The Question of Independence

In the first verse of the national anthem, which is the only one we ever sing, these are the last two lines:

“Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

It never occurred to me until this year that we usually stop there, with a question mark. The music at the end of the verses sounds very final and triumphant, and not at all questioning. Maybe that’s because Francis Scott Key wrote a patriotic hymn about a battle and set it to the tune of a popular British drinking song. Fun fact: “The Star-Spangled Banner” was only made the national anthem by congressional resolution in 1931. Before that we used “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” which I can remember having to learn in elementary school, and “Hail, Columbia,” which sounds way more anthem-like and is now used as the Vice President’s official entrance, like “Hail to the Chief” for the President.

But back to that question mark. The question in the song is regarding the outcome of the Battle of Fort McHenry in the War of 1812 — have we won? Does our flag still wave? Today, it seems the question mark has taken on a whole new meaning, when thinking about our country’s place in the world and who we want to be as her citizens. Now, the question seems to (or maybe ought to) be, “Are we really all that brave or all that free?”

In the “home of the brave,” we collectively put actual brave men and women in harm’s way because we’re greedy. Most people are too lazy to recycle. The majority of Americans do not own hybrid vehicles or residential solar panels, myself included because I can’t afford to, because I haven’t had a job in nine months, but that’s another rant altogether. Alternative energy sources are not exactly highly touted by corporate honchos who stand to lose money when their technology is replaced. I don’t care what you say about major petroleum companies’ spun magazine ads of wildflower meadows and ethereally-narrated dream-scape television commercials, where they showcase the best (the one? lol) engineer they’ve put on the job of eco-do-gooding. Show me a year without an oil spill and I might start to give half a crap. As my Maw Maw would say, these are people with “more money than sense.”

So, we’re okay with sending people off to be killed in the name of some vague Medusa-headed terror cabal whose snake tendrils grow back as quickly as they are lopped, when we all know deep down that if it weren’t for the oil, we would not still be occupying the region. To me, this is not brave. This is greed, laziness, ignorant acceptance. Money and convenience before lives.

What about the “land of the free?” “We” have some freedoms. But “we” are not entirely free. Not until all the laws apply to all people equally. Not until the Patriot Act is repealed. Not until the Supreme Court stops making unconstitutional rulings like May’s Kentucky vs. King. Not until our Presidents stop signing executive orders giving themselves powers that our system of checks and balances expressly forbids. Not until you can lobby congress or run for office (realistically, people) without a cent to your name and still be taken seriously. As Georgiana Cavendish, former Duchess of Devonshire once remarked, “One is either free, or one is not. The concept of freedom is an absolute. After all, one cannot be moderately dead, or moderately loved, or moderately free. It must always remain a matter of either-or.”

I wish every year that people would use Independence Day as a time to reflect on where we are, where we are going, where we want to be, as a people. Instead I think it ends up being rote enthusiasm for a system we hate, because it’s tradition, and because we *think* we’ll always be on top, as if it’s our rightful place. I wonder what the first 4th of July will be like after the economy completely collapses (if that happens). Thoughts?

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