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While Donald Trump, Roger Goodell, and LeBron James bicker about the US national anthem, let me give you a Canadian conservative’s take on “The Star Spangled Banner.”
On September 11, 2001, I was working in Ottawa as Communications Director to the then Leader of the Opposition. The comms shop had a bank of TVs going that morning and when the first plane hit, we all gathered around. When the second plane came into view, heading for the towers, we all knew what it was and we also knew that there would be a taxing few days ahead as we prepared for the crush of media demands for comment, analysis, reaction, and interviews as well as the Parliamentary demands for questions, answers, motions, and statements.
With typical Canadian caution, the Liberal government of the day moved slowly to react and offer condolences and support to our American neighbours. We in the Opposition waited until the Prime Minister spoke before issuing our statements. In the days and weeks that followed, the Liberals focused on the need to identify and address “root causes” while we conservatives immediately understood that it was radical Islam and jihadist hatred behind everything.
After a few days, the government organized a memorial ceremony of sorts on Parliament Hill, with bands, speeches, flags, and the trappings of a solemn occasion. There was no mention of God, of course, since that would offend some people and Canadians, especially when the Liberals are in power, would never want to do that.
Towards the end of the event, we sang “O Canada!” It was a typical hockey rink style rendition, with the several thousand people in the audience mumbling along in more or less unity. And then, the person at the mike sang, “O say, can you see…” and Parliament Hill was transformed.
Every person there sang. Every word. With meaning and emotion. It was electrifying. Thousands of Canadians singing the American national anthem, with meaning, understanding, sympathy and fervour.
Some time later, driving home in the dusk, the magnitude of it all hit me. Sobbing openly, I pulled to the side of the road until my eyes dried up a bit and I could actually see where I was going. Again that evening, when I called my wife to tell her about what had happened (she was still back home in Edmonton) I cried again. And every time I heard the anthem for months afterwards I choked up.
Even today, more than a decade and a half on, when a particularly good rendition starts a football game, or a stock car race on TV, I struggle to maintain a stoic, calm, Canadian exterior. I sometimes turn the sound off so I can avoid another crying jag.
Your anthem is stirring. It reflects the greatness of the USA, inspired during times of peril. It recalls the struggles and sacrifice that gave birth to America. It should be sung with gratitude, emotion and reflection. You are not a perfect nation, but you have a perfect national anthem.