In the seventh inning of last night’s baseball All Star Game, the announcer invited people to stand, remove their hats, and honor “our country, the brave men and women of our armed forces and all of our veterans” during the playing of our National Anthem, “God Bless America.”
That’s not our National Anthem, of course. But baseball has been pushing hard for years to elevate the song to its status, specifically in a salute to veterans and soldiers. It’s a nice sentiment and good business.
The military has paid millions to sports teams to honor soldiers and while they’re not paid for God Bless America, nothing can cheapen a tribute to soldiers and veterans like the nagging sense that there’s a marketing strategy here.
It’s a throwback, of course, to September 11, 2001, when a sudden swell of patriotism gripped the country and Major League Baseball pushed Take Me Out to the Ballgame aside to celebrate the shock and awe of the armed forces.
There’s a lot of pressure to remove one’s hat when everyone else is, and honor not only America, but the existence of a deity.
Too, baseball’s embrace of the armed forces has inextricably linked a definition of America with soldiers. If only Irving Berlin had written a song about public defenders.
Stefan Stevenson, at the Dallas Morning News, conducted an online survey on the subject today, giving opponents to the song the respect he feels they must deserve, which is to say: none at all. Don’t want to remove your hat? You must be a Communist.
Since 9/11, MLB has directed clubs to use God Bless America each Sun. & holidays. Some use it more, including #Rangers.
What do you prefer?
— Stefan Stevenson (@StevensonFWST) July 6, 2017
“The post-9/11 forced militarism and paid patriotism shoved into MLB helps solidify these beliefs, asserting that America is a divinely-manifested, special country and all its critics are radicals bent on overthrowing all America stands for,” Mary Craig at Beyond the Box Score wrote.
It further portrays patriotism as equivalent to military support, asserting that our freedoms are solely due to military action and ignoring the impact of domestic dedication to responsible government and community-building. This nationalism also demonstrates the superficial understanding of American politics, presenting military issues as obvious areas of support and approval. There is hardly a thought about whether these military actions are justified, how they impact their target countries, and what happens to veterans upon their return to America. For many, support begins and ends with standing for the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America and applauding the military personnel present at each game. There is no thought to the difficulty members of the armed forces face in re-integrating with American society, in receiving proper physical and mental care. These matters are extraneous, and military actions assume a “good” vs. “bad” character that suppresses critical thought and beneficial debate.
“It is not a sacred text,” New York Daily News columnist Gersh Kuntzmanhe said in his column on the subject a year ago. “It’s pop culture garbage that pollutes our national pastime, where the only appropriate songs are the national anthem and ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame.’”
There are only two songs Americans should stand for, he says: the National Anthem and “Here’s Comes the Bride.”
Even Irving Berlin, who wrote “God Bless America” in 1918, considered it so maudlin and depressing that he stuck it in a drawer. Twenty years later, as the world prepared for war, Kate Smith asked Berlin for a patriotic song for her radio show. He pulled out “God Bless America” and changed one lame line — “the gold fields up in Nome” — to an even lamer line — “oceans white with foam.” You know the rest: Smith’s version became as much a symbol of post-war patriotism as the flag, the space program and all the white people moving to the suburbs.
The song still embodies great things about America, but also our worst things: self-righteousness, forced piety, earnest self-reverence, foam.
In her book “God Bless America: The Surprising History of an Iconic Song,” Sheryl Kaskowitz asserts that 61% of baseball fans don’t want the song played during the 7th inning stretch. But the polls show that while liberals don’t like the song’s performance at baseball games, conservatives do.
The 7th inning stretch and, indeed, baseball in general is no longer an escape from politics.