O say, am I free?

warning-fascismThe New York Yankees have taken to chaining folks in place for a forced display of patriotism, including one which has no basis in any law or code whatsoever. I wasn’t too sure about the veracity of this information until I found the referenced article in the NYT; here’s the accompanying photograph.

Keep in mind that this depicts Yankee Stadium attendees standing to “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch, not even “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the beginning of the game.

There’s a great deal of wrongness to go around, here. The usual procedure for a sporting event is to take a moment or two at the beginning of the game before things start and honor the country from where the two teams are from, beginning with the visitors as a courtesy. Our national anthem is “The Star-Spangled Banner” – not a fantastic song, and fiendishly difficult to sing, but one blessed with a long history and having its roots in a patriotic moment when the Americans were supposed to have had their backs to the wall and literally came through to see the morning. The fact that it was done in my city gives it some extra cool, as does the fact that the tune is essentially based on an old British drinking song. In any case, none of this is too big of a deal…just one of those things that you kind of have to have in order to be in the Nation-State Club. (Pretty much required are an anthem, a flag, a capital, and a currency. Beyond that, Frank Zappa was correct in that it’s best also to have a national airline that everyone can complain about, and a beer. There should of course also be some national holidays, at least one of which involves consumption of the beer. I’ll get into all this later.)

Now after the attacks of 11 Sept 2001 – and I say it like that because I’m sick of saying “nine-eleven” to everything – The Rules Changed. Those last three words are a euphemism to cover the fact that people here were actually surprised when some unstable assholes actually took offense to us throwing our weight around for the past fifty or so years and decided to do something about it. (Possibly more on that at a later time, too.) In any case, many people, including the heads of Major League Baseball, decided that “The Star-Spangled Banner” just wasn’t a patriotic enough song, and began playing “God Bless America” either in addition or instead. And it’s easy to see why this might have been the case. The SSB is pretty much an ode to the flag of the country, and as such is strictly secular. The sunsabitches who attacked the U.S. partly did so out of a religious conviction in their particular, highly warped brand of Islam, so Americans who were looking to get back at them wanted to choose something particular to their own religion – and three-quarters of the country is Christian. So, they wanted something that mentioned God, and naturally they chose a song written by a Jew.*

Now if they want to pipe a song over the PA at a baseball game – even if the word “God” is in the title – big deal. The Orioles do it all the time. The only issue is that they began actually treating it like the National Anthem. There were requests that folks stand for it (which they were doing for the seventh-inning stretch anyway) and for gentlemen to remove their hats; I’ve been informed by one Cleveland baseball fan that at some games, GBA actually replaced the SSB. (This was, of course, while we were trying to convince allies and American Muslims that this was not a religious conflict in any way. Such for that.)

And now, of course, we get the spectacle pictured above, for both the SSB and GBA, at least at Yankee Stadium. (New York, recall, was the principle target of the criminals who attacked us.)

We have now hit the main vein of wrong, and wrong is gushing out all over the place. Here are a few of the many things wrong with this whole scenario:

  1. We already have a perfectly serviceable song for our country, and it’s a secular one.
  2. You might consider that it’s a secular one for a reason.
  3. GBA isn’t the national anthem, and we shouldn’t treat it as if it is.
  4. If you want it to be so, you should go through the means to do it – just like those who championed the SSB did. (Incidentally, the fact that a Jew wrote it is sometimes cited as one of the reasons why it wasn’t championed all that hard…which pretty much implies that those behind it were bigots. I don’t know if that’s the real reason, however.)
  5. While GBA doesn’t really imply freedom as a salient feature of the U.S., nor does, say, the Presidency of George W. Bush, the SSB does. Literally chaining people in place doesn’t really imply freedom to me. In fact, it makes a mockery of the very concepts we honor in recognizing the Star-Spangled Banner and the country which it represents.

There’s a closing thought I’d like to make, and that is that, in so many cases, the idea of paying attention to individual liberties in this country is seen as the province of conservatives. “Libertarians”, either in philosophy or of the party of that name, are undoubtedly conservative; they adopt a lot of anti-governmental rhetoric and reject a great deal of the social contract which unofficially binds our society together in the assertion of their liberties, which are seen as the prize in a continual struggle between the state who seeks to remove them and the sovereign individual who seeks to retain them. This dichotomy is essentially bullshit. Individuals can have power over others through any number of means – usually, in today’s world, economic. This is somehow seen as right and just and noble and even justified by these same libertarians.

In fact, the matter of civil liberties rightly exists in a reciprocal fashion: I’ll help you if you’ll help me. In theory – and only in theory – it matters not a whit to me if the cops, for example, start rounding up people who wear turbans in my neighborhood because I don’t do so – except that I know that I could very well be next…or in principle, an order could be adopted that everyone is compelled to wear a turban just as easily. Therefore a matter of liberty for one is a matter of liberty for everyone, because it’s the only way we all know we can be free (in the Constitutional sense).

So it’s not just, “I get the upper hand so I decide what all the rules are,” which is, frankly, a conservative mantra if ever there was one. It’s “Don’t mess with me when I want to go to the bathroom in the seventh inning while you play ‘God Bless America’, and nobody will mess with you for wanting to salute or genuflect or do whatever the hell you do when you hear that particular song.”

* I would so love to see a NASCAR rally where this fact was broadcast to the crowd.

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2 Responses

  1. Yay! An anthematological post! You have no idea how beside myself with glee I am!

    You pretty much echo my thoughts on the subject (did you read my FAQ where I do point out that there’s no law that says a country has to have an anthem but they do anyways? 😉 ) I remember when I was interviewed last November for the paper speaking on anthems, and they asked me about the predominance of GBA after 9/11 (strangely, as it was a Canadian paper talking to a Canadian, but you guys are just so pervasive up here!) To quote the article’s relevant section, my exact words on the subject, according to the article (since I can’t remember and I might wind up misquoting myself) were:

    The Star Spangled Banner, written during the War of 1812, is another anthem that came into being during a period of national crisis.
    However, as Kendall points out, there was a resurgence in the popularity of
    God Bless America, a patriotic song written by Irving Berlin in 1918 and sometimes considered an unofficial anthem of the U. S. following 9/11.
    “It was probably a physical way of saying ‘America is hurting and this isn’t business as usual; these are new times.'””

    Possibly one of the reasons that GBA is so prevalent nowadays is that SSB doesn’t mention the name of the country, GBA does (oh wait, it doesn’t either! 😉 ), and people think that a national anthem *has* to have the name of the country in it.

    I am quite concerned as to how the Yankees are treating GBA (do the Mets do this? Or were the Mets not affected by 9/11? Someone should … well not complain as the NYT points out they aren’t doing anything wrong, but possibly file a formal complaint – requesting removal of headgear, etc. for SSB is understandable (and I believe perscribed by US Code, I’m still not clear on it (but not punishable under law if one doesn’t)) but GBA is not protected as such.

  2. The Mets don’t, and I don’t know exactly why. The Mets just seem more of a home-town team than the Yankees do; the Yanks are just a sort of brand, like Microsoft. Perhaps as such, the Yankees became more closely associated with Mayor Giuliani, who is a fan, and 9/11 than the Mets or any other N.Y. teams.

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