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The US National Anthem



Veteran WAISer David Wingeate Pike, a Distinguished Professor at the American University of Paris (he has just retired), writes:

"The events of this past week remind us all of what we value most. I, English by birth, French by residence, American by permanent attachment, who found his childhood heroes in Tom Paine and even more in Pitt the Elder, never felt closer to America than now. The Stars and Stripes fly from our balcony in Paris, and across the street flies the same banner, but bigger. As for that national anthem, it is not "God Bless America" that I would choose but rather "America the Beautiful," if only for one immortal line, immortal because it is both indicative and subjunctive: "God shed his grace on thee."

My comment: "Shed" means either "has shed" or "may he shed". Of heroes and hero worship. Tom Paine provides an excellent case for the history textbook project. In English textbooks he is viewed as a rather mad breaker of the law. He escaped to America, wrote his wildly successful Common Sense and The Crisis. He returned to England after the Revolution. Enthused by the French Revolution, he wrote The Rights of Man to defend it against Edmund Burke, a moderate who had defended the American revolutionaries. Accused of treason, he fled to France, became a French citizen and was elected to the National Convention. He was imprisoned during the Reign of Terror, and beseeched Washington to help him. Rebuffed, he criticized Washington in Letter To Washington. He returned to the United States, an unpopular man, and died in poverty. American textbooks stress his contribution to the Revolution and play down his many shortcomings. In twentieth century America, he might have become a Commie. He was the equivalent of that in his time. Which Tom Paine do you prefer? Take your choice.

Pitt the Elder, The Great Commoner, is a quite different story. Like Burke, he urged Britain to make a peaceful settlement with the American colonies. The American version of the Revolution is that it was a glorious revolt against tyranny. Not enough attention is paid to the fact that there was an intense debate in Britain in which the King's party won. Pitt is described as the most eulogized of all British Prime Ministers. Add David Pike to his admirers.

Ronald Hilton - 9/17/01


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