Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By A. R. Vander Vegt
Moose Lake Star-Gazette 

An open question

From the Editor


A few months back, I read an editorial which discussed the syntax of our national anthem. The writer, who has made his living as a singer-songwriter, points out that the song actually is made up of questions, each pointing to the final one: O, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Usually by that time, cheers have erupted across the stadium, and those last few words are drowned out and we’re just ready to see the game begin.

Memorial Day, though, is a chance to take a step back and examine our anthem.

When I was in elementary school, I thought our national anthem kind of stunk. It wasn’t even written during the Revolutionary War or anything pivotal and exciting like that. It was the War of 1812, and though I vaguely recall learning about it in school, I can’t tell you much about it other than Francis Scott Key was stuck on a boat when he penned the poem.

I was more in favor of having “America, the Beautiful” as our national anthem. I knew it because of the movie Pollyanna, and I think we sang it at a school program. It was much simpler, more straight-forward. I knew better what amber waves of grain were than the rockets’ red glare.

The editorial I read changed my mind. The Star Spangled Banner does quite nicely.

There are many among us who are disenfranchised with the state of the world and despair over the trajectory of our country. It is not my place to speculate if the despair is correctly placed or not, but remembering our anthem as a question offers a certain kind of illumination.

We have been identified as the Great American Experiment, an escapade into democracy. Our anthem rallies us behind this: O, say, does that star spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Today, this very day, the star spangled banner does yet wave. We remember those who gave their lives for it on Memorial Day — it’s a special time to set aside time to reflect the price of freedom. We express that freedom by taking a knee, by removing our hats, by having the privilege to even mow our lawns. Those things are not a given for so many across the globe.

If we present ourselves with the question of our anthem more frequently, maybe bitter partisan conflicts would fade into the margins; maybe we would see the faithful actions of local citizenship as monumental in a democracy; maybe we would honor the fallen soldiers as a heritage and better protect and help those who come home.

The best part of having a question as our national anthem is it has room for both the cynics and the idealists, the patriots and disenfranchised. For those who are certain of their place in this country, it’s a rousing, rhetorical question. “The land of free and home of the brave” is a line to be relished by this person. For someone who is uncertain of the future, the question is pronounced prominently. It is a challenge to pick up the broken pieces and add to the mosaic that is the United States of America. But the contribution of those who are not quite so sure of their place within the American Experiment — what they give is all the more beautiful for not what is but what can be. The two dichotomies between cynicism and idealism can meet in the common ground of reality.

I hope you all had a meaningful Memorial Day.


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