Flags and fireworks. Generous helpings of out-of-context Declaration of Independence quotes. Quite a few hot dogs—New York City street cart vendors making a killing. But all these constituent elements of memorializing the courage of the planters, pastors, merchants, lawyers, and scholars who signed their names 237 years ago would be incomplete without innumerable renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Giving thanks for our patrimony of “the American experiment in ordered liberty” by observing these local traditions gives us a chance to sympathize generously with the national affections of others all over the world. I hereby offer the following selection of tunes for those who wish to celebrate the beauty and glory and grace of nations beyond these shores.
To Anglophiles looking to honor the losing side in the conflict we celebrate on July 4th, I commend “Jerusalem,” England’s unofficial anthem. William Blake’s lyrics are far more than a Romantic revolt against the “dark, Satanic mills” of the Industrial Revolution. He evokes Christ’s Incarnation, the resurrection hope of new creation, and the Christian call to “build Jerusalem”—to reflect the coming glory in our earthly lives.
For a heroic celebration of defiant defense at least as poignant as Francis Scott Key’s effort, look to “Men of Harlech,” played by Welsh regimental bands on battlefields the world over down the centuries. Only a Welsh male voice choir can possibly do it justice.
Further afield to the Commonwealth now, and skipping past The Land Down Under’s eminently forgettable “Advance Australia Fair,” I am struck anew by the soaring wonder of “God Defend New Zealand.” In Maori and English, it weds theological profundity to cross-cultural harmony. Plus New Zealand’s rugby team has much to sing about—the All Blacks are the best in the world.
South Africa’s wonderful anthem bears witness to former president Nelson Mandela’s magnanimity in victory in the post-apartheid era. The first verse, in Xhosa and Zulu, and the second Sesotho verse come from the protest hymn “Nkosi Sikeleli iAfrika” (“Lord Bless Africa”), an assertion of the divine dignity of all people in the face of apartheid brutality. The final Afrikaans and English verses come from the older anthem, “Die Stem van Suid-Afrika” (“The Call of South Africa”). The lyrics are well worth pondering.
One of the most-loved and most-detested anthems in the world, “Hatikvah,” “The Hope,” is an ethereal Zionist love-poem to Israel. This is the best rendition I’ve found (pardon the 1:15 delayed start and the obnoxious Nestle ad).
Adopted in 1937, the Republic of China’s National Flag Anthem is no longer sung across the People’s Republic of China, but is played every day at schools in Taiwan.
Returning to America—for it is, after all, Lady Columbia’s day—we should remember that our nation endures not only because of Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776, but also Gettysburg and Vicksburg, July 4th 1863. Lee elected not to renew his assault on the Army of the Potomac, and Pemberton’s garrison surrendered to Grant. “We’ll Fight for Uncle Sam” is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice of thousands of Irishmen for their adopted land.