The US national anthem, the “Star-Spangled Banner”, has four verses, though only one is commonly sung or discussed. The reason for this becomes apparent when the lyrics are read and the history behind them known.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave
Historian Robin Blackburn writes that these lyrics, from verse three of the four-verse anthem, were an expression of settler pride after having won a major turf war with the British at New Orleans. Written by a slave owner, staunch anti-abolitionist activist, and co-founder of the “American Colonization Society” (as was the entire song), they offer a ghoulish warning to slaves who were fighting for the British in exchange for freedom, reminding unwilling laborers that escape, or “flight’, from settler-servitude would be terrifying, as they would be hunted (which they were), and that, since the anti-abolitionist settlers were gaining the upper hand, trying to achieve freedom would lead only to “the grave”.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
From verse four, these lyrics express a fundamentalist religious belief that the settlers’ god had preserved for them the land they were violently colonizing, and which had been fully utilized and occupied by people for many thousands of years. Indeed, the top militant commander in the fight at New Orleans, Andrew Jackson, himself waged numerous genocidal assaults on the inhabitants of the land, sometimes skinning them and using their skins to fashion clothing and other objets d’art, a la the serial killer antagonist in Silence of the Lambs. He rode the glory brought to him by these deeds to the highest position in the settler social hierarchy.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
Among the causes justifying conquest, or empire-building, are the desire to preserve slavery, fictional commands from the settlers’ deity, and freedom to carry out these missions without British interference, similar to how Israeli settlers of today are held back by their government from committing the full level of genocidal conquest they would like, though the government, too, working with the US, constantly expands the illegal settlements and commits terrorist (UN evaluation, pg. 408, par. 1) massacres against the indigenous peoples under its boot-heel.
In 1783, George Washington, a militant and slaver (some of whose slaves fled to freedom with the British) who, like Jackson, also rode to glory and the highest position in the settler social hierarchy on massacres of indigenous people and rape of indigenous women, proclaimed that his was a “rising empire”, later adding that his “infant empire” would eventually gain some real “weight in the scale of Empires.”
Robert Barsocchini is an internationally published researcher and writer who focuses on global force dynamics and also writes professionally for the film industry. He is a regular contributor to Washington’s Blog. Follow the author and his UK-based colleague, Dean Robinson, on Twitter.