How Long Will It Wave O’er The Land Of The Free…

It was only a 50-minute video.

And I don’t consider myself a particularly sentimental person.

But I’d gotten sentimental – to the point of tears – by the time the video ended.

There’s something parades, and marching bands, and people waving American flags…

And carrying the flag…

And even wearing silly flag-themed costumes…

It all got to me.

The film was A&E’s The Star-Spangled Banner, a 2004 program focused on the huge – and hugely famous – flag that inspired the song that became our national anthem.

To give context to that flag, the film did a great job of providing background information:  During the War of 1812, on September 13, 1814, British ships began a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor: 

The British failed to capture the fort, and the next morning the fleet withdrew.  To celebrate, the fort’s commander ordered that the fort’s current flag be taken down and replaced with the huge (30’ x 42’) flag.  It could be seen for miles around – as far as a ship anchored eight miles away on the Patapsco River, where an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key would put pen to paper and call it the flag “the star-spangled banner.”

The film goes on to detail the efforts over the years to restore and maintain big flag, and there’s also great information about that on the Smithsonian’s website.  The Star-Spangled Banner is on view at the Smithsonian:

And though it’s taken a lot of punishment during its 200+ years, you can see it’s still huge.

And beautiful.

And seeing it made me proud.

And sentimental.

And sad.

Because seeing this film about the Star-Spangled Banner reminded me of a quote:

“The establishment of our new Government seemed to be the last great experiment, for promoting human happiness, by creating a reasonable compact, in civil Society.”  – George Washington, 1790

Here’s the definition of “experiment”:

A course of action tentatively adopted
without being sure of the eventual outcome.

What Washington said is true – our form of government was and is an experiment, though I think many of us complacently believe that since it’s been around for more than 200 years, it’s here to stay.

But history tells us that no form of government has any assurance of enduring, and here are a few examples:

Hitler, suicide, 1945.

Adolph Hitler’s “Thousand-Year Reich” lasted from 1933 to 1945.

The Romanov dynasty began its rule over Russia in 1613.  During the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bolshevik revolutionaries toppled the monarchy, ending the dynasty.  Tsar Nicholas II and his family were later murdered by Bolshevik troops.

The Romanov family, murdered, 1917.

England had been ruled by a series of monarchs for more than 600 years when a civil war began in 1642.  It would eventually topple the king, Charles I, from his throne; he was tried and executed in 1649.  England became a republican Commonwealth led by a non-royal “lord protector,” Oliver Cromwell.

There’s do doubt that Hitler and his adherents believed that their “Thousand-Year Reich” was here to stay…until it wasn’t.

Charles I, executed, 1649.

No doubt that most Russians believed the dynasty that ruled the country for more than 300 years would always do so…until it didn’t.

No doubt that the people of England believed in their monarchy system was inviolate…until it wasn’t.

And there’s no reason to believe our form of government will always be our form of government.

Many Americans learn to sing The Star-Spangled Banner at an early age, but I’m guessing not many have read the lyrics.

When we do, we see that what we sing is actually two long questions:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night that our flag was still there; o say does that star-spangled banner yet wave o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Today we can answer “yes” – that star-spangled banner still waves o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

But for how much longer?

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