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The Intellectual Activist - An Objectivist Review
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America's War Song

It was September 14. Washington, DC, had been attacked, and one of its most prominent monuments had been burned by the enemy. A Washington lawyer sat in the early morning gloom and fretted over the fate of his country.

The year was 1814, the burned monument was the White House, the man was Francis Scott Key, and his worry was centered on Fort McHenry, off in the distance, where he looked for any sign that his nation's flag still flew after a fierce night-long bombardment. He expressed his patriotism in a poem, 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' We all know the first stanza of this poem because it is our national anthem. But Key wrote four stanzas, three of which the average American has never heard. Today, as we face a crisis similar to the one Key observed, it is important to hear and understand the spirit expressed in those unremembered verses.

The first stanza is, of course, known by heart:

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, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Key had watched throughout the night, hoping that Fort McHenry would hold out. As dawn broke, the fort's commander had its rain-soaked flag taken down, and he sent up an enormous 30- by 42-foot flag, which had been specially made as a symbol of defiance against the fort's attackers.

When Key spotted it, he would later write, 'in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?' He began writing 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' The first stanza expressed Key's anxious concern for his country. The second expressed his elation as he saw the banner rise:

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, now conceals, now discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner! O long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In his pride in his nation and his contempt for its foe, Key did not, as we do today, fret over enemy losses or 'collateral damage.' He saw the death of the enemy as proof of justice. Thus, his 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 wiped out their foul footstep's 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.

Today, this attitude would be denounced, by those who pretend to be 'idealistic,' as jingoistic and intolerant. But Key did not apologize for his love of his country and his liberty. His confidence was grounded in a religious perspective that I do not share-but I do share and admire the pride with which he upheld the value of his country, a pride expressed in the fourth stanza:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heaven-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 forever shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Among today's intellectuals, it is fashionable to be indiscriminately 'anti-war'-that is, to oppose any war, just or unjust. But the meaning and events behind 'The Star-Spangled Banner' are a reminder that the existence of our nation, and the preservation of our liberties, had to be obtained by war-and that they must, from time to time, be maintained by war.

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