Friday, January 11, 2013

Why national anthems?

I like the 'Marseillaise.' It was the only one of the national anthems I liked to listen to during the War. It made you want to go and fight. 'God Save the King' was a funeral march.

That's Ebenezer Le Page giving his assessment of national anthems he heard during the Great War in The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, a novel by G.B. Edwards. I find his words amusing, but they do make me wonder: What is the purpose of a national anthem, anway? Is it, as Ebenezer supposes, to make a soldier want to fight? In wartime, that might not be such a bad idea.

Today we hear national anthems mostly at athletic events -- before ball games and during medal ceremonies. Do they make athletes play harder? Are they nothing more than the equivalent of a school fight song? If so, what's the point if both teams have the same fight song?

Singing the national anthem before a ball game has always seemed a trifle inappropriate to me, but if not at sporting events, then when would most of us ever sing or even hear our anthem? But if sporting events, then why not concerts, lectures or, heaven forbid, church services?

I think one's national anthem should instill a feeling of pride and, perhaps, bring a tear to the eye. Some anthems do that better than others. The United States anthem calls attention to the nation's flag and and to an important moment in its history, which also seem like worthy objectives for an anthem.

A website ( ranks anthems according to how beautiful they are. The top 10 are, in order, Peru, France, Spain, Chile, Italy, United Kingdom, United States, Greece, Cyprus and Russia. In peacetime, and especially during the Olympic Games, beauty may just as important as any other reason for having a national anthem.

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