Not My Anthem


Kristin Devine

Kristin is a geek, a libertarian, and a domestic goddess. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals and works with women around the world as a fertility counselor. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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82 Responses

  1. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    I give you points for going with City of New Orleans. That was unexpected. That being said, I think that the tune to our national anthem being an 18th century drinking song it totally awesome! And yes, it is difficult to sing. So what? Mostly, it isn’t banal, as are so many national anthems. The final question of the first verse also is entirely apt. Not wondering about whether the flag is still flying, but over what?

    That being said, there is much room to critique it as poetry. And as English. Here is one of my favorite parlor games: what, in the first verse, is the grammatical object (if any) of the verb “watched”? It is entirely likely that you think the answer is obvious. So do the people on either side of you. But not necessarily with the same answer.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    City of New Orleans has the downside in being about railroads. Traveling by train is irrelevant to nearly all modern Americans and would seem hopelessly quaint. Plus many Americans seem politically opposed to mass transportation except airplanes. The new national anthem should be “This land is your land, this land is my line.” It captures the scope of the United States, its easy to sing, and its egalitarian.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      More than just egalitarian, it’s borderline communist.Report

    • Avatar Kristin Devine says:

      I don’t like the Manifest Destiny-ish connotations of This Land. It wasn’t made for me, and it wasn’t decreed by a higher power that I live here, my ancestors stole it from some people. :/Report

  3. Avatar pillsy says:

    I was also surprised and pleased at your choice of City of New Orleans, which is a fantastic song, and one which would make a pretty good anthem.

    But I’m mostly posting because I actually found myself riding on the City of New Orleans about a month ago. I had to go from Urbana to Chicago, and when I got on the train, I realized I was on the train from the song. I had no idea it was still running.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It’s a story of death and destruction and tragedy and bad blood between peoples and nation states, when what America should be IMVVHO is the antithesis of that. America shouldn’t be a piece of tattered cloth above a battleground. America should be represented by an image of industry and freedom and people from a wide variety of backgrounds coming together in peace and harmony to build something new and better. And our national anthem should reflect those ideals, even though, or perhaps especially because, they are not always perfectly enacted where the rubber hits the road. Our anthem should be a tribute to our dream for our country and not a paean to war.

    Lemme ask you something: When does the National Anthem tend to get sung?

    I’ll answer my rhetorical question. It gets sung right before a major (or, heck, a minor) sporting event… which is, you guessed it, a sublimation of war. Our anthem being a paean to war is doing its job quite well in 99% of the situations in which it is sung.

    But, besides that, how many National Anthems are actually good?

    There’s the Soviet National Anthem… and maybe “God Save The Queen”…

    What else is there?

    If the majority of National Anthems aren’t good, I think that they’re something else going on here.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      France is a classic*, Japan is very good & has a unique vibe, and check out the Hungarian one (prompted from the first link).

      The worst national anthems are the ones that sound like rehashed Napoleonic era marching songs. Though that’s not what the USA’s is.

      *perhaps *the* classic – is it the first one? The French Revolution essentially invented nationalismReport

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        I love La Marseilleise for how over the top bloodthirsty it is. You could unironically set it to black metal

        Somewhere in the other half of the gore /pablum spectrum is O Canada, especially the English lyrics, which amount to ‘we rather like Canada for unspecified reasons, but largely just by default because it’s where we’re from.’Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        So if we limit ourselves to the major players in WWII, what do we got?

        US – Star Spangled Banner
        GB – God Save The Queen
        USSR – Be Glorious, Our Free Motherland!
        France. Kinda. – La Marseillaise

        Germany – Deutschland Über Alles
        Italy – Il Canto Degli Italiani
        Japan – Kimigayo

        I suppose a fun fight could be ranking those. That’s a minefield I’m not walking through.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          The Italian national anthem: too much Rossini, not enough Verdi and no Puccini at all (though to be fair, he was dead before Puccini was composing). I give it a B-.Report

        • Deustchland Uber Alles took its tune from Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, written by Jospeh Haydn. So, judging by music alone, that wins.Report

        • Avatar Pinky says:

          This is a bit like the dog show problem. Is this collie a better collie than that labrador is a labrador? Every country’s national anthem should fit the country, or more specifically, the patriotic mood of that country. I think all of the WWII anthems fit the bill.

          City of New Orleans isn’t exactly patriotic. Individual states don’t have consider patriotic content for their songs, which is why the state of Georgia can get away with such a fine one.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            Georgia’s state song is indeed a most excellent choice. I have been considering writing about state songs, in the context of my state of Maryland’s, which is, um…, not most excellent, on any level.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            Colorado has two state songs, both recognized by the General Assembly. “Where the Columbines Grow” is justifiably obscure. It was adopted in 1915 despite the second verse:

            The bison is gone from the upland,
            The deer from the canyon has fled,
            The home of the wolf is deserted,
            The antelope moans for he is dead,
            The war whoop re-echoes no longer,
            The Indian’s only a name,
            And the nymphs of the grove in their loneliness rove,
            But the columbine blooms just the same.

            “Rocky Mountain High” is not obscure (reached as high as #9 on Billboard’s Hot 100), and was made official in 2007.Report

          • Avatar Kristin Devine says:

            I don’t know, I feel patriotic when I listen to it. Passionately in love with America – America at its best, as I see it, I guess.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      HaTikvah is a very good national anthem. Naturally, I agree politically with the sentiments expressed in HaTikvah but even without that it is a good national anthem. It has a very haunting melody as opposed to the more grandiose militaristic national anthems or the fun sing along ones. That makes it kind of unique. Its a song of hope for an oppressed and despised people. There is a clip available on youtube of just liberated Holocaust singing HaTikvah while standing at the barbed wire fences that surrounded the camps. Anybody who isn’t moved by this can be safely called an anti-Semite.

      The man who wrote the lyrics for HaTikvah, Naphtali Imber, was also very much a character. He was a long haired alcoholic Jewish poet who travelled the globe. He pretended to be a prophet and made predictions of the future. One was that Californian wines would be considered some of the best in the world. The other was that the ultra-liberal state of Kansas, yes really, would revolt against a conservative federal government, yes really. Mr. Imber was kicked out of two Zionist Congresses for his drunken frat boy antics but he still wrote the lyrics to Israel’s national anthem.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        I agree. HaTikvah is a great anthem. Lovely and singable.

        I did not know the history of the man who wrote the lyrics. Thank you for sharing that – quite a character indeed.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I’ll reluctantly bring up O’Canada, but it simply isn’t a particularly good song. Frankly the lyrics sound a bit like it was written in a committee and the tune is pretty meh. It’s notable only in that it’s generally anodyne and inoffensive.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I mean, anthems should capture the spirit of the nation, so by that standard it’s the best, no?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Damn, that’s a good point! By that angle then O’Canada fits to a T.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            *cough* That’s a fair description of the Anglophone translation, not so much of the Francophone version.

            Here’s Wiki’s not horrible anglo translation of the actual french (I fixed like 3 words b/c they weren’t literal enough):

            O Canada!
            Land of our ancestors
            Glorious deeds circle your brow
            For your arm knows how to wield the sword
            Your arm knows how to carry the cross;
            Your history is an epic
            Of brilliant deeds
            And your valour steeped in faith
            Will protect our homes and our rights,
            Will protect our homes and our rights.

            Under the eye of God, near the giant river,
            The Canadian grows hoping.
            He was born of a proud race,
            Blessed was his cradle.
            Heaven has noted his career
            In this new world.
            Always guided by its light,
            He will keep the honour of his flag,
            He will keep the honour of his flag.

            From his patron, the precursor of the true God,
            He wears the halo of fire on his brow.
            Enemy of tyranny
            But full of loyalty,
            He wants to keep in harmony,
            His proud freedom;
            And by the effort of his genius,
            Set on our ground the truth,
            Set on our ground the truth.

            Sacred love of the throne and the altar,
            Fill our hearts with your immortal breath!
            Among the stranger races,
            Our guide is the law:
            Let us know how to be a people of brothers,
            Under the yoke of faith.
            And repeat, like our fathers,
            The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”
            The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”

            I actually sung 1st-3rd verses regularly in school, in French immersion in PEI in the 80s – en francais bien sur. We left out the 4th, I think it was a bit TOO religious for 1980s folks – but they were fine with 1st through 3rd.

            It gives you a different perspective, for sure.Report

            • Avatar North says:

              Holy buckets, it sure does!Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              The French version is very Quebec. The only way to make it more Quebec is more explicit references to Catholicism besides “For Christ” and to make sure that people knew that the Kings were the House of Bourbon. Plus something about hunting beavers for fur.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @leeesq In French it’s more Quebec b/c (besides being in French, obvs) it uses words like “fleurons” and “berceau” whose literal translations don’t have the same rhetorical flourish in English that they do in French. The former links up to the fleur de lis. The latter links up (actually I suspect has been deliberately *embraced* by, in terms of chronology) the Quebec nationalist party love of distinguishing between uh, “cradle Quebecers” and everyone else (which “everyone else” sometimes includes people who are, literally, born there – because some nationalist Quebecers are super-racist and anti-Semitic). Though both those terms also make reference to the revanche des berceaux – “revenge of the cradles” – which is a very Catholic thing in that French colonists were urged (in the 18th century) to make as many babies as possible in order to defeat the English by sheer numbers. (

                So, uh, definitely more illustrative of Canada’s actual, quite tattered and complicated history, than the official English version.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                There’s also references to the cross and the altar throughout. V Catholic IME.

                I find the whole “precursor to the true God” thing weird, that’s also in the french version and I have no idea… OH wait yes I do.

                That’s a Saint John the Baptist reference.

                Soooooooooo Quebec. Holy scads.


              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                A reference to the fleur de lis gets the Bourbons in them anthem. I can easily imagine a bunch of Anglophone Canadian civil servants getting their hands on a rough translation of the French lyrics and thinking about how to make the stirring song more multicultural even if they made it bland.

                That’s the big issue with national anthems in a liberal pluralistic democracy. The best national anthems are rousing hymns or semi-mournful but tend to be a very particularistic and at least somewhat illiberal in their lyrics. Pluralistic national anthems sound like a committee wrote them with the goal to include everybody and annoy nobody. They don’t really inspire.Report

            • Avatar dragonfrog says:

              That is exactly why it is perfectly suited to be Canada’s national anthem.

              – Decent but not stellar music, written by a Canadian composer who spent much of his professional life in the USA because that’s where the money was. Still counts as CanCon.

              – Has official lyrics in French and English, which don’t match up very well.

              – French lyrics are surprising to those who are only familiar with the English.

              – English lyrics are dull as dishwater.

              Alternately, someone could translate “Summer of ’69” into French, but make it inexplicably about drugs and corruption in the construction industry or something.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @dragonfrog Oh, I wasn’t saying the French lyrics made it less appropriate. If anything, much more so, as you detail so well.

                It’s just always weird for me, having grown up more familiar with the French than the English, to hear fellow Anglos talking about how milquetoast it is … “What? It’s bloody, threatening, divine-right-esque, and extremely nationalist…. oh, wait, ENGLISH lyrics, right, okay.”Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          But it doesn’t mention single-payer healthcare.Report

  5. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    You have become one of my favs around here. 🙂 Thank you, Kristine.Report

  6. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    It’s a good song, maybe not the best for an anthem, but it is certainly a quintessential American song.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    A few decades ago there was a movement to replace Australia’s generically patriotic anthem with Waltzing Matilda. Which would have been awesome, for silmilar reasons to what Kristin wrote here.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Waltzing Matilda would have been an outstanding national anthem for Australia. Its a popular poem, it gets the Australian national character as they see themselves just right, and its a fun song. The down side is the same as the City of New Orleans, Waltzing Matilda is archaic and doesn’t really reflect Australia as most Australians know it. The train is no longer part of American life and being a swagman in the Bush is not part of Australian life. New Australians whose ancestors arrived after World War II have no particular romantic memory of the Bush besides what is forced into them.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine says:

      From 2003… before shade was invented… here’s how the Independent covered the ban:

      The ballad about a sheep thief who drowns in a pond embodies the Australian national spirit. Hence the chorus of outrage greeting news yesterday that the home crowd could be banned from singing “Waltzing Matilda” at the Rugby World Cup in Australia later this year.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The UN’s anthem should either be Its a Small World After All, International Brotherhood Week by Tom Lehrer, or the International depending on your politics and state of cynicism.Report

    • And the UK one should be the Kinks’ Autumn Almanac:


    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Have you ridden the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland? Anthems for nominally peaceful organizations shouldn’t generally be so annoying that they incite people to violence…Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        We went every couple of years when I was a kid. My recollection of the It’s a Small World ride is that its role in the ecosystem was in the heat of the afternoon to sit down on a calm ride with water to cool you down. The actual content of the ride was incidental. The train around the park also was pretty good for this, plus dinosaurs!Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          I was 23 when I went. By the end of the ride, I would cheerfully have throttled the song writer, the performers, and blown up any equipment that had been contaminated by playing the song.Report

          • I know this is weird, but it’s one of our family favorites. It’s incredibly cute.Report

            • Avatar Kristin Devine says:

              It’s a Small World is like Nickelback or Justin Bieber – you have to have more courage to admit that you like it than that you don’t.

              I am very very brave so will admit that I unabashedly, unapologetically love it. As a child I insisted on going on it again and again. My parents, being young and dumb and full of energy, obliged me. It was kind of a family joke about how annoying it was for them to have to go on it so many times in a row before I was finally sated.

              Then I went on it again as an adult with my father and two oldest sons and by the end I was surprised to find my dad in tears. He was choked up by the memory of that dumb ride and how much I liked it as a kid. So I guess the things that annoy you as a parent sometimes end up being really good memories in the end.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko says:

            True story: I was at Disneyland once and saw a couple patiently explaining to their crestfallen young child right outside of the exit that “It’s A Small World” is a very special ride and so there’s a rule that kids can only go on it once a day, so that all of the kids who come to Disneyland have a chance to enjoy it, and don’t you want other kids here to get to do that too?

            Each of them were struggling to keep straight faces while the other was saying it. When that child is older, there might be some lingering resentment of this bit of parental deception.Report

            • Avatar Nevermoor says:

              I don’t understand parents who make Disneyland about themselves.

              Your story is the diet coke version.* But still. You just paid huge amounts of money to go somewhere that your kids will remember fondly for a long time. Let them do their thing, even if it isn’t your thing. Because that’s kind of the whole thing with parenting anyway, and you should turn it up in that situation.

              *The coke version: a family in line for Peter Pan first thing in the morning when we took our kids. 4 person family, with boy about 8 and girl about 4. Kids DO NOT want to wait in line for that ride, which is already a solid 45 minutes. Mom: “we are GOING TO DO THIS RIDE. It is your FATHER’S FAVORITE.” Dad: making no eye contact, but looking pissed off he may not get to do the ride.Report

        • Avatar KenB says:

          This was pretty much our only reason ever to go on it too, except when our kids were really young (2-3) and were fascinated with it.

          I’m still waiting for the replacement.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        When I was an eight year old, yes. That’s part of the joke. “Its a small world after all” is best sung with an air of forced enthusiasm. Everybody pretends to like each other but really wants to rip each other’s throat. International Brotherhood Week is the more honest version of this. The International is for everybody who believes that the United Nations is a communist plot to destroy national sovereignty.Report

  9. Avatar Anne says:

    @kristin-devine great article as always

    I find my self torn. In my capacity as the administrator of a Railway Museum City of New Orleans speaks to me… my other profession of Textile Conservator and having actually worked on THE Star Spangled Banner I have a certain wish for it to remain the national anthem. Though I really don’t like the song as well. Much prefer This Land is Your Land.

    Best state song….OOOOOKLAHOMA! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…..Report

  10. Avatar J_A says:

    I like the European Union Anthem: the Ode of Joy.. It’s Peak Optimism !!Report

  11. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Interesting piece Kristin. I will also agree that The Star Spangled Banner has problems. I’m also surprised that no one suggested my favorite, ‘America the Beautiful’. For me it is the perfect blend of patriotism and an appreciation for the natural wonders of our country.Report

    • Avatar Maribou says:

      @mike-dwyer That one’s my favorite too – not just for the natural wonders, but also for the particular *type* of the patriotism, aiming toward better meeting an ideal rather than asserting it’s already met. Here in Colorado, we sing it a lot. (Even at baseball games, in the home stretch.)

      The heavy-handed religiosity makes me wary of prescribing it, even though historically *of course* Bates saw and framed things that way. But I much prefer it as an ideal of America and it’d be a better anthem than the SSB.Report

    • Avatar Nevermoor says:

      Hadn’t seen this when I started writing mine. We agree!Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      Just so the statute specifies a slowest allowed tempo that’s upbeat. I am so tired of an anthem that sounds like a dirge.Report

  12. Avatar J_A says:

    Actually, Panama has one of the best anthems: it specifically rejects the militaristic past conflicts, and focuses on work, labor and progress.

    It was composed in 1903, upon the Independence, and the start of the (US works) of the Panama Canal. It was adopted as anthem in 1925

    Plus the music is pretty too

    This is actually a very good video, with lots of views of Panama – there’s case of IPA’s saying that what Panama actually looks like will surprise a lot of you (and there’s a train in the video too)


    Alcanzamos por fin la victoria At last we reached victory
    En el campo feliz de la unión; In the joyous field of union
    Con ardientes fulgores de gloria With fiery blazes of glory
    Se ilumina la nueva nación! The new nation is alight. (Repeat last 2 lines.)

    Es preciso cubrir con un velo It is necessary to veil
    Del pasado el calvario y la cruz; from the past both Calvary and cross;
    Y que adorne el azul de tu cielo Let now the blue of your sky be adorned with
    De concordia la espléndida luz. From concord, the splendid light

    El progreso acaricia tus lares. Progress caresses your ancestral home.
    Al compás de sublime canción, To the rhythm of a sublime song,
    Ves rugir a tus pies ambos mares You see both seas at your feet roar
    Que dan rumbo a tu noble misión. Setting the path to your noble mission.

    (Repeat Chorus)

    En tu suelo cubierto de flores In your soil covered with flowers
    A los besos del tibio terral, To the kisses of the warm land breeze
    Terminaron guerreros fragores; Warrior roars have ceased;
    Sólo reina el amor fraternal. Only fraternal love reigns.

    Adelante la pica y la pala, Go, shovel and pick,
    Al trabajo sin más dilación, To work with no more delays,
    Y seremos así prez y gala And we will be pride and ornery.
    De este mundo feraz de Colón. Of this fruitful world of Columbus


  13. Avatar J_A says:

    damn, sorry about the formatting – the two columns looked great in my previewReport

  14. Avatar Nevermoor says:

    1. There can be no dispute that no one would pick the SSB as our anthem if it was not already our anthem.

    2. I have long thought France wins this competition going away. Still do.

    3. I’m pretty confident this is the wrong replacement song, only because it seems hard to imagine a bunch of third graders singing at a talent show. America the Beautiful seems much closer to the right thing. Not because it’s a better song from a musical criticism perspective but for the third-grade-talent-show reason.Report

  15. Avatar Pinky says:

    I can’t say exactly why, but this topic reminds me of this song:


  16. Avatar Zac Black says:

    I have long been of the opinion that our national anthem should be CCR’s ‘Up Around the Bend’.Report

  17. Avatar bevedog says:

    This is the best thing I have read today and I read something awesome right before I read this.Report

  18. Sigh…

    Arlo is not the Guthrie that I would pick to have penned what should have been our National Anthem…Report