Like many Americans, I find our National Anthem a powerful and moving song, even if it’s lyrics are often a stumbling block to the singer. Most of all, I am captivated by the last two lines of the first stanza:
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
When Francis Scott Key penned those lines he was looking at Fort McHenry, which had been pounded by British ship-borne artillery the previous evening. Upon seeing the flag, the star-spangled banner, still waving over the fort symbolizing the victory and the spirit of America, he was moved to write the song we now sing. After watching the bombardment from a ship several miles away, Mr. Key was understandably wondering if that mighty banner still waved over this great land of free and brave souls. While these words ask if the banner still waves, I look at this country today and ask the same: Does that banner still wave over the land of the free and home of the brave?
Land of the free
Compared to most of the world, this is a land of unimaginable freedom. Maybe that is why so many from around the world wish to come here and enjoy what they had previously only dreamed about. But while those abroad wish for the freedoms we take for granted, it appears we Americans are willing to give up those freedoms more and more each day. Our freedom of speech is curtailed because someone may be offended. We have speech codes in public universities limiting free expression to small areas at limited times. Rather than prohibiting the free exercise of religion, the legislatures and courts of federal and state governments are determining what is an allowable expression of religion in public, be it prayer in school, nativity scenes in public places, or zoning ordinances that control where people can worship.
More and more we seem happy to relinquish our freedoms for some vague promises of safety or security. Do we hold our liberties in such low regard, as to sell them, like Esau, for a bowl of stew? Well, maybe not for stew, but we seem more than willing to sell it for the promise that the government will take care of us. Is that really a better deal? I think not!
“Those who will sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”
Attributed to Benjamin Franklin
Home of the brave
As in any land, there are many brave men and women who live here. People in the military take up arms to protect the freedoms we so willingly turn over to others. Some sacrifice time and security to be in the National Guard, knowing that it may mean being shipped off to battle. And others, like policemen, firemen, and medical technicians rush into dangerous places when everyone else is rushing out. Overseas this bravery is epitomized by our young men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with those stationed in a dangerous place like Korea. At home this bravery is memorialized by those who ran into the World Trade Center while thousands ran out, and who paid for that bravery with their lives.
As a country though, I believe we’ve lost much of our bravery. We sit, and cower, and wring our hands about what will happen, rather than dealing with the tough questions of our day. We sit and and complain about the state of Social Security, Medicare, and the national debt, but are afraid to make the tough decisions necessary to deal with the problem. Instead, we find a short-term fix so that we get ours now, and let someone down the road deal with the much bigger problem later. When seeing an opportunity, do we take the risk to create a solution, invent the coming thing, or start a business that nobody thinks will work, but we’re sure will? No, more often we wait for someone else to come up with an answer. When we see a problem, like a neighbor in need, we don’t help or search for a solution, but demand the government do something about it. We don’t even look into our future, making plans for our retirement and medical needs, but wait until we are in need and demand that others pay for it. We look at those who have made something of themselves and demand that they turn large chunks of it over to us as “our fair share”. And when things go wrong, we don’t learn from our mistakes and like the phoenix rise from the ashes. Again, we look for someone to bail us out of the mess we created, just as long as it doesn’t cost us too much personally.
We have lost that spark of adventure, the drive to find answers, and the will–no, the need–to provide for ourselves. Are there still people who live bravely? Risking everything, and willing to accept the consequences whether good or bad? Yes, actually there are, and whenever possible we punish them for their successby taking the fruits of their labor by taxes, fees, and regulations. Are there still people willing to look into the teeth of our national problems and propose grand solutions, with ideas that will require bravery but regain our lost freedoms? Yes, and they are mocked, ridiculed, and vilified in public. Are they mocked because their ideas have no facts behind them? Are they ridiculed because there is no history or precedent for what they are proposing? Are they vilified because their ideas are unconstitutional? Nope, they are derided because their plans would require bravery to live in liberty, and as a nation we’re just unwilling to endure any suffering, no matter how noble the cause.
Yes, we are blessed with many freedoms and many brave individuals. However, I think we are not nearly as free nor as brave as when Francis Scott Key penned that immortal question. Which leads me to ask:
O say does that star-spangled banner still wave
O’er a land that is free and a home for the brave?