I wrote this for The Guardian almost a month ago, and it still hasn’t happened. Get a move on, guys!
I’ve just written this article for The New York Times on France’s national anthem: what it means to people a year after the attacks, and what those views reveal about life in France.
I’m biased, but it’s genuinely interesting, including comment from some amazing people: from Bataclan survivors to some of France’s biggest musicians (here’s one of Akhenaton’s hits with his group Iam; and here’s one of Zebda’s fun tunes).
The article could easily have been three times as long.
Deep inside, it mentions the Defense Ministry’s Marseillaise contest. Last time I wrote about that on here, I largely highlighted the joke entries it was getting like one that got Google Translate to read out the lyrics. But the winner turns out to great so click that link now.
It’s not because of what Kaepernick’s doing (kneeling during the US anthem, see above).
Or what any of the other protesters are doing either.
It’s because of the reactions the protestors are receiving. These range from firms ending sponsorship deals with players to schools threatening to discipline any students who dares copy Kaepernick’s example.
One soccer team even played the anthem early – before players took the field – to stop any potential protests. While there is, of course, at least one Congressman giving interviews calling Kaepernick “sympathetic to ISIS“.
You could argue those actions are no more inflammatory than the protests, but surely a real patriot is confident enough in their society to allow room for protest, especially when they’re continually trumpeting the “freedom” that society has?
The only good thing to say about the saga is that politicians haven’t passed any laws forcing people to stand yet, because that has happened before: in Japan, of all places. Japan is home to the world’s longest running anthem protest and if you want to learn about it, read my book, although I’ve just written an article for Foreign Policy magazine about the main protester – a lovely woman called Kimiko Nezu – that updates things and includes her views on Kaepernick. It also includes some quotes from a man who got beaten up for protesting India’s anthem.
Perhaps the only truly good thing to have happened in response to the Kaepernick saga so far is that South Park has satirised it. See below for a clip that includes a stadium announcer saying, “We now ask you all in solidarity to please rise, or sit, or take a knee, to honour America.” Very droll.
Every time it was played – for Kōhei Uchimura at the gymnastics, for the amazing Risako Kawai at the wrestling – the comments were the same: “So beautiful”; “So moving”; “Why can’t we have an anthem like bloody Japan’s?”
And every one those comments was right.
I know far too much about Japan’s anthem having travelled across that country while researching my book on these songs. And it’s not just the world’s most beautiful anthem, it’s also its most controversial, with a deeply sad story behind it, filled with politicians hounding people to stand and sing, even though the anthem’s associated with the country’s militaristic past.
Who’s been one of the main politicians behind that hounding? Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister and a man who featured prominently in last night’s Closing Ceremony, appearing as Super Mario just moments after Japan’s anthem was sung (that’s him in the photo). Which city in Japan’s got the worst anthem laws? Tokyo, whose new right wing give it was also at the ceremony.
I look forward to hearing Japan’s anthem a lot over the next few years, but I hope Abe doesn’t try to pass any more laws trying to force people to respect it. Hosting the Olympics is always a time for national pride, but it’s never a time to blindly force that pride on a population.
The New York Times carried an article this weekend complaining that the Star-Spangled Banner being played at Rio 2016 sounds sad.
The article’s four years late, since it’s actually the anthem from London 2012, but if you want to read a more thoughtful, musicological comment about why the argument’s bunkum, head to New Yorker classical music critic Alex Ross’s site.
The Times’ article also revealed a journalist is writing yet another history of the US anthem. Don’t wait for it; buy my book instead. It does the whole history in one chapter and with the occasional funny travelogue, which is clearly all you actually need!
In related news, American Twitter users have being going insane whenever one of their athletes has failed to put their hand on their heart during the anthem – gymnast Gabby Douglas even had to apologise for not doing so.
The outrage is incomprehensible for so many reasons, but just be thankful an American athlete has not yet stuck their tongue out during the Star-Spangled Banner, like Bradley Wiggins did for God Save the Queen.
In June, Colombia’s government and Farc guerillas signed a deal that may – may! – end the country’s 50-year conflict, which has seen 250,000 people killed and a good six million displaced. “What’s that got to do with bloody national anthems?” I hear you ask. “Isn’t that the point of this blog?”
Well, last week, a “group of young people excited for peace” launched a campaign for a new verse to be added to Colombia’s that speaks of the country’s hopeful future, rather than its horiffic past.
It’d be verse 12, so no one would actually sing it. It’d be a purely symbolic gesture. But if you want an insight into just how desperate Colombians are for peace, you only have to look at some of the entries so far. Although they’re all so filled with frank descriptions of past violence, it makes you wonder if the country will ever heal.
Here’s a typical example:
Kidnappings and massacres lead only to destruction
Let us say no to the guns and violence that covered us
The blood of our race is the purest, a blessing
Fight together, fight united, like the children that God created
And here’s another:
The people dressed in white, the land mourns the past
But the colours of this country have been able to resurface
Gore still lives in memory
Peace and joy today must govern
Surprisingly, the idea hasn’t gone down well with some. It turns out the “young people” all work for two advertising agencies, J Walter Thompson and Sistole, who regularly win government contracts. This apparently means the initiative must be corrupt.
How on earth that’s the case, I’ve yet to work out, but it shows you just how far Colombians have to go before they can trust each other again.
Has a national anthem ever kickstarted a coup; soldiers singing it for inspiration before jumping into their tanks, as if to say, “This is what we’re doing it for, boys”?
Honestly, I haven’t the faintest idea! But Turkey’s did play a little part in inspiring people to go out on the streets last week to counter the coup against Tayyip Erdoğan, going by posts like this on Twitter:
Why does Turkey’s anthem, The Independence March, mean so much to people that they would think of it in the middle of a crisis?
Partly, it’s because they can’t escape it – its words are hung in every schoolroom – but it’s also because its lyrics have an intensity you just can’t forget. It’s all about the country’s flag, but features people talking to it as it were a person. “Why the anger? Why the rage?” they ask it at one point, calling on it to smile upon the country instead.
Here are the opening two verses, the ones people sing, to give you a proper feel:
Fear not! For the crimson banner that proudly ripples in this glorious dawn, shall not fade
Until the last fiery hearth that is ablaze in my homeland is extinguished
For the flag is the star of my people, and it will forever shine
It is mine, and solely belongs to my valiant nation
Frown not, I beseech you, oh thou coy crescent
Smile upon my heroic nation. Why the anger? Why the rage?
Our blood that we shed for you shall not be worthy otherwise
For freedom is the absolute right of my God-worshipping nation
This is only the most recent example of Turkey’s anthem playing a part in the country’s politics. In the last election, it bizarrely formed a major part of campaigning. I fully expect Erdoğan to start playing it everywhere soon. After all, he needs to stoke nationalism right now to bolster support for his crackdown on opposition.