I don’t know how many of you have ever celebrated your nation’s independence day in the capital city of the nation from which your own nation emancipated itself (stick with it, it makes sense!) but it definitely feels a bit funny.
This isn’t the first 4th of July I’ve spent in England, but for some reason it just struck me a bit more meaningfully this year. Perhaps because I saw the giant CELEBRATE CANADA DAY IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE banners everywhere earlier in the week, and realized that my own nation was probably not going to have a massive festival celebration of American-ness open for everybody to try some hot dogs and light their own fireworks. (Canada’s like the good sibling or something.)
In fact, the best we can hope for every year is to slink around mumbling “Sorry we didn’t want to be part of your colonial empire anymore” and holding a distinctly smaller paid-entry celebration over in Portman Square (which was also a day early on the 3rd), then saving the cream for the actual 4th by unveiling a larger-than-life statue of Ronald Reagan in Grosvenor Square where the Embassy is. Ooh, fun.
But perhaps the reason we don’t exactly trumpet our presence on Independence Day here in the land of our former colonial oppressors is the somewhat damning third verse of the US national anthem, the Star-Spangled Banner. (Oh yes, there is so more than one verse. And while I’m at it, how often do you get to use the word “spangled” in a serious sentence when not talking about the national anthem? Think about it.)
As everyone knows, the Star-Spangled Banner is not actually about the Revolutionary War, but was written during the War of 1812 when the British were trying to impinge on our naval rights. Yep, that’s the war where they burned down the White House. (Bitches.) Verse 1 actually poses a question at the end: “Oh say, can you see that banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Verse two is a resounding YES! Yes we can! Fort McHenry is still in American hands! We held the fort! Which is why the American flag is still flying! Over the fort! U-S-A! U-S-A! Number 1! Number 1!
Verse three, however, goes like this:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
To put it mildly, this stanza does not put the British in the most favorable light. A bunch of slaves and hirelings whose blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution? This sounds like the beginning of some sort of orc-based fantasy epic war narrative. (I really hope there are ents!)
So anyway, since WWII (remember that the Star-Spangled Banner has only been the national anthem since 1931), that stanza has been left out in respect for our dear allies, the British. And totally not because nobody can remember the words past the first verse.
(There’s a whole Isaac Asimov story about this; in fact, there’s a whole Isaac Asimov meme about this…if I’m feeling pedantic I might write a blog about that, and how that ‘debunking’ blog entry cannot in itself be verified. But this entry is not about that. We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming.)
Anyway, before I got distracted by Isaac Asimov, I was trying to talk about defying the Founding Fathers by choosing to go live in a nation that they worked their butts off to get independence from. (Apparently all I’ve learned is liberty from stodgy grammatical rules about ending sentences with prepositions.) Yes, there were no fireworks for me, and the science fiction feeling of being a stranger in a strange land (not an Asimov book, I KNOW) cast a distinctly thoughtful pall on the day. Not such a pall, however, that I didn’t go out and find a gratuitously fried item to consume. Which you might be arguing is NOT the POINT of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION, Caitlin.
Except I kind of think it is. Not the fried food bit, obviously, but the freedom to pursue happiness, which is in the Declaration of Independence, right up there with unalienable rights and all that. And as I said previously, ever since WWII the British have been like our bestest bestest buddies, despite all the flak the term “special relationship” gets when it’s used in a diplomatic context. So, even though the founding fathers might roll their eyes and sigh wearily if they caught me doing it, I kind of think celebrating Independence Day in London is the most patriotic thing I could be doing.
Thanks, Jefferson! I’ll save you some fried cheese.