National Anthems: A Call to Arms
by Mathew Perry, class of 2000
In the world today virtually every country has some sort of unique identity. Whether part of another larger group or an independent state, nations always maintain a piece of themselves to separate them from the wider world.  However, during the past three hundred years, when a country does gain its freedom or independence, one of the first things established is a national anthem.  A national anthem is arguably one of the most important aspects of a country's independent status and it is the umbrella under which the country can rally and be proud. Anthems often speak of very similar things. One of the most prevalent theme among the world's national anthems is the theme of war.  This also encompasses the struggles of revolution and rebellion.  These anthems often do nothing more than retell an account of a battle in which men succeeded against all odds to emerge as victorious against an oppressive evil.  When this story is told over and over again it reminds people of how their nation came to be and how they should be proud to be who they are.  Having said this, national anthems have truly only one purpose, to instill patriotism and nationalism in  citizens during a time of need. This time of need can range anywhere from a sporting event, to a need for national mobilization, to a call for war.  Yet to understand how a short song can bring a whole country together it is necessary to understand the anthems themselves and how they came to be.

A national anthem would be a very foreign idea were it not for the existence of the very key element, the nation.  A nation is commonly considered to be a group of people bound together by language, culture, or some other common heritage and is usually recognized as a political entity. Ordinarily the word nation is used synonymously with country or state, however, it does imply more than just the existence of boundaries. When Poland was partitioned in the 18th century it ceased to exist as a nation. Yet the Poles continued to think of themselves as a nation. Also when Yugoslavia was created after the end of World War I, it contained several different distinct groups of people who considered themselves nations of Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Montenegrins.(Grolier) The modern European nation as we know it today came about with the decline of the feudal era, when people began to give their loyalties to the kings rather than the local lords. At the same time the people ceased identifying themselves in terms of the universalism of the church and the Holy Roman Empire.  Later, the American and French revolutions identified nationhood with the people themselves rather than with the sovereign head.  In the 19th and 20th centuries nationalism became a very strong political force as people everywhere sought independence and self determination.(Grolier)

During the last two hundred years, nationalism hass become a popular sentiment that places the well being and existence of the nation on the highest scale of political loyalties.  In terms, it signifies a person,s willingness to work for the benefit of the nation against foreign domination, be it political, economic or cultural.  Nationalism also implies a much deeper idea for it signifies a group conscienceness of a shared history, race, language or system of values.(Grolier) The significance of this is in its role in supplying the ties that make the nation-state a cohesive viable entity. Nationalist movements started in the late 18th century and continued to grow throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They played a key role in many of the world movements.  Nationalism had deep roots in the French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, Nazism, and Italian Fascism, to name a few.  It has been the underlying theme of the last three hundred years and it is responsible for the situation of the world today out of which came national anthems.

 At first, national anthems were not truly recognized by their respective governments as such.  Many of the anthems of today have their roots in songs or poems sung a long time before they were ever called national anthems. Often the music and the lyrics arrived separately.  For example The Star-Spangled Banner , the anthem of the United States, was written in the early years of the 19th century, 1814 to be exact, by Francis Scott Key.  He first wrote it as a poem and later it was shortened and put to the tune of an old English song, believed to have been written by John Stafford Smith sometime during the mid-eighteenth-century.(Leonard)  The application of the music was not something that occured overnight. There was much debate over which tune would be adopted and who adopted it. To this day there is still some controvesy over the issue.

So anthems, like nationalism, evolved much along the same lines. These early preludes to anthems were mostly, if not exclusively, about war. With that being said, the question must be asked, what is it about war that often goes hand in hand with national anthems? Simply put, it is the attempt to rally the individual for the greater good of the collective. Nothing can unite a people quite like a war. It is a time of kill or be killed both on the individual and on the national level. If one can capture that spirit in a song and it is sung in times of national need then it will be forever a reminder of the sacrifice of the past for the benefit of the present.

Perhaps to  illustrate the point more boldly it is necessary to provide a few examples. In the world today there are no better known examples of nationalistic and war related anthems than those of France, Great Britain and the United States. They are all fervently patriotic songs that are well known world wide as part of  their respective country's identities. To start, let us look at the example of France and see how its national anthem has come about and grown to be a symbol of triumph and liberty.

The French national anthem is perhaps one of the most well known in the world both in lyrics and in the music itself. When commissioned by the mayor of Strasbourg to write a marching song for French revolutionary troops, Captain Claude-Joseph Rouget de L'isle, an army engineer, composed the song later known as La Marseillaise in one night. and was completed on April 24, 1792. Originally it was published as Chant de guerre pour l' armiee du Rhin (War Song Of The Army Of The Rhine) since it was sung during the French campaign in Austria. Two months later a company of volunteers sang the song as they entered Paris from Marseillaise and the Parisians dubbed the tune La Marseillaise.  In 1795, the song was officially adopted as the French national anthem. During the period of 1852-1870, sometimes called the Second Empire, a less revolutionary anthem was used, but in 1871 La Marseillaise was reinstated as the official anthem of the Republique Francaise.(Leonard Intro)

Arise you children of our Motherland,
Oh now is here our glorious day!
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway!
Of tyranny holds sway!
Oh do you hear there in the fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin
To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields

                                                         With their tainted blood!

Similarly to La Marseillaise, Great Britain's anthem, God save the Queen is equally as well known throughout the world. This anthem's lyrics are not as militaristic as many others but they are very nationalistic. It made its premier in the present form that we know September 28, 1745 as a gesture of support for King George II. The army of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the "Young Pretender" or "Bonnie Prince Charlie", had defeated the British forces at Prestonpans in southern Scotland earlier in that month. The news of the defeat shocked London, and a wave of patriotic zeal against the Jacobite threat mobilized the people in support of King George II. Thomas Arne, a composer and conductor, quickly arranged the anonymous tune of God Save the Queen. The tune was due to be performed once, in homage to the King, but it turned out to be a great success and it was performed nightly at the Theatre Royal where Arne worked. Interestingly enough, the tune was so popular that at various times it served as the national anthems of Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, several German states and even the United States.(Leonard Intro) There are many versions of the song that have been added over the years but many would agree that this is one of the more popular versions.
 

God save our gracious queen;
Long live our noble Queen;
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!
Thy choicest gifts in store
On her pleased to pour;
Long my she reign;
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen!

Even more well know than God Save the Queen is The Star Spangled Banner, one of the more popular of the national anthems, perhaps for no reason other than the United States is a world superpower, and plays the anthem at every opportunity.  Even though it is played often, (more often than it probably should) many people are not familiar with the history that surrounds the creation of America's most famous tune. When the British had marched through the Maryland countryside, after the burning off Washington DC, they had passed through the town of a certain Dr. Beans. Two of the soldiers got drunk and were accused of being a public nuisance. Dr. Beans arrested the two for disorderly conduct and placed them in jail. The British, after catching wind of this, returned to the town, took back to two soldiers and took Dr. Bean with them.(Svejda pg. 32) On September 13, 1814 a lawyer by the name of Francis Scott Key visited the British fleet outside of Baltimore harbor to negotiate the release of Dr. William Beans. He was taken out to a ship under a flag of truce and the release was secured.  However, Key was detained overnight due to the fact that the British were not going to release him during the shelling of Fort McHenry which was going on at the time. After witnessing the shelling of the fort he was so delighted in the morning when he saw the American flag waving above the fort that it inspired him to quickly write a poem. The poem soon gained quick popularity and it was then put to the tune of "Ancreon in Heaven".(Leonard Intro) This tune, although obscure, was believed to have been written by John Stafford Smith who was a British composer born in 1750. The Star Spangled Banner.

O say, can you see,
By the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd
At the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars,
Thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd,
Were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare,
The bombs bursting in air
Gave proof thro' 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?

Even though the Star-Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812, it did not have official status as a national anthem for many years. On July 26, 1889, the Secretary of the Navy B. F. Tracy issued order No. 374, thereby adopting the Star-Spangled Banner for band music at morning colors. Shortly after July 8th of the following year, Secretary Tracy wrote the commandant of the Marine Corps requesting him to "Please direct that the Marine Band will play the National Air of the United States at the close of every public performance."(Svejda pg. 218-19) Soon the tune was played at evening colors as well and the Marine Band, a very well respected band at the time, took to the road and in doing so spread the awareness of the Banner. It was a tune that was catching on, and Americans needed no help to see its meaning. For example, on February 15, 1898, the United States battleship Maine blew up in th harbor of Havana, Cuba killing 260 officers and men. On that day one newspaper reported that  "the orchestra in Daly's Theater, in New York, switching from a popular air of the day, swung into 'The Star Spangled Banner,' men and women rose to their feet. Cheers that spoke of the souls present roared through the house for minutes, and never, it has been said, was such a scene witnessed in days of peace."(Svejda pg. 224) Soon after came the Spanish American War, which is the event that solidified the public's awareness of the song. Soon after, the Army adopted the tune, and along with this came the tradition of standing and uncovering the head for civilians and, for military men, to stand at attention while maintaining a salute. Patriotic groups were starting to pressure Congress to adopt the banner as the official national anthem of the United States. There were some critics of the banner, and their arguments were that the it was too anglophobic, and extremely difficult to sing. However, public pressure overcame the critics, and on March 3, 1931 the Bill to make the Star Spangled Banner the national anthem was adopted by the Senate and went to the president to sign.(Svejda pg. 5)

The one common factor that unites all of these anthems is the fact that all three have strict ties to the military.  La Marseillaise originated as a marching song intended for the army and throughout its history the French have proudly sang the song when there was a need. God Save the Queen was written for the benefit of the king who needed the support of his people because of a costly military defeat at the hands of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This is a very patriotic song that was used by many other countries as a rallying cry.  And finally, the Star-Spangled Banner was written during a battle in which the Americans eventually came out victorious, forever expelling the British from America.  So the question must be asked. What is the relationship between national anthems and war? The is no clear answer to that question, but there is a distinct relationship between the two that cannot be ignored. The intended result of an anthem is to instill patriotism and a common bond with one's fellow countrymen. Long before The Star Spangled Banner  was adopted by Congress, it was adopted by the Navy and the Army. That fact alone suggests its power to promote patriotism. Such an atmosphere is extremely important in a time of war. To win a war, a country must have the support of the troops in the field and the people back home. When reminded of how their country had risen up together to defeat their foe, civilians and troops are inspired to do the same. The important factor in an anthem is to be able to link the individual with the collective, to make one feel part of the whole.

Anthems do something else that is equally important. They all tell a story. In each story is a message, sometimes hidden, at other times quite obvious. This message is that there is great glory in fighting for one's country. It says that perhaps there is no greater honor than to lay aside all that you love to do as your ancestors did before you and fight for your country. Nowhere in a national anthem do you see the tales of the horror of war, the stories that veterans tell and men being killed by the hundreds and thousands and all the mothers and fathers who are left to grieve for their dead sons. In order to inspire nationalistic feelings, the hope is that this is the side that of war that will be totally overwhelmed by the patriotic feelings one has for one's country - the very patriotic power that come from singing a song that is not only unique to you but to all those who are like you; French, British, American etc.. In a sense it can be compared to instilling guilt in many ways. The idea is to hear what those men long ago did to insure you freedom today and that it is you duty to risk you life for those who have yet to come. One good example of this comes in the third, not often sung, stanza of La Marseillaise.

Into the fight we too shall enter,
When our fathers are dead and gone,
We shall find their bones laid down to rest,
With the fame of their glories won,
With the fame of their glories won!
Oh, to survive them care we not,
Glad are we to share their grave,
Great honor is to be our lot
To follow or to venge our brave.
To arms, etc.

The sense that we, as free people, owe a debt of not only gratitude to the sacrifice of our fathers but perhaps our own lives is a strong point. For men this calls upon one's manhood to say that you care not for your life and that you are perfectly willing to lay side by side next to your father to achieve the glory he has in his death. "With the fame of their glories won!" That suggests by doing as your father did, further down the line songs will be sung about your heroic deeds and all of it will be worth it and not forgotten in succeeding generations. Let us look at another example of an anthem that does a similar thing when appealing to the people. It is the national anthem of Mexico, and the message of the song is perfectly clear from the lyrics alone, although, unlike that of La Marseillaise, there are very strong religious undertones that are present here.

Mexicans, at the cry of war
Make ready your sword and your horse,
Let the foundations of your land resound
To the sonorous roar of the cannon.
Fatherland! Be crowned with the olive branch
Of peace by the divine archangel,
For in heaven your eternal destiny
Was written by the finger of God.
But if a foreign enemy would dare
To profane your soil with his foot
Consider, dear Fatherland! That heaven
Has given you a soldier in each son.

    The name of that anthem is Mexicanos, al grito de guerra or Mexicans At The Cry Of War.  It is perhaps one of the more transparent of the national anthems in terms of its purpose and meaning. What is interesting, but not so unique to just Mexico, is that prior to this being adopted as the national anthem in 1854, a competition was held to see what text would be selected for the anthem. A committee decided on this work, a poem by Francisco Gonzales Bocanegra, as the best suited for the honor of national anthem.(Leonard Intro) This was a very deliberate effort on the part of a government to insure that each time Mexicans sing this song, they will remember their allegiance to defend the interests of the state of Mexico. The hope is that the power of emotion will overwhelm any questioning thoughts. It is a stab at the individual in order that he become part of the collective. This sort of tactic elevates the individual to believe that they are part of something much greater than themselves. It makes them believe that they are an important part of whatever is going on and that in a time of need the country is calling on them. Something very similar to this pyscological effect (although it is not an anthem but along the same lines) is the poster campaign used by the military in the United States. It reads "Uncle Sam Wants You!". This is coupled with a portrait of a man dressed in a flag-draped uniform pointing directly at the person reading it. This campaign, with much the same intent as an anthem, is aimed at stirring the emotions of the individual, making that person believe that their country is truly relying on just him or her, and that it is one's duty.

The fashion in which anthems get this message across is simple. Since there are no accompanying posters to go with the lyrics of a national anthem, the lyrics themselves become very important. There are several trends that one can point out in the lyrical make-up of a national anthem. Repeated words, specifically arranged themes, and the music to accompany the lyrics are all tools used to convey the message of patriotism, sacrifice and divinity. First, let us look at specific wording that one can often see repeated  in national anthems for a desired effect.

La Marseillaise is always a good example of the power of wording since it is one of the more militant of the national anthems.  As noted, aside from the first stanza of lyrics, which are the most commonly sung, there are two more stanzas in the song that are equally if not more militant. In the first line of the song, "Arise you children of our Motherland," is a very powerful opening and includes the word "Motherland". This word is repeated again later in the song. This sort of word is an important link to the person who is singing it. To associate their country as their motherland is to bring them closer to it. As Paul Nettl says in his book National Anthems, "Modern psychology sees in back of men's love for their homeland an identificationin their emotional subconscious of soil and mother; hence the expression 'Mother Earth'"(Nettl pg. 3)  It gives the impression that it truly is the country that , like a mother, brought them up and cared for them. And what kind of a man or woman would not rise in defense of their own mother? The idea is similar when referring to one's country. Defense of one's country or motherland should be a automatic as the defense of one's own mother.

Similarly, other words such as "fatherland" are seen throughout national anthems. This use of emotional language also tries to convey the message of a patriarchal relationship. In Mexicanos, al grito de guerra the word "Fatherland" is used twice in the short song. Together with "fatherland", the word "sons" is used. In the last lines, "Consider, dear Fatherland! That heaven Has given you a soldier in each son" This is a powerful way to end an anthem. Initially, the song seems to be addressing the state itself, but indirectly, it is aimed at the people by suggesting that the "Fatherland" has nothing to worry about because each one of its citizens, or sons, are all soldiers willing to fight for your cause. This is a strong symbol of unity and militancy. There are many other words and catch phrases used to stir up emotions in the human mind and body. Words such as glorious, tyranny, liberty, bravery, victory, noble are just a few that are repeatedly seen throughout various national anthems. What these words do is give a chivalric image of one's country. They provide the mental poster for us to look at and seen exactly what we are meant to see.

When dealing with the subject of national anthems, the tone of this paper may seem rather negative. However, the idea behind national anthems is not all bad.  In fact, for the most part, they are healthy aspects of nationalism. What can give national anthems a bad name is the relationship they have to nationalism and ultra-nationalism. Throughout time we have seen what the power of nationalism can do. Nazism, Italian fascism, Napoleonic wars are just some of the results of extreme nationalism. This is the negative side of nationalism in which national anthems can be directly implacated.  For example, probably no other national anthem still in use has been more contoversial than the German one.  Popularly known by its first two lines as Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles - uber Alles in der Welt (Germany, Germany above all else - Above all else in the world) the song has been and still is regarded as symbolic of German expansionism and ultra-nationalsim.(Eyck pg. 163)   In light of Germany's past, the author's motivation to write the song has been overlooked.  When August H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the three stanzas in 1841 there was no Germany, only many Germanies and strictly speaking there were no Germans either, only Prussians, Bavarians, Saxonians and about three dozen other populations spread out over thirty-nine states. He wrote the lines while on vacation on the island of Heligoland in the North Sea.

Germany, Germany above all else,
Above all else in the world,
If it always stands together
Fraternally in defence and defiance,
From the Maas to the Memel,
From the Etsch up to the Belt
Germany, Germany above all else,
Above all else in the world!

Unity, justice, and freedom
For the German Fatherland!
Let us all strive together
Fraternally with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the guarantors of happiness,
Flourish you German fatherland!

Although the last stanza alone has been the national anthem since 1952, the first stanza and, more specifically, its opening lines "have stood out for a far longer period like a lightning rod in drawing negative comment," (Eyck pg. 166) What meaning Hoffmann wanted to coney is a matter of conjecture but perhaps what he truly wanted was a unified Germany.  But many still consider the lines, regardless of the geopolitical aspects of the time period, as ample proof of German aggrandizing.  Still, as F. Gunther Eyck points out " As in the case with several other national anthems, notably the Marseillaise and the Brabanconne, it took a war to make the Lied spontaneously the song of the nation."(Eyck pg. 173)  On November 11, 1914, a bulletin by the German High command reported that regiments of German troops advanced on enemy positions singing Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles.  After the war, the poem was adopted by many different groups in Germany including ultra-nationalists. There, oddly enough, while anthems such as the Marseillaise moved to a leftward status politically, the world viewed Lieb as moving towards the right, a theory helped along by the rise of the Third Reich.  Since then it has been hard to convince the world that reinstating Lied is not another attempt for Germany to rise again. The anthem has been forever linked with the pan-Germany ideals of Kaiser Wilhem and the ethnic purity and world domination attempts of Naziism.(Eyck pg. 174)

Even though there are instances where an anthem is percieved as an evil, the majority of anthems are seen in a positive light..  In the end, the purpose for anthems is not to incite a country to rise up, as Germany did in the earlier part of the 20th century, but to give all the people of that country something familiar for all of them to rally behind. Whether that be a sporting event, the Olympics, or a war, it is something that many people hold sacred and divine. Anthems provide a national unity that, for the most part, is a healthy unity, even though this is most often done by recounting the tales of our war heros. War has the power to unite countries unlike anything else and many countries have capitalized on that fact and used war in their anthems.  National anthems give people sense of something larger than life. Something that they can be a part of at no cost to themselves. It is a holy relic to some, and when it is sung, it brings out all the love for one's country and reminds you and your fellow countrymen what being patriotic is all about. The hope is that when the time has come and the country needs you, the national anthem will be a reminder of what is at stake and what one's duty is to their country.


Link To Bibliography

AIf one has any Questions or Comments regarding the material presented
in this paper please feel free to email me: perrym@dickinson.edu