The U.S. National Anthem

A few things first…

Here’s the Anthem’s lyrics.  Yeah, let me know if your eyes don’t roll back in your head and make the sockets bleed reading them.  Also note, the poem was written as “The Defense of Fort McHenry”…not exactly a big event by the time the anthem was adopted in 1931.

Wait–for the music, those aren’t the actual lyrics.  Those are here.  To create the Star Spangled Banner, they ripped off the song, To Anacreon in Heaven.  Basically, it’s an English society/beer-drinking song.  Yes, you read that right.  The U.S. National Anthem is a pub/drinking song from London.

So, we go back to 1931 and the decision to have an official anthem.  Nevermind that we have the Great Depression underway and a lot of serious issues to deal with, we have a debate on what should be the anthem and Congress INTENTIONALLY chose the worst option for a national anthem, a paean to war and the cheap symbolism of a flag…not to mention the U.S. getting it’s butt kicked throughout the War of 1812.   I assure you, there were much, much, much better choices available for a song toportray the US as what Reagan later called ‘The City Upon the Hill’ that were also much more sing-able.

#1: Also written originally as a poem called ‘Pike’s Peak’ by Katherine Bates, it was put to music in 1910 and given a new title, “America the Beautiful.”

One of the people most associated with the song for many, many years was blues artist Ray Charles:

Can you really dispute which is a more beautiful song?

#2:  I suppose you don’t need lyrics for an anthem (it has them, don’t worry…they are in the video about a minute in)–in which case you’ve got John Philip Souza’s 1896, “Stars and Stripes Forever”.  As of 1987, this is the national march, but does that mean anything to anyone?  Really?  That’s basically an admission of “Hey, this should be the anthem, but we don’t want to change the one now, so here, be the National March.”

#3: Written during a different war in 1918, Irving Berlin composed “God Bless America” to inspire patriotism as US soldiers fought in Europe.  The lyrics are here

The singer associated with the song for 50+ years was Kate Smith.  This is her singing it 1974 when she was in old age.  So why this video?  Because the Flyers didn’t play the anthem before games–they had Smith come out and sing “God Bless America” instead.  How many of you reading this can remember an American sporting contest where the anthem wasn’t turned into a big puffy show of faux-patriotism?  Exactly.  And you know what?  In 1974, *everyone* was totally fine with this.

#4: Another alternative available came from 1831, a century before the U.S. selected a national anthem.  Indeed, it served as an unofficial anthem at United States official ceremonies for a century.  The song is “My Country ’tis of Thee.”  There’s a small problem with the song though.  Just as the “Star Spangled Banner” ripped off music, so, too did this.  The tune for “My Country ’tis of Thee” happens to be the British anthem “God Save the Queen” (until QE2 dies in which case it’ll become ‘King’ instead)

All of these songs were available and yet we chose the Star Spangled Banner.  The lesson to take from this?   Congress and the government can screw up everything.


Okay, today was the start of silly-season for me as a coach.  That means the history-related stuff will slow down a bit.  I figure you’ll see something every couple of weeks.  If you like this stuff, spread the word, tell people, hit ‘Follow‘…or send me cash.  Cash is preferred, honestly, but I understand if you want to stick with spreading the word.





Dwight Eisenhower and the Declaration of Independence

 Interesting pairing, huh?

As the United States heads for what is considered its birthday, No.242, on July 4th–there’s some stuff to consider (not including the fact that the United States’ birth doesn’t arguably take place until September 1787 with the creation of the Constitution) that most people don’t really think about.

First, Eisenhower letter he distributed to American soldiers as they began the Overlord campaign in June, 1944–D-Day:

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

“But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

“I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

“Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

SIGNED: Dwight D. Eisenhower “

A classic letter, written simply and clearly.  Ike had faults as a commander, but an understanding of the psyche of the men under his command was certainly not one of them.  The thing is, when General Eisenhower wrote that letter, he wrote a second one, one that didn’t get published.  It’s significantly shorter:

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.    —–July 5.”  (It tells you the stress he was under that he whiffed on what month it was when he wrote the letter…not just the day, but the month.)

Anyways–with all that, what about the Declaration of Independence, Jim?   I’m glad you asked.  It’s a bit too long to put here in a blog, so here’s the link to the text.

Eisenhower wrote two notes–one explaining what we were doing, then a second in case of failure.  Read the Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress manage to do both in a single document.   Just as Ike’s plain message resonated with its target audience, so, too did Jefferson’s more elegant prose.

The DoI gives the reasons for breaking off from England’s control, but in doing so, it lays them out in great detail–enough that if the revolution fails, the rebels will still have history on their side to judge their causes (and never underestimate the long term power of history as judge).   It is a brilliant document, and reading it for what it is, it is one of the 3 or 4 greatest pieces of propaganda ever written.  It inspires you to take up arms against injustice, just as those soldiers on June 6, 1944, took to Normandy to help liberate nation from the Nazis. It inspires you just as the French peasant Army of the Rhein’s marching song, La Marseillais, makes you want to defend France from all comers, especially in a Casablanca bar.  

Take the time to read the Declaration.  Admire its brilliance in terms of rhetoric and writing.  Read the objections the Continental Congress had to Britain’s oppression–how many of those objections are afflicting the US today?  And think of this all with the understand that when it was written, Jefferson and those others expected to lose, to be hanged as traitors to the British Empire.

The United States has a responsibility to try living up to the ideals within the Declaration of Independence.  We can never achieve those goals–they are ideals, after all–but we owe it to the Founding Fathers and we owe it to our children and our children’s children to try.




When People Throw Terms Around Incorrectly…

It doesn’t really require me providing links to anything in the news in the past few days regarding immigration.  Ultimately, the attorney general has thrown around the term ‘nullification’ incorrectly, and a multiple of other problems (even worse, he’s been backed up by representatives and senators–one claimed nullification began back in 1836, when in the history of the Republic, it was first a strategy of Thomas Jefferson and it was even a tactic used/advocated by Patrick Henry and others as 1775-76 approached).

But ultimately, a couple of other things bothered me more:

  1. The assertion that the administration’s separation of children and parents has Christian (not just Biblical–because Sessions has cited the New Testament) justification…
  2. The administration is acting based on the traditional values of the Republican Party.

Bull crap.  Total bull.  Rather than give a detailed list of Bible verses that do things like say loving one another is the fundamental basis of law (that’s somewhere in Romans, I believe…same page as what Sessions took out of context) or discuss ‘traditional values’, I figured it’s a chance to talk about the actual values of the Republican Party.

Long ago, in 1850, the Republican Party was just becoming a national party.  It was founded in opposition to slavery and the evils of human bondage.  So strong were the feelings across the north against slavery (or resentment of southern power/obstinancy in Congress..any comparison to Southern control of the GOP/Congress post-1994 and paralysis in Washington…pure coincidence).

1850 was a miserable year for politics.  Hindsight is 20/20, but it is hard not to see the inevitability of a civil war between the North and South as shown in the debates over the Compromise of 1850.  Into this came a New Yorker sent to Washington as a senator for the first time.  That man was William Seward, eventually to serve as Lincoln’s Secretary of State and most often mentioned today for ‘Seward’s Folly‘.

Seward gave his first real speech during the Compromise debate–and that speech captures the proper Republican sentiment.  That speech is known as the “Higher Law” speech.  In it, Seward notes that, “the Constitution devotes the domain to union, to justice, to defence, to welfare, and to liberty.”

Alive today, he’d be despised by the post-94 GOP.

  • Justice…yet we have Guantanomo Bay, issues with racial profiling
  • Defense…Iraq remains a threat to US existence 15+ years on now.
  • Welfare…check out comments on everything from Obamacare to cuts in aid for children/schools
  • Liberty…wiretaps anyone?  Enjoy your trips through airports, street cameras?

So where in that sentence–when he talks of our values, of Republican values is there anything about detaining children or separating them from their parents?

Seward also notes: “[I]n my humble judgment, it is not the fierce conflict of parties that we are seeing and hearing; but, on the contrary, it is the agony of distracted parties–a convulsion resulting from the too narrow foundations of both the great parties…foundations laid in compromising natural justice and human liberty….”

(Okay, that’s not germane to the issue directly…but I mention it because it is prescient of the two main parties today anyways)

The most influential part of Seward’s speech though is that he says that though there may be a Constitution and government, that when the government permits immoral and unjust actions to take place, Americans have a responsibility to obey a ‘higher law’–that immoral action by the government or the states is inexcusable.

So where is the morality in current administration policies? (In terms of Guantanamo, it’s not like the Obama administration closed the prison, either…there is immoral or amoral behavior guiding actions of both parties)

The reality is that the current immigration policy, especially the willful separation of parents from children is wrong, immoral.  A true Republican would stand up to the administration,  remind his/her colleagues of the men like Seward…or later leaders ranging from Teddy R. to Eisenhower who, imperfect, tried to live up to the ideals of the Constitution.











Alternative Education (Long with a ton of stuff)

I get frustrated sometimes with teaching.  With history, I know a ton of professors who either want to discuss nothing but obscure details or bully their students (Ohio State, UIUC, I’m looking right at you).  I know others who are ‘teachers’ in name only–ultimately, they are in the job for one of a few reasons.

  • They had to do it in order to be the school basketball or football coach
  • At the college level, it’s 15hrs of work/week and no need to grade much (or have grad students do the work for you) and you can cancel class pretty regularly
  • Great pay at the college level

Anyways, that’s not the way to get through to students–whether adult or adolescent.  Students want teachers who care, teachers who put effort into things.  If they get that, they’re good with it being lecture-based, project-based, or whatever, and the more they see the teacher working on their behalf, the more effort they put in which (for me at least) makes me want to give more effort for them, a virtuous circle.

–For those who follow this because I coach, that’s important–put effort in and you’ll get it back in almost every instance!  Just as important…consider why you coaching.  Are you doing it for the right reasons?

In any event–there’s one thing everyone can agree on.  In some form or another, we like music.  I can’t stand country, but I know others who dislike rap or rock and others who think music died with Kurt Cobain’s suicide.  The thing is–everyone has something they like…which means that if we can put things into music, we have a better chance of getting through.  Maybe?

In any event, here’s a list of songs I could think of related to history in some fashion or another.  There’s a comment section for the blog–if there are others you know of, please add to this.  It’d be great to come up with a huge list that teachers could use/refer back to.



































75th anniversary of the Barnette Decision

The 14th of June is known as “Flag Day”, a holiday for government offices in honor of the American flag.  More people celebrate it because it is my birthday.  Yes, happy birthday to me.

But this year, it’s also the 75th anniversary of a US Supreme Court (abbreviated SCOTUS from here on out) decision, one that people should know about because it gives some insight into things like kneeling during an anthem–not from some blowhard with a blog or a guy waving a Confederate flag, but as a decision of the US Supreme Court, a bunch of guys (no women at the time) who knew their roles as arbiters of the law.

Also important–be aware that June 14, 1943, was in the middle of World War Two with millions of American men and women mobilized to fight worldwide, from Africa to Europe to Asia and all across the Pacific Ocean, fighting the Japanese who had launched a sneak attack on the US and against Nazi Germany (the Nazis come the closest of any group in history to meeting the criteria for a ‘just war‘ by the way).

Before it reached the SCOTUS, it was a case in West Virginia.  Actually, it all came about from another SCOTUS decision in 1940 saying it was okay to mandate saluting the flag as long as that was done through legislative action and such.  When war broke out, West Virginia passed a law mandating just that–of course, the salute of the flag looked an awful lot like the Nazi salute which WAS noticed by some groups like the Boy Scouts–whoda thunk it,  People in 1942 objecting to Americans using a Nazi salute?

The thing was–certain religious groups refuse to recognize flags or statues, etc, because those then are turned in to idols and the act of pledging allegiance takes away from their oath to God.  In this case, it was Jehovah’s Witnesses who were affected, specifically the Barnette family.  Mr. Barnette told his kids not to stand or salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance (which, by the way, didn’t have ‘under God’ in it–even as we were fighting Nazis…).   Because they didn’t stand, they were expelled.

Barnette sent the kids back so they could get an education day after day, and day after day, they were expelled/removed from school.  Obviously, this became a court fight.

The Court of Appeals sided with the Barnetts, noting the conflict between the previous SCOTUS decision (which didn’t reference religion at all) and the freedom of religion.  The school and state didn’t like the Court of Appeals’ decision and decided they wanted SCOTUS to look at it–did the previous SCOTUS decision (Gobitis, if you want to look it up) hold sway?

**Interruption: That SCOTUS decision saying it was wrong to not salute the flag, done in 1940, wound up leading to a lot of persecution of groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Some of it included physical violence and some of it was just verbal attacks and insinuations that they didn’t love their country, shouldn’t impose their beliefs on others, etc.  If you want to draw parallels between this and the NFL/kneeling, I won’t stop you.**

In the spring of 1943, the SCOTUS listened to arguments, read the briefs, and reached its decision in May, what wound up being a 6-3 decision–>that’s important because the more votes in favor of a decision, the less likely future sessions of SCOTUS are to rejecting or revising the decision…I’m not sure (and didn’t look) there’s even ever been a 9-0 decision reversed down the road.  

SCOTUS held onto the decision, releasing it intentionally on Flag Day, 1943, to underscore their decision.  They sided with the Jehovah’s Witnesses–that standing for a pledge or anthem could not be mandated.  And remember, not only did they choose to make the decision public/official on Flag Day, they rendered this decision in the middle of American involvement in World War Two, the point you would expect a court to rule in favor of things like patriotism, right?

OH, WAIT!!  Maybe the SCOTUS did rule in favor of patriotism.  Among the comments in the majority opinion:

  • flags are primitive means of communicating an idea
  • symbols only have the meaning an individual attaches to it–one man’s inspiration may cause another’s jest or scorn
  • coercive dismissal of dissent eventually, inevitably leads to the extermination of dissenters–as seen across the ocean in Nazi-occupied Europe (the italics are my emphasis)

The strongest part of the opinion is clear and concise, written by Robert Jackson (who is more famous for being the chief prosecutor of the Nuremburg War Trials than he is as a SCOTUS Justice):

“The case is made difficult not because the principles of its decision are obscure but because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great. But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”  (the italics and bold are mine)

So are the kneeling football players truly doing anything wrong?  Are they really being unpatriotic? –we’ll ignore the whole anthem=servicemen pap for what it is.

What you really have are other issues people are afraid to discuss and instead,  it all gets poured into “the anthem”.

  • Police-minority relations
  • Backlash against the ‘unpatriotic’ Obama administration or ‘treasonous’ Clinton
  • Fear of societal change
  • Anger that change isn’t overnight and naive shock that some people don’t want fast change to society
  • should sports be political
  • should athletes ‘be seen, not heard’ or are they role-models who should speak out

There are more–and the divides are complicated.  It isn’t black vs. white, poor vs. rich, urban vs. rural.  There are subtleties:

  • Football players MUST respect the anthem, but it’s ok to be doing concessions while it plays
  • Ever notice the improper display of the American flag at many sporting events–did you know it should never be displayed horizontally?  That no part of it should touch the ground?  
  • What about the cameramen?  Shouldn’t they be respecting the anthem?
  • What about the fans watching at home?–or does anthem = go get more chips?
  • Why isn’t this an issue with MLB or the NBA?

All good questions, all worth debate.

But what is not debatable:

In the middle of World War Two, as the US prepared to march across the Pacific, began the gear-up for 1944’s Overlord invasion, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was okay to not stand for a pledge or the anthem.  That remains the law of the land.