I was born into a family with deep ties to both Maryland and the Carolinas and was raised in both with most of my formal education taking place in Maryland. In history classes, my generation learned about the invasion of Baltimore by union troops; how the “free State” was so named after a suggestion she should attempt secession again in reaction to prohibition. We were taught about the battle for Baltimore in the War of 1812 and how Marylanders were responsible for pushing back a naval assault on Baltimore and fighting off land invasions in a war many Marylanders initially opposed.
We were also taught in social studies about the history of each county, and our ties to our sister State, Virginia. The Southern heritage of our people was so etched in our comprehension that when learning the other States of the Union, we were taught songs which sang off the Southern States…and then the rest. Indeed, in my travels I’ve noted the perspective given to us to be not unlike that given to the children of any other sovereign country.
It is because of this that I find, to this day, the reaction of the general population to recent events regarding the Star Spangled Banner most bewildering. New York City, to my young mind, was reasonably as far removed from my universe as Paris or Moscow. No question they were different people. You can imagine how it would be difficult to understand the devotion some have for the anthem having lifelong residence in faraway lands such as Utah and Hawaii, which have nothing organically in common with my neighbours.
I had ancestors involved in the defense of Fort McHenry. I knew a child down the road who unearthed an active shell once from the battle which caused quite a commotion and the visit of a bomb squad. That battle, that Fort, and this song never represented an empire to me. Natives to the area know when we hear “that our flag was still there”, the emphasis isn’t on the flag, but on “our“. We defended this city. We won the battle.
I say this not to denigrate the service of anyone else’s ancestors in that period, but to suggest that the Union using that bar tune for rainbow nation symbol worship is absurd and ironic. Ironic because direct family of Francis Scott Key, author of the anthem, were locked away during the War of Northern Aggression in the very same fort that Key saw defended. Absurd because the vast majority of US citizens have no reason to feel pride in a victory their ancestors never won.
I once attended a baseball game in Pittsburgh where during the anthem, Orioles fans in attendance screamed “O!!!” -as they do reliably- at the line “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave.” The Pittsburgh fans predictably were disgusted that “such disrespect” could be displayed. Baltimoreans know it would be nothing short of disrespectful to do any less than take the opportunity for pointing out, as one Marylander hollered back at the crowd, “We wrote the damn thing.”
When I see a foreigner pulling the conservative line that all should stand for the song, I’d like to ask “why do you care?” At the heart of it, it is a song which reflects the attitude of Marylanders then, and Southerners everywhere today. Government symbols come and go and could easily be one night away from replacement. The people are what make the nation. With that reflection, the anthem makes a mockery of the very idea that every race, creed and tongue should unite under one flag in some imaginary proposition nation.
The song means a bit more to me than some, but Dixie better suits Southerners as an anthem for our nation, our people. I won’t be caught taking a knee for anyone but my Creator, but I wouldn’t waste a breath standing for the flag of a foreign power, even with the adulterated use of a song so entwined with my home.
-By John Allen