Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave… o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.


What is the National Anthem? In literal terms, it is a song written by Francis Scott Key in 1814. Key was inspired by the sight of the American Flag as it flew over Fort McHenry the morning after a battle, and he penned the initial verse of the Anthem on the back of a letter. He later developed it into the iconic song we hear today.


What was originally a patriotic symbol has become so much more. It is an introduction to national sporting events, it is sung at formal dinners, and it is even available for download on iTunes. Despite how commonplace it has become to hear the National Anthem, we still ascribe certain behaviors to it, such as a respectful stance, the removal of hats, and complete silence. The question is this: when did the Anthem progress to being more than just a symbol, and who is there to dictate what can and cannot be done during it? Certainly not Francis Scott Key. The country has progressed immensely since its’ National Anthem was initially penned, and behavior regarding the Anthem has lacked the same maturation.


 In a series of 5 questions, I asked students to give me their stances on the modern meaning of the National Anthem. As an unbiased inquirer in this article, I’ll let their responses speak for themselves. Participant 1 is a female Natural Science major, Participant 2 is a male Sociology major, Participant 3 is a female Psychology major.






1) In 5 sentences or less, please answer this question: what does the National Anthem mean to you?


Participant 1: I was taught throughout my entire life that the National Anthem stood for the greatness of the United States and the freedom and equality that it offered. Some people believe that the National Anthem is a tribute to the fallen soldiers that have died for our nation. I don’t really agree with either (especially the opinion about the fallen solders), so the National Anthem really doesn’t mean anything to me. Honestly, I think it’s kind of weird that we, as a people, all stand up for two minutes and stare at a flag while listening to a song. I don’t really see the point in honoring a country’s façade of greatness when there is so much more progress to be made.


Participant 2: In all honesty, the National Anthem doesn't mean much to me.  I think it's a nice display of patriotism to participate in the anthem, and there's nothing inherently wrong with displaying your love for your country by taking pride in the anthem.  That said, it is just a symbol, and respect for the anthem doesn't equate to love or respect for your country. 


Participant 3: It is a representation of all of those who have fought and continue to fight for our right to live freely every day. It coincides with our flag. The National Anthem is just a small reminder of what this country is built on.



2) Have you heard about the recent controversy regarding athletes’ choices to take a knee during the National Anthem at sporting events?


Participant 1: Yes, I have.


Participant 2: I have.


Participant 3: Yes.



3) Do you view this act as a protest, as a disrespect, both, or neither? Why?


Participant 1: I view the original act solely as an act of protest. The original reason that Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee was to protest the treatment of people of color in America, which was then picked up by several other football players in the league. It was never meant to disrespect the flag, but to bring about change. However, I saw this recent act of widespread kneeling as an act of solidarity among the National Football League rather than an outward sign of protest. Trump decided to drag football into politics by insulting those players who chose to kneel beforehand, and I think that those teams, as a unit, decided to protest the involvement of their sport in a derogatory political statement. But I do not believe that either of these acts of protest/solidarity were meant as disrespect to the flag. They were meant to call attention to the injustice and oppression that our society chooses not to see. The injustice and oppression that still exist in this country despite years of so called “equality” and “freedom.” The injustice and oppression that symbols, such as the National Anthem, continue to conceal behind the mask of patriotism.


Participant 2:   It is an act of protest and personally I don't view it as an act of disrespect.  Why would anyone bother to stand for an anthem of a country that doesn't ensure the rights of all of its citizens?  It's absurd to think that protest is disrespectful when it attempts to highlight serious social, cultural, and political issues.  It is absurd that people are more concerned about respecting a symbol than respecting the lives and rights of its' citizens.


Participant 3: It is a peaceful protest. There have been a lot of controversy on it, but in the eyes of the constitution, it is legal. I think if they are not harming anyone, they are free to do as they wish, to stand up for what they believe in. On the other hand, I see why people think it is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to those who fight for us every day, some who don’t have the ability to stand.  No matter what someone does, someone else is always offended.





4) Do you believe it is the duty of those with power to speak out about issues in our society? Why or why not?


Participant 1: Yes, I do believe that it is the duty of those with power to speak out about issues in our society. The problem is that our society complains no matter what those people with a platform choose to do. If they don’t do anything with their power to raise awareness about an issue, we complain about their heartlessness/unwillingness to use their platform to make a change. If they do use their power to raise awareness about an issue, we complain that it isn’t their place to do anything- that they are only paid to play football or to sing or to act in a television show, not to speak out about societal issues. So I feel it is almost a lose-lose situation for those people with a platform. However, it is my personal belief that those with a platform have a responsibility to raise awareness about issues in our society. If not them, then who? If you think about it, how many times do we listen to poor people when they complain about issues? It isn’t fair, but if we only listen to those people who have some kind of power, rather than those who are suffering and begging for a change to be made.


Participant 2:   People with any sort of platform have a duty to speak the truth.  If a society has issues, those in power have a duty to their fellow citizens to educate themselves on any issues they can have a positive effect on so that they can speak out against them.


Participant 3: To an extent, yes. It is important to address things that are happening in our society, but some take it too far. People will share their opinion, and like I said, someone will always be offended. I think it is important to address all aspects of the situation and not just one person’s opinion.



5) Is the National Anthem just a song? Is it more? Please elaborate on any further opinions you have.


Participant 1: I personally believe that it is just a song, but I think that many people believe it to be a symbol of our nation’s greatness/freedom/equality, as well as a tribute to our soldiers (which I 100% disagree with, therefore am not considering in my argument in this question). In my opinion, this is why it is a great time to protest. I am not a believer in violent protests, so I believe that if you want to make a change, you must do so peacefully and in a way that grabs attention. Therefore, I think that the perfect time to peacefully protest the inequality certain citizens of this country face is during the time when we forget about them the most- such as when we are honoring our ideal image of America.


Participant 2: The national anthem is just a song.  The flag is a piece of fabric.  These may have symbolic meanings that hold cultural importance, but if 'disrespecting' these symbols serves to challenge the nation to effect social change, so be it.  Burning a flag or kneeling for an anthem have never killed an innocent person, but police officers have.  There is no reason to respect symbols of your country if it takes no steps to combat abuse in any branch or form.


Participant 3: The National Anthem is not just a song. Referring back to what I said in question one, it is a representation of those who have fought and continue to fight every day for people in our society to be able to express their opinion.



            Regardless of how you feel about the National Anthem, one thing is for sure: you have the right to express your opinion. Isn’t that what “Land of the Free” is all about?


Please note that Her Campus, Her Campus St. Vincent, and the writer do not support or refute the opinions of those in this article.