Yahoo recently published an editorial calling for cancellation of the Star Spangled Banner. According to various activists, the current National Anthem is deeply problematic. The problem isn’t so much the song itself, or the lyrics, but the guy who wrote it. Francis Scott Key, who penned it after seeing British warships bombard Fort McHenry in Baltimore, was a slaveowner and a racist.
Key was also born 250 years ago, at a time when virtually everyone was racist by our standards, and relatively few people had any serious problem with slavery. But he should have known better than to be born in the 18th century. At bottom, that is the real crime committed by many of the historical figures being posthumously canceled by the mob today. They all were born in a time when people were less racially enlightened than we are. That’s their fault, apparently. They should have chosen a more virtuous century to be born in.
It gets worse. Not only do they want to ditch the Star Spangled Banner, but the suggestion has been made to replace it with the worst song ever written. Activist Kevin Powell advocates for installing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as our new anthem. Powell explains that “Imagine” is “the most beautiful, unifying, all-people, all-backgrounds-together kind of song you could have.”
The song is none of those things. Unifying? It advocates for the abolition of religion and countries. This is hardly a unifying message to those of us who are religious and love our country. Beautiful? It reads like a poem that a sixth grader might scribble on lined paper and submit to his English teacher for his creative writing assignment. Consider these lyrics:
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one
Never mind that he is quoting Karl Marx with the “brotherhood of man” line — the whole song is essentially one long Karl Marx paraphrase, after all — the real issue is that it’s vapid, faux-profound nonsense. The lyrics are just a long series of cliches, platitudes, and communist fever dreams mixed with statements of the obvious. Yes, it would be nice if there was no hunger. Yes sharing is good. Sharing is caring, as my kindergarten teacher taught me. But the job of a songwriter or poet is to communicate these kinds of ideas in a way that is more interesting and affecting than simply stating them outright.
I could add verses to the song right now, off the top of my head, and my additions would be at least as good as John Lennon’s contribution. Here:
Imagine only good stuff happening
And really good stuff too
No bad stuff, no sad stuff
And no mad stuff too
Imagine everyone’s happy
And they’re being real nice
No one’s being super mean
And there are no fights
You have to admit that my vision of the world is appealing. And I have conveyed it with all of the eloquence of John Lennon. But neither of us can come close to touching Francis Scott Key, whose ode to flag and country still stands the test of time. In fact, Key’s best lyrics aren’t the part we sing before ballgames. My personal favorite is the second stanza:
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
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.