Is there a national anthem that isn’t, at its heart, simply an unquestioning proclamation of the glories of that nation?
Yes there is. It’s ours.
“The Star-Spangled Banner” famously starts and ends with a question — the only anthem that does so.
It begins, “Oh, say can you see by the dawn’s early light/What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?”
And in the version we hear almost daily at ballparks and other venues across the land, the anthem ends, “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
The opening question was addressed to the first generations of Americans, those who fought in and lived through the Revolutionary War that gave us our freedom, and the war that secured our independence, the War of 1812.
But the second question is addressed to us, as it has been to every generation since the siege of Fort McHenry two years after the outbreak of the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that would become our national anthem.
Almost 200 years later, and 237 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today, we are still challenged by the question.
Is the America of 2013 still the land of the free?
Daily, it seems our freedom is under attack at home as well as abroad.
Today, tighter security is in place for the annual Fourth of July Boston Pops concert and fireworks on Boston’s Esplanade in the wake of the terrorist bombing attack on the Boston Marathon. Indeed, as Boston security officials are preparing for that event, Mayor Carolyn Kirk has commissioned an investigation and report by Police Chief Leonard Campanello to determine whether the security measures carried out at this past weekend’s St. Peter’s Fiesta — and the actions of K9 units tied to the Essex County Sheriff’s Department – went too far in confronting and restricting residents and visitors at the St. Peter’s Club and on Rogers Street after Fiesta had closed late Saturday night.
Also at home, the actions of agencies of our own government, including the National Security Agency, the Internal Revenue Service and even the Justice Department, threaten to erode our constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment and other rights. And many would argue that the restrictions carried out by NOAA and our own Department of Commerce have unfairly harmed the rights of fishermen and other waterfront businesses to earn a living without following key provisions of our own Magnuson-Stevens Act regarding economic impact, and without producing the verifiable science to force the mandates the feds have put in place.
So, in 2013, is this still the land of the free?
Yes. Americans have shown they still have the conviction and the will to stand up to those who would take away or restrict our liberty.
Is it still the home of the brave?
Around the world, servicemen and women — including many of our own Gloucester and Cape Ann family members, friends and neighbors — defend our liberty daily in faraway places like Afghanistan, and are willing to sacrifice their own lives to protect it.
Here at home, just this week, 19 brave members of an elite firefighting crew, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, were killed by a wildfire in Arizona that still burns. And let’s not forget that crews from our Cape Ann police and emergency response teams hit the road at a moment’s notice and were part of the police force that searched the streets and backyards of Watertown in the successful hunt for terrorist suspect Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev.
As the concluding question of the anthem suggests, there is no guarantee that the flag will always fly over the kind of nation bequeathed to us by the founders — unless we are willing to stand up for the cause of freedom.
So as we celebrate our independence today, let us promise to do just that. Let’s all do our part to ensure we will forever be a land that is free — and a home of the brave.