Why “America the Beautiful” Should Be Our National Anthem

Fourth of July Fireworks at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Robbin Cresswell, public domain)

Why “America the Beautiful” Should Be Our National Anthem
By John Unger Zussman

No, it’s not because the “Star-Spangled Banner” (let’s call it SSB) is unsingable. The notes span about an octave and a half, which is within most people’s range. (The issue is that different people’s ranges don’t necessarily overlap.) But I digress.

The problem is the underlying attitude toward America framed by the SSB. It’s hinted in the opening verse, which we all know, but much more explicit in the last:

Then conquer we must,
When our cause it is just,
And this be our motto:
“In God is our trust.”

The SSB idealizes a militaristic, imperialistic America, one that turns to God for help in imposing our view of justice on the world.

Contrast this with “America the Beautiful” (ATB), which is not just about the scenery. Consider the second verse:

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

ATB portrays an America that celebrates not just spacious skies and purple mountains, but immigrants and freedom, self-control and law. It sees America, realistically, as imperfect, but asks for divine help to perfect it.

And the poetry’s better. Thank Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote the lyrics.

That’s the America I plan to celebrate this Independence Day. Because there’s more than one kind of patriotism. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

Copyright © 2010 by John Unger Zussman. All rights reserved.