Home > Articles > National Anthems – Patriotism or Habit?

Presented in lodge by VWBro E.R. Morris – February 6 2013

We sing the Royal Anthem and the National Anthem after each lodge meeting. Some younger members approached me, as Chaplain, to ask “Why?”

Frankly, I did not know. So to answer their questions and the questions they raised in my own mind, I did a bit of research and presented the following paper at our emergent meeting in February.

Anthems are noted for several things.

This year the “Star Spangled Banner” took record time to complete at the Super Bowl. The puck isn’t dropped at NHL games until one—or two—are sung. They are noted for delaying the first pitch in baseball games as singers take artistic license.

During World War I and World War II anthems were used to break up brawls in the pubs. Everyone stood to attention.
At one time NO movie or theatrical performance could end without the Royal Anthem, and I recall kids sprinting out of the cinema while the credits were still rolling to avoid standsing to patriotic attention. The CBC used to sign off each night with O Canada and The Queen, but that was in the days before they went on air 24 hours a day..

I remember my very monarchist grandfather insisting I stand while riding in my father’s car because the radio was playing God Save the King. Adults were not expected to show the same respect because they were much larger. That was in the 1940’s.


It is a specific form of church music, especially in the Anglican Church, with religious contexts, a message or prayer delivered in song. More generally, it is a song or composition of celebration, usually acting as a symbol for a distinct group of people, as in the term “national anthem” or “sports anthem”.

It is inclusive and exclusive.


The Nazis stormed into World War II with “Deutschland, über alles,
Über alles in der Welt,”
 “Germany above everything, above everything in the world.”

The same music and words used to stir patriotic fervor are also used to suspend thought.

Some lyrics are embarrassing anachronisms:

O Lord our God arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall:
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix:
God save us all.

This is why we do not sing the second verse of the Royal Anthem. Even Prince Charles expressed embarrassment over those lyrics of the second verse.


Mankind is emerging from an age when nationhood was based upon warfare and bloodshed. But the old anthems glory in conflict.

The Marseillaise calls the French to arms.

“Shall hateful tyrants, mischief breeding,
With hireling hosts a ruffian band
Affright and desolate the land
While peace and liberty lie bleeding?
To arms, to arms, ye brave!
Th’avenging sword unsheathe!
March on, march on, all hearts resolved
On liberty or death.”

I recall the black and white newsreel footage of general Charles DeGaulle re-entering Paris. From leadership in exile to the balcony overlooking the Champs de Lysee, standing on a balcony overlooking thousands of liberated citizens. A speech? Not that I recall. Only a tall thin man, obviously not a musician, standing erected and without musical accompaniment singing

“Allons enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arriv?”
And the multitudes raising the music to the heavens. Only a heart of stone would not be moved.

Portugal similarly became a republic through force of arms.

“To arms, to arms!
Over land, over sea,
To arms, to arms!
For the Fatherland, fight!
Against the cannons, march on, march on!”

And Mexico was the target of European colonialism and North American

War, war without quarter to any who dare
s to tarnish
the coats of arms of the country!
War, war! Let the national banners 
be soaked in waves of blood.
War, war! In the mountain, in the valley
Let the cannons thunder in horrid unison
and may the sonorous echoes resound
 with cries of Union! Liberty!


The United States current anthem describes a British naval bombardment of Fort McHenry in the war of 1812. It was adopted in 1931, more than a century after the war that inspired its lyrics. Until then it had been just a patriotic song. The defacto anthem was called “America” and is better known as “My country tis of thee.” Written in 1831, it is rather peaceful.

“My country ti of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.” It had 13 verses.

The tune is catchy, having been adapted in Austria by Josef Haydn in 1794 as “Hail to thee Emperor Franz,”. It became the anthem for the German Empire, and the national anthem of Prussia as Heil dir im Siegerkranz” (German for “Hail to Thee in Victor’s Crown.)

The tune has long been in public domain, having been written by—and I kid you not—John Bull in 1562. We know it as “God Save the Queen. About 140 composers, including Beethoven, Haydn, Clementi, J.C.Bach, Liszt, Brahms, Carl Maria von Weber, Niccolò Paganini, Johann Strauss I, and Edward Elgar have used the tune in their compositions.


Canada did not have a national anthem until 1980. We did not have any glorious revolution. Instead, we matured and evolved and assumed national powers. We used “God Save the King” and later “Queen”. Then we adopted “Oh Canada”, and “The Queen” became the Royal Anthem.


Anthems have their own protocol. The Queen, when visiting Canada, gets to hear the whole song. When the Prince of Wales visited, he was only accorded the first six bars. The same for the Governor General and Lieutenant Governor. The Vice Regal ceremonial military salute in Canada is a musical mishmash of the first six bars of “The Queen” and the first four and last four bars of “Oh Canada”.


Canada is unique not in having the National Anthem sung in two languages, but in have two sets of lyrics. French does not translate into English and English does not translate into French. Both versions invite discussion. For instance, how does the French challenge to “take up the cross” sit with Canadians who are not Christian. In a country where a quarter of a million immigrants arrive every year, where is the import of the phrase “our home and native land?” And in an increasing non=gender specific society, may we challenge “true patriot love in all thy sons command.” What about loyal daughters?


In Victoria Lodge, the singing of the Royal and National Anthems in lodge is a recent innovation. The past practice was to sing “The Queen” at the banquet hour after the toast to The Queen and the Craft. As Historian, I recall that this was immediately followed by a patriotic Canadian song, “The Maple Leaf Forever.” It was a rouser then but today, because of the lyrics, is divisive and, to some Canadians, hurtful. Consider those lyrics.

In Days of yore,
From Britain’s shore
Wolfe the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia’s flag
On Canada’s fair domain.

Today this is view by millions of Canadians as war of conquest and subjugation. The song continues:

Here may it wave,
Our boast, our pride
And joined in love together,
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined,
The Maple Leaf Forever.

You will note that, in the flora listed, there is no lily, no fleur de lis. “.

National Anthems are stirring, unifying, generating pride. They speed the heart at the Olympic podiums when the flag is raised. They rightfully bring tears at the cenotaph. They swell the chest at the opening of parliament, or the commemoration of great events.


I was in Jena, in the former East Germany. A resident told me how nights of candlelight vigil under the barrels of tanks and rifles finally resulted in the Berlin wall coming down and they were Germans again, one people. That night they gathered in the village square in front of the ancient church, not knowing what to do next. Then someone started singing the national anthem, a sound that had been banned for over half a century.

They sang.
And everyone knew the words and music.


When a national anthem is sung, it has to be for a heartfelt reason.
Force of habit does not cut it. Nor does someone else’s dictum.

VWBro E.R. Morris
Chaplain Victoria Lodge 474
February 6 2013

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