By O’Caellaigh –
Colin Kaepernick chose not to stand for the National Anthem a couple of weeks ago and it caused an uproar throughout the world.
The way I read the First Amendment he has the God given right to exercise this choice. “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech….”
That seems simple enough.
Now, being an old softie when it comes to warm feelings about the flag, the national history and apple pie, I will have to say that I don’t agree with Kaepernick because I get a lump in my throat every time I hear the song properly sung. I recall arriving in New York Harbor on a troop ship after serving 2 years in Europe and catching my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. I and about two thousand other guys were almost brought to tears at the sight.
Now, I’m fortunate enough to not be encumbered with the malady of looking at the world with ethnic or shaded glasses. Nevertheless, it is of interest to me that intersecting the time frame of Kaepernick’s life episode there was a multiplicity of posts here and there on the social media providing critical analyses of the Star Spangled Banner, from a poem originally titled, “Defence of Fort M’Henry” by Francis Scott Key, a lawyer from Baltimore.
The poem depicts the battle between the fledgling America and the formidable England who “rule(d) the waves.” The Fort, manned by troops and housing families came under bombardment by the British war fleet on the night of September 14, 1814.
The battle lasted through the night and there are conflicting accounts of the number and severity of casualties. But, that’s a story for another day.
What has struck me with all these posts in recent days is that some have denigrated the song and the author as racist, based on the third verse of the poem which is not included in the Anthem. So, not being familiar with the much analyzed verse, I just had to look it up and read it.
“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ 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.”
With the context of the war and understanding that Britain had hired warriors and used slaves for “warriors” as well,(more than 3,000 of them) and we recognize that the Brits were not Francis Scott Key’s favorite people and this is reflected in the poem. Americans also allowed some enslaved and free Blacks to enlist in the military. Canada, too, had many Black enlistees during the period.See here. Britain sen 4,500 of their men to North Point where about 300 lost their lives.
The first two lines of the third verse refer to the “band” who swore that “we”, the Americans, would have a country no more! He then refers to their own blood as having washed out their “foul footsteps’ pollution.”
The next two lines,
“No refuge could save the hireling and slave, From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave…”
reveal the inability of the hired warriors and slave to find quarter or escape the terror or the gloom of the grave brought about by the American “Victory” on that fateful night.
Is there poetic license reflected here? Most assuredly! But when seen in this light it is the Brits that Key was denigrating not the hirelings or the slaves. If anything he was, in this case, defending the defenseless slaves and hirelings.
I believe many of the race baiters and, perhaps, Kaepernick (and other football heroes) could be well advised to recognize the patriotism – the love of country – revealed in the poem including, but not limited to the much-maligned third verse.
Happy Labor Day!