Now that Opening Day has passed and the Cubs and Sox are on a collision course to meet in the World Series, I want to speak out against a baseball tradition: the singing of “God Bless America.”
What don’t I like about “God Bless America”? Well, mostly its ponderous melody, sentimental gush and outright jingoism. Ever since Sept. 11, it’s become a staple of the seventh-inning stretch for some teams.
It doesn’t help that “God Bless America” was the signature song of Kate Smith, whose right-wing politics were as formidable as her figure. Even the song’s creator, Irving Berlin, didn’t like the song at first. He composed it in 1918 for one of his patriotic musicals but shelved it for twenty years due to its “sticky” sentimentality.
Normally, I love Berlin’s music. He wrote great songs like “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “Cheek to Cheek.” Berlin was an immigrant whose religion became patriotism. After he revived “God Bless America,” he donated all the royalties to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
I’m not an atheist, nor am I unpatriotic, but I don’t think God favors us over other countries. I’m also not a fan of mindless flag-waving. True patriots question our country’s policies, actions and direction.
I also resent it when “God Bless America” pre-empts baseball’s true anthem, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The first time he heard that, Harry Caray must have fallen off his celestial barstool.
Here in Forest Park, patriotism could be as simple as picking up clutter from our streets, as creative as planning Forest Park’s future and as generous as helping out the food pantry. It could require the small effort it takes to vote, or the awesome sacrifice of fighting for our country.
No one can question the patriotic hearts of Forest Parkers. I’ve seen so many flags flying in our town in times of war and I witnessed the welcome-home we gave our troops from Iraq. Our patriotism goes beyond sentimentality and flag-waving and translates into real action.
Soon, we’ll be having Opening Day for our Little League. There will be a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” And, we may hear how God blesses America. But the anthem I love best is “America the Beautiful.” Katharine Lee Bates, inspired by her visit to Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, wrote the song.
Memories of the fair’s “White City” prompted her to pen, “Thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.” God is mentioned throughout the song but not as the exclusive deity of the US.
Bates celebrates America’s matchless beauty but isn’t completely uncritical. “God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law!” She also prays for the day when “Selfish gain no longer stain the banner of the free.”
“Amen,” I say, and, “Play ball!”
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.