This weekend, I spent a couple of hours trawling through the US diplomatic cables Wikileaks released a few years ago, looking for mentions of national anthems. It’s the sort of thing that seems a good idea when writing a book!
I was hoping to find some nuggets of information revealing the importance of these songs – ambassadors panicking because they were being sung at protests, that kind of thing.
I did find a lot of that: several hundred cables featuring ambassadors panicking everywhere from Burma to Iraq. I even learned about conflicts I’d never heard of before, like one involving the Bakassi, a rebel group hoping to split from Cameroon. According to one cable, a US official met the group’s leader who told him his men would “rather die like dogs on the side of the road” than live under Cameroonian rule. He then promised his men were ready to have their own country. “We’ve already picked an anthem!” he said, as if that were enough.
But some of what I found was more unexpected. One cable with the title, ‘What country are we in again?’, is all about how a leading Ukrainian politician has the Soviet Union’s anthem for his ringtone.
Then there’s one from Saudi Arabia about the country’s former king, Fahd. It said he must be on his last legs because he could no longer stand for his anthem (a brass flourish that lasts a whopping 33 seconds). The cable was sent in 1996; Fahd lived for another nine years.
There’s also one from Turkey relaying complaints about treatment of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. Oddly the Turks seemed more annoyed that this man was having the Star-Spangled Banner blasted at him repeatedly than they were about him being stripped naked and made to bark like a dog.
Just pick a word – any word – to look for. Ok, not swear words. I mean these are diplomatic cables we’re talking about. They have standards. Hang on: 4 f***s and 81 s**ts! Tut tut!