement checks.

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O! 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 through 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 through 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?

I’ll spell it out for those of you who had trouble with poetry: The sun comes up, and the speaker of the poem is desperate to know if the American flag still flies above the fort. If it does, it means they’re still in the fight for freedom. And so he’s asking…

Living Flag 09-09-2014

Living Flag 09-09-2014

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream —
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

And then he sees it. The sun’s rays catch the flag flapping in the breeze. His question is answered. Odd that we rarely ever sing this verse of the song.

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And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havock 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 foot-steps’ 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.

Now the poem’s speaker want to thumb his nose at the trash talkers. Where, he asks, is the enemy?

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This third verse is the one that has gotten so much attention of late. There’s a phrase tucked in here–hireling and slave–that has lit up some of those who feel the anthem is inherently racist. The hirelings are mercenaries. The Brits didn’t have a population large enough to fight their own fights, as they were spread thin across the planet, so they paid others to come fight for them. Those hirelings were joined by slaves who had fled the captivity of slavery to fight against the country that enslaved them.

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There’s no denying that this is here in the text, or that it is part of our country’s past. The last verse, though–why don’t we ever sing this one?

O! thus be it ever when freemen shall stand
Between their lov’d home, and the war’s desolation,
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the power that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto — “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave.

“…when freemen shall stand/ between their lov’d home and war’s desolation….” There it is. That’s what this song is about.

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“Then conquer we must, when our cause is just….” It seems like this is the real message here. The slaves who rose up against the evils that were inexplicably part of American identity played a crucial part in bringing about the insurrection that would rock the country during the Civil War.

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The fight for freedom and equality continues. Yet I won’t sit when this song plays. My hand will be on my heart when I pledge allegiance to the flag. And I’ll continue to fight for change, becasue America is one incredible experiment. America is an experiment worth fighting for. Conquer we must. And we can change, together.

Listen to this–it is the fourth verse of the poem above, sung by someone who understands what it means.

For those of you who have the time to spare, listen to this narration of the actual battle. It is a compelling story.

About Jackson Ford

Jackson Ford is not a car dealership in Mississippi. Actually it is a car dealership in Mississippi, but this isn't that Jackson Ford. This JF is a proud American, and he drives a Chevy.