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I guess most Americans know the story.  How Maryland native, Georgetown DC lawyer Francis Scott Key, approached the British to negotiate the release of his friend, Dr. William Beanes, whom the British had arrested.  The British agreed to release Beanes, but required the two Americans to remain aboard a British warship until after the British had captured Baltimore. From the deck of the warship, Key watched the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which guarded the entrance to Baltimore harbor.  All through the night he wondered if "our flag was still there", but consoled himself that the continued British bombardment of the fort meant that the fort had not surrendered.  At "dawn's early light" he saw our flag still flying, and was motivated to write the poem, on the back of an envelope, that 117 years later became our national anthem.

That's right.  The Star Spangled Banner did not become our national anthem until 1931, when an Act of Congress, signed into law by President Herbert Hoover, declared it such.  Until 1931, our country somehow survived without a national anthem.

This Act of Congress came just a few years after 1925, when Fort McHenry was declared a national park.  Until then, it had been an active military installation.  The fort served during the Civil War as a military prison for pro-Confederate Marylanders.  During the Civil War and through the remainder of the 19th Century, massive guns were installed that would have destroyed any hostile Navy trying to sail into Baltimore harbor - these giant artillery pieces remain on display today.  During World War I, massive construction transformed the land around the old fort into a major army base, including a large hospital.  Six years after construction, these buildings would be demolished and the area transformed into an urban park - just in time to become the mecca for tourists seeking the birthplace of our brand new national anthem.  Indeed, the legislation making the Star Spangled Banner our national anthem was pushed by Maryland Governor Albert Ritchie, who in 1930-31 was considered a front runner for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 1932.  Ritchie's cause was taken up by Maryland's congressional delegation, and their success helped to bring tourist dollars to Baltimore - tourist dollars that would become critical a half century later when Baltimore ceased to be an industrial city.

What follows below the flip is this Baltimorean's Act of Treason against his home city.  Join me below in this act of treachery.

How many of you know that there are four stanzas to the National Anthem?  And if you do, how many of you know the words to stanzas two, three and four?  

Not too many Americans know the full National Anthem.  During the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, Germans in the SS who spoke fluent Americanized English dressed in American uniforms with MP armbands, and, acting as traffic police, directed real American soldiers into ambush and capture.  The Nazis would mercilessly slaughter many of the captured Americans in the Malmedy massacre.  The fact that there were Nazis posing as Americans caused terror among the Americans.  But the Nazis had made a mistake.  In their naivety, the Nazis posing as Americans had memorized all four stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner.  American GI's who suspected a soldier in an American uniform of being a Nazi ordered the suspect to sign the full National Anthem, and if he knew stanzas two, three and four, that was proof the guy was a Nazi.  It scares me to think that this Jewish boy from Baltimore would have been shot as a Nazi spy!

So, with that overly long introduction, lets examine our National Anthem, all four stanzas, including the horrible stanza 3 which should have disqualified this poem from such an honor.

Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
When you examine these lyrics, you can understand that the entire first stanza is merely a question, summarized in the penultimate line:  "Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?"  We finish singing, some of us shout "Play Ball"!, and resume our seats, with the question unanswered.  What kind of national anthem is this, that asks a question and doesn't answer it? The answer comes in the second stanza.
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 in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
So the answer is, with "the gleam of the morning's first beam" - yes, the "the star-spangled banner yet wave[s]."  IMO, if the Star Spangled Banner is going to remain our national anthem (and this diary will do nothing to change that), then we should be singing the second stanza, and not the first.  But then comes that dreadful third stanza:  
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!
What the hell is this all about?  Just who was this "band" that Francis Scott Key cursed that their "foul footsteps" should be "pollution?"

From March of 1813 until after the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814, the British Navy had transformed the Chesapeake Bay into a British lake, with British warships occupying the entire bay from Norfolk at its mouth to Havre de Grace at its northern end, with various islands, including Tangier Island, Poole's Island, Kent Island, and Tilghman Island, serving as land bases and supply depots.  During this period, thousands of Maryland slaves risked capture and brutal punishment to flee to the British vessels and the British troops ashore.  The British protected the slaves and refused to return them to their masters, and promised freedom to every slave reaching their lines or vessels.  On April 2, 1814, British Admiral Alexander Cochrane issued a proclamation offering emancipation to Maryland slaves willing to enlist with British forces. Between April 2, 1814, and the end of the war, more than 700 Maryland slaves enlisted in the British Royal Marines, forming part of the 3rd Battalion of British Royal and Colonial Marines. They trained on Tangier Island, and served with bravery and distinction at the Battles of Bladensburg and North Point.

That night, as Francis Scott Key stood on the deck of the British warship watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, he heard reports of the Battle of North Point, fought that afternoon on the peninsula forming the north shore of the entrance to Baltimore harbor.  The British officers told him their dead and wounded included black marines, newly freed slaves, from the 3rd Battalion of the British Royal and Colonial Marines.  Key, a slave owner himself, was overjoyed.  Serves those ungrateful slaves right.  Perhaps this slave owner even added the N word.  These 700 British Marines who took advantage of "the havoc of war and the battle's confusion" first to escape to freedom and then to fight for freedom, were the "band" whose "foul footsteps" Key cursed into "pollution."  

So, when we sing that first verse of the Star Spangled Banner, repeating Key's question which he never answers until the unsung second stanza, remember that third unsung stanza, gloating over the death of those slaves who had the temerity to fight for their freedom.  And we should ask ourselves.  Is this the philosophy we should be celebrating in our National Anthem?

I'm tempted to end here, but I think I must actually end with the final stanza:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved 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!
During my childhood in the 1950's, I often heard this fourth stanza sung after the first, but I haven't heard it since the 1960's.  It is a source of our national religion, about which I wrote a diary here.  It is a religion to a very generalized God, not invoking the Christian form of the Deity, a compromise the five right wing SCOTUS judges recently ignored in Town of Greece v. Galloway.  The line "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just" makes me uneasy, but then I think back to my childhood.  I probably heard the last stanza sung at memorial services for the World War II dead that my mother, a World War II nurse who served in combat in New Guinea, and who was the commander of her American Legion post, dragged me to.  I would have gladly sung "Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just" in World War II, and it is logical that the World War II veterans would have included the stanza at their memorial services.

So, having committed high treason against my home town, I end this by encouraging all of you who have never visited my home town to visit and spend your tourist dollars here.  If you are visiting our suburb 40 miles down I-95, why not pay us a visit as well - MARC train service now connects Baltimore to Washington on weekends, and our city now has free shuttle bus service from downtown to Fort McHenry, which is still a great place to visit.

Originally posted to Maryland Kos on Mon May 26, 2014 at 03:55 PM PDT.

Also republished by History for Kossacks, An Ear for Music, White Privilege Working Group, and Community Spotlight.

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