I’m as patriotic as the next guy. Or gal. I served three years in the U.S. Army—as a volunteer. (Amazing how many patriots avoid military service.) I pay taxes without complaint. I vote. And I continually thank this country for provided a safe home and a world of opportunity to my family and millions of others. So I stand at attention and hold my hat or hand over my heart whenever the National Anthem is played. And I do it proudly.
But what is it with singing “God Bless America” (written by Irving Berlin) during the seventh-inning stretch at baseball games?
I remember Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” on her TV show back in the early fifties. A response to the Cold War and anti-communist fervor (remember Sen. Joe McCarthy) in Washington? Maybe. But McCarthy’s witch-hunt disgraced himself—and the nation.
The Philadelphia Flyers hockey team adopted Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” back in 1969 as a good luck charm. Fine. For them. But isn’t the Star-Spangled Banner before each game enough for the rest of us? Note: I loved Lyle Lovett’s “Banner” before game four of the Giants-Rangers Series. No styling, no ego. Just straight-ahead and heartfelt.
Ever since 9/11, Major League Baseball has been intent on proving its patriotism. And on we fans proving ours. But being asked to stand again (well, I do need the stretch)—and remove our hats again—for one more “anthem” strikes me as excessive. Queen Gertrude in Hamlet offers, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Must real patriots wear the flag on their sleeves?
Another quote comes to mind. Stephen Decatur (1779-1820), while serving as Naval Commissioner, proposed: “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong.” Something to think about—the part about being wrong. It can happen.
Carl Schurz (1829-1906), the first German-born U.S. Senator, provided a reflective take. “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” In politics, war or anything else in life, loyalty shouldn’t blind us to our mistakes. Or prevent us from correcting them. We boo the umpire. And we toss politicians out of office. The nation just did, whether or not the new political winds blow with or against you. The Constitution maintains our right to speak out. Moreover, it’s our duty to do so.
So while I’m tempted to remain seated during the next singing of “God Bless America” at a ballgame, I probably won’t. And if asked, I’ll take off my hat.
But honestly, love of country isn’t just about what we sing. It’s about what we do. So God, bless America by all means. Bless us, too, with the sense to act with integrity and humility.
And, with all due respect to Homer Simpson, let’s think about invoking a little less “USA! USA!” and “We’re number one!”