Why I Hate The Star Spangled Banner

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that “The Star Spangled Banner” was the greatest piece of music ever composed.

In an hour I will be at a baseball game, taking off my cap and mumbling along, tunelessly, to the words of a song I hate.  I hate its lyrics, I mostly hate its music, and I hate what it stands for. I hate The Star Spangled Banner.

Let’s talk about the music first, since that’s its least objectionable part. Leaving aside its musical roots as an English booze hall song dedicated to some fool who died of cirrhosis, the Star Spangled Banner is an exceedingly tuneless piece of music that only really comes together in its first and last two stanzas (both of which begin with “Oh say…”).  Dull, repetitive, lacking in harmony, it wouldn’t be a memorable tune to any American if we didn’t bludgeon it into them as children before they’re fully able to read.

Think about the Star Spangled Banner for a second.  Play it in your head.  Odds are you’re playing something by a military band or a college marching band.  In a country of America’s musical richness, this is what we play when we want to remind ourselves of what makes America great? My God. We’ve delegated the work of John Philip Souza, the only American composer who really ever mastered this late period romantic military-patriotic thing, to a bunch of drunken English louts, the same louts we fought two wars to free ourselves from. If we must have a military marching song, sooner “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (which is actually rather wonderful) than the wretched musical abortion that is The Star Spangled Banner.

Which brings us to the lyrics. Frances Scott Key was many things, a lawyer, a patriot, a religious zealot. What he was not was a poet.

Let’s look at the lyrics with a critical eye:

Oh, say can you see…

Best lyric in the song.

By the dawn’s early light…


What so proudly we hailed…

Again, what? Evidently we hailed a run-on sentence.

At the twilight’s last gleaming…

By this point in the Iliad, Homer has introduced the Muses, the wrath of Achilles, Achilles’ royal birth, that Achilles was the greatest warrior of the Greeks, and the terrible effect of Achilles’ withdrawal on Greek fighting ability and morale. Again, WHAT?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars…


Through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched,

Were so gallantly streaming.

Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah…

And the rocket’s red glare,

The bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night,

That our flag was still there.

I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?

This is the part that trips up America’s greatest singers. Every year we invite them to the Super Bowl, to sing this monstrosity, and every year they fail. If Whitney Fucking Houston couldn’t sing this, why should I?

Which brings us to the theme of the song. The Star Spangled Banner glorifies everything that the Americans of 1814 fled Europe to escape: the worship of national symbols, the glorification of Leviathan. Suetonius tells us that after the disaster at the Teutoborg Forest, in which a horde of freedom-loving Germans crushed the imperialist legions of Rome under Varus, Augustus cried for months, not for the soldiers lost (one would call them “citizens” but the last Roman citizens were Brutus, Cassius, and Cato), but for his flags:


The founding idea of America is that we have no Emperor, and that no man need kneel, nor take off his hat, before an Eagle. The Star Spangled Banner is a Trojan Horse, in which the secret masters seek to compel the honest, yeoman farmers of America to kneel before an Eagle, just before enjoying the national pastime.

The Star Spangled Banner is the worst possible national anthem for the United States of America.

A national anthem should be memorable. It should be beautiful. It should be easy to sing, and most importantly it’s lyrics should reflect the nation’s virtues and character. The Star Spangled Banner is none of these things.

You know who has a great national anthem? Russia. It’s memorable. It’s easy to sing. It reflects the Russian virtues of obedience, sacrifice, and smothering submission to the collective.

This is the Russian national anthem, sung by Paul Robeson back when Russia was the Soviet Union.

Paul Robeson took a lot of flak for singing that anthem, but I forgive him.  If I’d been a black man of Robeson’s gifts, born two years after Plessy v. Ferguson, in a country which forced black men of Robeson’s gifts to kneel before an Eagle just to have the privilege of sitting on the back of a bus, I’d have sung it too.

The Star Spangled Banner should be replaced. It should be replaced by a genuinely American song, which reflects the national virtues of individualism, mistrust of authority, and rebellion. It should be composed by a great American songwriter, in a genuinely American musical form, a Duke Ellington, a Jerry Lieber, a Woody Guthrie.

Yes, Woody Guthrie, a perfect choice. Only, maybe, without all the communism.

— Patrick from Popehat

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91 Responses to “Why I Hate The Star Spangled Banner”

  1. #1 |  BP | 

    How about Arlo Guthrie instead? I’d never argue that Alice’s Restaurant has anything at all meaningful to say, but the extra twenty minutes would give me plenty of time to get a chili dog and a beer without missing the first pitch; and it would be the height of comedy to watch a large group try to stumble through it in unison.

  2. #2 |  SamK | 

    Eh, I like it. I get the hate but it still “works” and it has its place.

  3. #3 |  JOrz | 

    Obviously someone hasn’t been reading their Isaac Asimov! He wrote a piece in Fantasy & Science Fiction in March 1991 called “All Four Stanzas” which will answer all your questions Patrick. (the full text of his column is towards the bottom of the link)


  4. #4 |  Allen G | 

    No one has mentioned the Battle Hymn of the Republic as a possible replacement? It’s easy to sing, it’s got great lyrics (He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored / He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword), it references the single most formative event in US history rather than one of its five dumbest wars, and it has a nice righteous cause behind it. Of course, some southerners and certain atheists will object to it, but it the pro’s in its favor are pretty substantial.

  5. #5 |  Brandon | 

    #32: ““AS IN: If You Don’t Like It Get The F*$K OUT””

    Thanks for the reminder that patriotism is the last refuge of the morally bankrupt, brain-dead and lazy, too. How about “If you don’t like it, try to change it. Tell people what you don’t like about it and why, and explain what you believe would be better alternatives. Most people don’t want to actually think about it, so the dumb ones will dismiss you with some stupid unoriginal bullshit like ‘If you don’t like it, git out!” which has absolutely nothing to do with the meaning of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the lazy or entitled will dismiss you as selfish, heartless or some other meaningless buzzword, but maybe, just maybe, a few people will engage with your ideas and actually put some thought into them, and find that they actually agree with them. Rinse and repeat, and you may get a few more converts. Continue, and you may actually effect change. But don’t get out, unless you want to, because, even though some morons don’t want to understand it, freedom of speech is your birthright, given to you by no less than God himself, and not by politicians, soldiers or cunts on the internet who try to glean false credibility by appropriating the Marines’ slogan and then shitting on it. This is the greatest country on Earth, and the only way to keep it that way is to keep it the freest country on Earth despite the best efforts of some of its officials and their cheerleaders.” That do anything for you?

  6. #6 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Hell, it could be worse. P. J. O’Rourke described the Albanian National Anthem as sounding like the Marine Corps Band playing the entire Ring Cycle while falling down all the stairs in the Washington Monument. I thought that was over the top until I read it to my cousin Ellen (who spent time in Albania once), who said that it’s about right.

    We could give all the would-be elitists a conniption by adopting Kipling’s THE OLD ISSUE and setting it to music.

    “All the right they promise, all the wrong they bring,
    Stewards of the Judgement, suffer not the King”

  7. #7 |  Linda | 

    Whitney Houston could sing it.

  8. #8 |  Ted S. | 

    I vote for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s theme to the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood. Written for entertainment purposes, by an immigrant, about a man fighting a tyrannical usurper. And it has no lyrics for people to screw up.

  9. #9 |  Elliot | 

    I despise the Pledge of Allegiance–with or without the religious reference–as a loyalty oath which schools forcibly make students (who don’t understand the meaning) to memorize by rote, in the way that totalitarian regimes force students to mouth platitudes about the Furher, Dear Leader, fatherland/motherland, etc.. It’s also similar to religious indoctrination of young people, before they are old enough to be skeptical.

    I don’t see the Star Spangled Banner in the same way, but as others here have pointed out, as simply a sign that the British failed to take the fort. Also, I’m not bothered by the music and find those who make such complaints to be insufferable prigs. Go listen to Jimi Hendrix play it or a great singer who doesn’t flub the lines.

    Woody Guthrie would be about the last person I’d choose to represent American values. He was a communist, for whom those who achieved the American dream were regarded with envy and hate. Sounds like the occupy assholes.

    I prefer Neil Diamond’s “(Coming to) America”. There’s no hogwash about politics. It’s hopeful and celebratory. Though, the anti-immigration camp wouldn’t care for it, likely.

  10. #10 |  B | 

    I agree the SSB is pretty terrible, but changing the national anthem (officially) would almost certainly result in something worse.

    Either we would get the bland, committee-based, inoffensive offering described by Other Sean @29 (the musical equivalent of the design of the Euro currency), or we would be saddled with either “God Bless America” (an even more insipid song from a failed musical) or that Lee Greenwood abomination “Proud to be an American”.

    Now, if we could get everyone on board with “America! Fuck Yeah!”…

  11. #11 |  Lefty | 

    All the flag worshiping turns my stomach. It clearly implies that the state is more important than the people. When liberals burn the flag this is exactly what they’re protesting.

  12. #12 |  demize! | 

    An interesting essay, though I disagree. I find the lyrics captivating, though the music awkward. But it seems we might sing The Ha Tikvah at this juncture, might be more honest. This worship of the accouterments of state power are, inevitable, and in their current fervor revelatory of decline.

  13. #13 |  Personanongrata | 

    I hate anthems but if y’all insist this would be my choice written by the fascist slayer himself:

    Woody Guthrie – This Land Is Your Land


  14. #14 |  Me2 | 

    No one has ever nor since sang the National Anthem as properly as this woman:


    Whitney Houston fucked it up completely.

  15. #15 |  Jeff | 

    I despise the Pledge of Allegiance–with or without the religious reference–as a loyalty oath which schools forcibly make students (who don’t understand the meaning) to memorize by rote

    Hear, hear. (Missing the like button today.)

  16. #16 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Oh, come off it. The kind of pseudo-revolutionary twit who burns the flag isn’t doing it for any cause nobler than “look at me! look at me! look at me!”. Which is why I am against an anti-flag-burning law or amendment; the proper way to deal with such imbeciles would be to ticket them for lighting a fire in a public place without a permit.

  17. #17 |  Other Sean | 


    You said: “But it seems we might sing The Ha Tikvah at this juncture, might be more honest.”

    That’s intended to mean what, exactly?

  18. #18 |  GT | 

    @ #54 (B) – “America – Fuck Yeah!” certainly captures the American zeitgiest – at least, that which prevailed from the First Indian War onwards: fuck people up and steal their shit, while crowing about freedom and mindlessly braying about how everyone who disagrees is a terrrrrrrist.

    Meanwhile, real median wages in the US have not moved since 1974 – while the welfare recipients at the top of the State-sponsored FinPharmaMil complex have had their incomes rise twenty-fold.

    And of course the stupid cunts who bray “Well if you don’t like it, get the fuck out!” (who presumably never ever disagree with anything any incumbent politican says, ever) are just the icing on the cake: walking advertisements for the deliberate expansion of anosognosia and the Dunning Kruger effect (both natural outcomes of public education and Allegiance-Pledging a la North Korea).

    Fuck yeah!

  19. #19 |  supercat | 

    #8 | En Passant | “In that respect I would characterize some modern renderings as a “Frankenstein monster”, transforming a waltz into a march…”

    If people are going to change the rhythm, I’d rather see it done in 6/8 (mostly mapping the three beats in each original measure to a quarter, eighth, and dotted-quarter, but with some measures having three straight quarters), 5/4 (could be done similar to the tune, “Take 5”, or could be done as a 2-2-1 pattern), modified 4/4 (dotted-quarter, dotted-quarter, quarter), etc. All much more interesting than the stodgy 4/4 that seems so inexplicably popular.

  20. #20 |  demize! | 

    #61 what the fuck do you think asswipe? You know exactly what I mean. Why dont you go make Aliyah and piss off out of this country. Your obtuse act is wearing thin. Get your priorities straight and then we’ll chat, but up until then you’re just another obnoxious supremacist that has one set of ethical standards for everybody else, but a special dispensation from God or whoever to nullify that ethos when you see fit. You are a hypocrite, but worse than that one who believes his own bullshit. You were quite clear that the Non Aggression principle and Property Rights only apply in arbitrary instances that, surprise surprise, you define. And you attempted various methods of sophistry to wedge a square peg in a round hole, that is solipsism. Now I choose not to respond further in the last thread we argued on because I didn’t think it would be at all productive, so suffice in knowing that I think you are morally repugnant.

  21. #21 |  David Gross | 

    “[I will be] taking off my cap and mumbling along, tunelessly, to the words of a song I hate.”

    But why? When I feel the national anthem approaching, that’s always been my queue to get up and stand in the beer queue.

  22. #22 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Panama has the greatest national anthem and David Lee Roth was at his vocal best when he recorded it.

  23. #23 |  Anti Federalist | 

    “In an hour I will be at a baseball game, taking off my cap and mumbling along, tunelessly, to the words of a song I hate.”

    If “crowd pressure” is enough to compel you to stand, then try reciting the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence instead.

  24. #24 |  Lefty | 

    #C. S. P. Schofield

    There’s bound to be some ‘look at me’ in any movement. I think there’s still a fair amount of legitimate outrage at the preeminence of the state over the people. Burning a flag is a clear message to the state from the people that we don’t like what it’s doing. It should fall under 1st amendment protections. These people don’t need to be dealt with.

  25. #25 |  LJB | 

    My choice as an alternative: “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Love it.

  26. #26 |  Gentry Semper Fi | 

    #49 glean false credibility by appropriating the Marines’ slogan

    Brandon; My credibility is neither false or fictious MOS: 0331 11-84~85 Marine Barracks NAS ADAK AK. > 11-85~1-87 Aco. 1st Bn. 5th Marines > 1-87~5-88 Persian Gulf + Operation: Earnest Will > 5-88~1-89 HQco. SS plt 24th Marines..

    Now ask the citizens of China, North Korea, Russia, Syria &/or Iran if Free Speech is a “Birthright”?
    The rights you and Patrick Popehat want to change were given to you by Men and Women willing to stand up for something bigger than themslves, endure a 25 hour bombardment by “Rockets Red Glare and Gave Proof, that yes The Flag Was Still There”!! And yes I will be the first, to stand with you and defend your Free Speech rights, but I also reserve my Free Speech right to tell Patrick or you your wrong. To respect the history that went into the adaptation of the National Anthem & Pledge..

  27. #27 |  Patrick from Popehat | 

    What rights do I want to change, Gentry?

  28. #28 |  Elliot | 

    Gentry Semper Fi (#33):AS IN: If You Don’t Like It Get The F*$K OUT

    I was with you on the meaning of the song, until you started channeling the ghost of Spiro Agnew with his ridiculous “Love it or leave it” bullshit.

    While Native Americans likely have the most valid reason to tell others to leave, the people who usually toss that cliche around, in my experience, are people who are least deserving of the title of American. When some Democrat/”liberal” asshole wants to transform the US into a socialist paradise and thinks my freedom-oriented objections are an impedance, they tell me that the “will of the people” trumps my “extremism” and that I should leave if I don’t care for the whims of the mob. Not that you’re like them, as far as I can tell, but I think you’re also wrong with this:

    Gentry Semper Fi (#76):The rights you and Patrick Popehat want to change were given to you by Men and Women willing to stand up for something bigger than themslves…

    Nobody gives rights to anyone. Rights are inalienable, even for people born in China, North Korea, etc.. Governments violate those rights, but they can’t nullify them any more than they can create them. Rights are not the product of any political or military action, but the logical result of us being rational beings.

    It may be necessary to use military force or political resistance to protect our rights, i.e., to stop others from violating them. I, for one, am grateful to those who honorably risk their lives in that effort, though I would emphasize that this applies only in situations where the lives or freedom of Americans are actually at risk.

  29. #29 |  John M. Burt | 

    I like the SSB, and would like it better if it were played at a singable speed, and also if we occasionally used one of the other verses*. I heartily concur with Isaac Asimov’s essay, which I have cherished for years.

    But here’s an idea: what if we were to adopt a very widespread song, L’Internationale, but give it our own lyrics:

    All people are created equal
    With rights to life and liberty
    The State must be the People’s servant
    That they might be safe and free
    And if the State should shirk its duty
    The People then must stand
    Their right’s to alter or abolish it
    And remake it by their hand

    I’m only about half joking here . . . .

    *It would serve us right if, when the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, an Afghan chorus were to serenade us with the third verse.

  30. #30 |  Brandon | 

    “Now ask the citizens of China, North Korea, Russia, Syria &/or Iran if Free Speech is a “Birthright”?”

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

    So yes, according to First Principles as well as our nation’s founding document, it is a birthright. Other countrys’ governments violating that right does not invalidate it, nor does it give our government the moral authority to do the same.

  31. #31 |  Elliot | 

    John M. Burt (#79):It would serve us right if, when the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, an Afghan chorus were to serenade us with the third verse.

    Speak for yourself. I didn’t send the troops there and if the powers that be had asked me, I’d have told them to spend their own damned money on that nation-building project.

    Also, considering that the ultimate victors once the US military pulls out will be one or another type of theocratic autocracy, I see no reason to cite any verse about a “land of the free” in that hell hole. I pity the civilian who is caught in the middle, and the grunt with his boots in the sand taking orders from those who truly deserve derision, watching his friends get killed for no good reason.

  32. #32 |  aairfccha | 

    If anyone wants a downloadable mp3 version of the soviet anthem, go to this site: http://www.hymn.ru/index-en.html and scroll sown to the 1944 version. It’s as long as the youtube video and sounds identical so it should be the same recording.

  33. #33 |  ravenshrike | 

    The reason that the SSB is horribad as a national anthem is because it was a poem written by a guy on a boat whose brother in law got the great idea to set to music. Over the next 80 years it bubbled through the collective American consciousness and the Navy officially made it theirs. Then a quarter of a century later it was made the national anthem. As far as I know it’s the ONLY national anthem with such a long pedigree prior to becoming a national anthem. The rest were all pretty much written for the occasion as it were, which seems rather boring when all’s said and done. As poorly as it scans, I’ll take the SSB any day.


  34. #34 |  ravenshrike | 

    Hmm, make that 40 years later

  35. #35 |  Swimmy | 

    Yes. YES. I fully, 100% support that Mojo Nixon version as our national anthem. The MOJOWORLD part would be included in every singing.

    I’d also support any other Mojo Nixon song.

  36. #36 |  Technomad | 

    I’d rather put some really good kick-ass words to the Imperial March from the Star Wars movies.

  37. #37 |  Kip W | 

    I have nothing against the Star-Spangled Banner. True, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes rock more (especially played by Horowitz)(or Guy Van Duser), but it’s an anthem. If I got to be the replacement committee, I’d go for “America the Beautiful,” which probably meets none of the requirements, and sort of singles out Colorado. Heh.

    Nancy Lebovitz @17 — Rand was talking about The Internationale (also answered @50, I see now). She also liked The Song of the Broken Glasses, which has always intrigued me. I halfway suspect that might be the tune they use in “The Devil’s Ball” when the wine glasses are breaking each other.

    Other Sean @30 — Albert Brooks did a great routine about rewriting the national anthem (“Nobody sings it on the way to work any more…”). It’s at YouTube, and also on his first album, “Comedy Minus One.”

  38. #38 |  Elliot | 

    I recently read about how Albert Brooks has the most convoluted name origin story (see #1).

  39. #39 |  Big M | 

    Why does anybody need a national anthem in the first place? Mindless nationalism is one of THE main reasons why this “nation” is so fucked up in the first place. And when did this idiotic tradition of singing this nonsense before every single sporting event get its start?

    And to any red-necked, knuckle-dragging Copenhagen dippers who want to write/shout at me, “U!S!A!,” “love it or leave it,” etc., etc., ad nauseam, take a good look at the flag you wank off to. It was probably made in China.

  40. #40 |  Peter | 

    #68 got it right:


  41. #41 |  Deoxy | 

    Summary of post: English from more than 50ish years ago sucks, especially poetry, and I hate it.

    Seriously, whatever you may think of the music (not going to argue that at all), the verbiage and the story it tells is actually pretty nifty.

    In current, non-poetic language:

    Hey, can you see that flag? We saw it last night at sunset, and we saw it occasionally through the night from the big explosions and stuff. Now it’s dawn – can you see it? Has our army withstood the assault, or did they surrender?

    That’s it. It’s flowery poetry stuff, and it’s old. Yay. Go read bloody ANYTHING ELSE poetic from more than 100 years ago, and tell me this is any worse.

    Burning a flag is a clear message to the state from the people that we don’t like what it’s doing. It should fall under 1st amendment protections.

    That one always seemed really odd to me – it’s my property, I can burn it. What I SAY by that is irrelevant. It’s mine; I can burn it.

    Now, there are laws about when and how things may be burned in public, and if they are reasonable and being enforced evenly, then fine (public safety). But otherwise…

    It’s mine; I can burn it. What is the 1st Amendment crap people are tacking on the end?

    (Actually, this reminds me of the brisk business people over in the Middle East run in Israeli flags – gotta buy em before you can burn em, eh? Kinda funny, really.)