National anthems reveal national perspective

I have found the people who still believe America’s patriotism runs deep are pretty much the same people who believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Lee Greenwood may be proud to be an American, but sometimes I’m not. Greenwood says at least he knows he’s free. I can’t claim the same, as each of my self-proclaimed rights appears to be accompanied by a serious helping of responsibility. Not the most freeing thought to someone who tries regularly to honor commitments.

I agree in theory with what “God Bless the USA” promotes, “I won’t forget the one who died who gave that right to me.” But I’m highly cynical over the next line, “And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.” It’s the “next to you” part I wonder about Wonder Bread. Specifically, I wonder how many anyones are left to stand up next to.

Trying to act in integrity, I often look around me and see no one else willing to fight for rights. “Yeah, yeah, that’s a good idea,” their attitudes say, “I’m sure someone else will take care of it for me.” No one seems to want to rock the status quo boat. But they sure love to sing along with Lee Greenwood about freedom, honor and integrity! It’s the next best thing to actually practicing those values.

My dismay and I find uneasy comfort in recalling the words of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt in her World War II prayer, “Dear Lord, Lest I continue my complacent way, help me to remember that somewhere, somehow out there, a man died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must ask and answer: Am I worth dying for?”

Sobering question. Are we, as Americans, still worth fighting for, let alone dying for? Patriotism is the love of country and the willingness to sacrifice for it. That seems too inconvenient for many Americans. Hopelessly entitled, we view sacrifice as beneath us. But we embrace the rugged concept of it, like we embrace the cuddly bears named after another Roosevelt. Both are full of stuffing.

The summer Olympics trigger my national loyalty and the All-American assumption that our country remains the greatest thing since sliced bread. Wonder Bread. Makes you wonder how our deaf and blind superiority remains intact, despite mounting evidence our country lags behind others in many areas. Denial is our exclusive area of world dominance.

Following living in France, American humorist David Sedaris observed, “‘America is the greatest country on earth.’ Having grown up with this in our ears, it’s startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are, ‘We’re number two.'”

What better indicator of a nation’s patriotic fortitude than its national anthem? I have a songbook featuring those top patriotic tunes from 47 countries that lends perspective to stereotypes we have about other nations. Or maybe not.

Countries with histories of cocky dictators tend toward militant-minded national anthems. Take “La Bayamesa,” the national anthem of Cuba, “Run to the battle, Bayameses. Proudly regard the country. Don’t fear a glorious death. To die for the country is to live! To live in chains is to die! In disgrace and dishonor surrounded, the trumpet will sound. Run to rise to arms!” Kind of gives you a warm feeling, eh?

Conversely, no national ego is evident in “Swiss Palm,” the national anthem of Switzerland, a country with a disposition as sweet as hot chocolate, but notoriously as holey as Swisscheese. Get a load of these lyrics: “Radiant in the morning sky, Lord, I see Thee; Thou art nigh. Thou, O most illustrious, Glorious. When the Alps glow in their splendor, Pray, ye Swiss, your hearts surrender. For we sense and understand God in our Fatherland. God, the Lord, in our Fatherland.” Neutrality personified.

Overlooking the bad rhymes, the ultimate in humility is “God Defend New Zealand.” Its lyrics state, “God of nations at Thy feet. In the bonds of love we meet. Hear our voices we entreat, God defend our Free Land. Guard Pacific’s triple star from the shafts of strife and war. Make her praises heard afar. God defend New Zealand.” Anti-fighting words.

To be a better patriot, watch the Summer Olympics, sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” like you mean it, and practice the national values you preach.

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