Respecting The National Anthem: Why Do We Stand As American Flags Wave?
Photo by Marco Krenn
You know every line by heart, and the familiar melody hits you from the very first note. It’s a song and symbol like no other, standing the test of time in a way that few ever have.
As soon as the National Anthem begins playing, your right arm moves naturally over your chest, and you rise. Whether you’re at a little league basketball game or the Super Bowl, you get on your feet and stand in reverence.
It’s a move you’ve perfected since your youth, but have you ever stopped to wonder, “Why do we stand as American flags wave and the National Anthem plays?” Amid recent controversy of NFL players and other public figures opting to “take a knee” instead, we’re here to clear up any confusion and deliver the answer.
Read on to learn the real reason why kneeling is so offensive and flies in the face of every freedom we’re privileged to exercise.
A Tradition 243 Years in the Making
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag for our newly founded country.
Sparing no detail, the Congress maintained that the flag “shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white.” It also detailed that 13 stars should represent the Union, with those stars designed as white symbols on a blue field to represent a freshly formed constellation.
From that day forward, the American flag has stood as a constant symbol of patriotism and pride throughout the United States. Even before President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day on August 3, 1949, Americans have recognized the weight and importance of this emblem.
Over the years, it’s gone through myriad transformations but the meaning behind the banner still remains: To serve as an eternal representation of the values and spirit of our Founding Fathers and everyone who calls our country home thereafter.
In fact, even the colors used in the flag held a special meaning. The red stripes are said to represent hardiness and valor, while the white stripes symbolize purity and innocence. In addition, the blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice.
From neighborhood homes to fire stations and public buildings, you can find an American flag displayed proudly almost anywhere you look, if you seek them out and look hard enough. While it’s easy to take this beloved symbol for granted, it’s important to remember that it’s one of our nation’s earliest and most prominent signs of independence, perseverance and hope for the future.
An Anthem Born of Honor
Thirty-five years after Congress approved the first American Flag design, the War of 1812 began. Two years later, on August 24, 1814, British troops entered Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House, U.S. Capitol and other public buildings.
Naturally, this ushered in a spirit of fear and concern swept through the nation. Many Americans feared that the British flag, known as the Union Jack, would soon fly over their country again and render the American flag obsolete.
There was one dignitary, however, who held fast to the red, white, and blue. Francis Scott Key was a well-respected Maryland attorney who was summoned to assist in the release of Dr. William Beanes, a prominent physician taken captive by the British in the 1814 siege on Washington.
Key met in Baltimore with Colonel John Skinner, an agent with the American government who facilitated prisoner exchanges. Together, on September 5, 1814, they set out on the Chesapeake Bay, sailing on a flag-of-truce vessel to meet the Royal Navy. When they boarded the British flagship, the HMS Tonnant, the Navy agreed to release Dr. Beanes.
The only caveat? The three men could not return to Baltimore until the British bombed Maryland’s Fort McHenry. They positioned the Americans aboard an American ship while the bombing occurred. From a vantage point of about eight miles behind the HMS Tonnant, the men watched their beloved American soil fall victim to the terrible attack.
After a staggering 25 hours, the British troops decided it was time to withdraw their weapons. They were unable to completely destroy the fort as they had hoped. Realizing that this was happening, Key looked back to see what was left of Fort McHenry. To his great surprise and relief, the American flag had survived the barrage.
He quickly wrote down the words to a poem, which he would later distribute as a handbill with the title “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Soon, Key’s words were set to music and the song was renamed, “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Then, on March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed a congressional act to designate it as our national anthem.
Rather, you’re describing a very real scene that a frightened but steadfast American bore witness to from just a few miles away. Then, of course, there’s the victorious line at the end that reveals no matter what destruction lies around it, the star-spangled banner yet waves. Whatever current controversies are pulling at our attention, there’s no denying that this historic event is worth celebrating, every single time it’s cued up.
From Feeling to Kneeling: The “Take a Knee” Movement
We’ve discussed how the American flag came into existence. We’ve also shared the little-known meaning behind the National Anthem.
Why, though, should we take the time to stand for our flag as it waves, or the anthem as it plays? To know why we’re asking this question in the first place, it helps to remember how the debate began.
In the 2016 preseason, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started quietly kneeling while the National Anthem was played before football games, refusing to stand as per tradition.
His reason? Kaepernick explained that he was kneeling to protest the police treatment of racial minorities.
In doing so, he created a new trend that gave other professional athletes the platform to follow suit. Soon, discussions were trending over whether this move was bold and brave, or an utter disgrace to everything our country stands for.
We maintain that it’s the latter. While social issues should absolutely be discussed and everyone is entitled to exercise their freedom of speech, we can’t forget who paved the way for us to have those freedoms in the first place.
The reasons why we stand are plentiful, but let’s take a look at a few of the most important ones.
1. We Stand for Those Who Paid the Ultimate Price
It’s important to be clear on one important note: When we stand for the National Anthem or any time we see an American flag waving in a parade or on a street corner, we aren’t doing it for ourselves.
It isn’t out of selfish ambition that we rise to our feet and put our hand over our hearts. Rather, we stand to honor and recognize those who have put their life on the front line to protect ours.
The total number of Americans who have died in U.S. wars totals more than 1.1 million. From those brave soldiers at Fort McHenry to the ones fighting the current Global War on Terror, that number represents human beings with families, ambitions, dreams and futures. They’re fathers, mothers, spouses, and children.
They’re also resilient against all odds and represent everything good about our country that our founding fathers sought to keep sacred. Every time the National Anthem plays, we remember what they fought to protect. If you’ve spent time in the military, you know firsthand the atrocities of war. If you haven’t, even the wildest imagination couldn’t conjure up the grim reality.
We rise to our feet when we see these symbols of freedom, because we can. We’re able to move our bodies, breathe in the air and look toward the sky in a prayer of gratitude, because so many gave up their chance to do the very same thing.
2. We Stand for the Honor of Democracy
In the wake of the Kaepernick kneeling scandal, the focus of the rebellion shifted from racial inequality to encompass a wide range of issues, including dissatisfaction with the current Commander in Chief.
Remember that standing during the National Anthem does not mean you’re pledging lifelong allegiance to the current president. You could wholeheartedly agree with their policies or disagree vehemently with them, but those personal reservations should not discourage you from honoring our country’s past, present and future.
The flag itself offers a beautiful representation of the special freedoms we get to enjoy in our country, ones unattainable to those who aren’t privileged to call the United States home.
The 50 stars on the USA flag are free and disjointed from one another, symbolizing our individual freedoms and rights. Yet, they’re still created from the same thread and each one is affixed to the same piece of fabric.
Likewise, we fly it to celebrate that we don’t have a lifetime king, or a dictator. We get to exercise our right to vote and help choose who we put into office.
When those notes pick up and the National Anthem plays, we can all remember and respect that we’re lucky to live under a federal government. As we sing in unison, we aren’t celebrating a specific leader. We’re honoring the fact that we have a rich history of nearly four dozen leaders who have helped make our country the best in the nation.
3. We Stand Because We’re Proud of Our Country
There’s a reason that the United States has earned the reputation as being a cultural melting pot. None of us look exactly the same, and that’s what is so beautiful about this country we’re blessed to call ours. We come from different backgrounds, cultures, races and creeds, but we all bear the distinct designation of being called American.
Regardless of our differences, the ties that bind us as Americans are stronger than any forces that could try to tear us apart.
The flag represents that unity, as does the National Anthem. In this way, America represents the ultimate marriage. We’re in this together, for better or for worse, and the struggles that map our nation’s history have ultimately served to strengthen our resolve, grow our fortitude and help us emerge more resolute than ever before.
Notice how the National Anthem is a song meant to be sung collectively?
We don’t usually belt out “Oh, say can you see?” in isolation. It isn’t a behind-the-scenes ballad or a canticle reserved for solitude. No, it’s meant to be bellowed from deep within as a collective group effort.
When we stand and sing together, we lend our voices to those around us and subsequently blend into the melody ourselves. No one is brighter than the other, but together, we create something magical. We aren’t isolating ourselves by taking a knee or drawing special attention by remaining seated. Rather, we’re up and joining the sea of like-minded people who believe that being American is something to celebrate.
Regardless of our different occupations, political leanings, preferred sports teams, or any other distinguishing characteristics, rising for the anthem unites us all. In this way, standing and sportsmanship go hand in hand.
4. We Stand to Salute Justice
When we choose to stand during the National Anthem rather than sit or kneel, we aren’t denying that there are injustices in our country. We aren’t turning a blind eye to the inequalities that exist or the burdens that many individuals and entire populations still bear.
Claiming patrotrism today does not mean that we’re unaware of or insensitive to the pain held in our nation’s past. It simply means that we’re holding tight to the belief that change is a powerful force, and that there are teams of people banding together to support and encourage it.
In 1776, it was a group of men who believed that freedom and representation were worth leaving royalty to pursue. Eighty-seven years later, this change-leader was a forward-thinking president who declared that emancipation should triumph over enslavery. On August 28, 1963, it was a man with a dream, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial delivering one of the most powerful and iconic speeches in American history.
Today, there are myriad people all over the country fighting for the same equality, lawfulness, and human rights. These are people who believe that, in order to form a more perfect union, we must first establish justice.
They look like school teachers, preachers, public servants, business people, and farmers. They’re your neighbor, your colleague, or the person sitting at the other end of the pew.
Specifically, standing means we are showing our undying support for the men and women who work within our country’s agencies. We stand to support those who work every day to uphold integrity, and risk their lives in the process.
Remember what the color blue was originally designed to reference in the earliest American flag? It stands for essential values of vigilance, perseverance and justice. Do you think it’s any coincidence that some of our nation’s bravest heroes leave their front door every day wearing a blue uniform?
We are forever indebted to our local police forces, firefighters, first responders and other agency workers who dive right into the scene and offer to help when others flee.
If there was ever a moment in our nation’s storied history where the unifying American spirit shone brightest, it was in the days and months following 9/11, where hundreds of emergency workers didn’t think twice about meeting the needs of their neighbors, and gave their lives in service and sacrifice for others. Almost two decades later, hundreds are still battling cancers and cardiovascular disease as a result of their selflessness.
When we hear the National Anthem and see American flags waving proudly, we’re reminded of the justice that men and women throughout our nation’s history have worked hard to defend and preserve.
5. We Stand Because Little Eyes Are Watching
Is the future president of the United States sleeping a few rooms down from you? Do you carry one of the world’s most renowned scientists, ballerinas, or environmentalists on your shoulders?
As technology continues to grow in size and scale, every generation is becoming progressively more connected and capable than the one before it. We won’t know until years later how the seeds we planted today will grow.
We do know, however, that our young people are curious. These are generations with all of the data in the world available at their fingertips, with the click of a button or the swipe of a smart screen. If they’re able to harness this accessibility and leverage it for good, they can change the world. How can we gently influence them to hold tightly to the traditions and foundations laid for them hundreds of years ago in Independence Hall?
When we stand, we’re doing our part to help pave their path. As our parents and grandparents taught us manners, respect and the value of hard work, we too can pass down certain time-honored traditions to those who will bear the torch and carry them on down the road. If our children don’t learn to love their country by first witnessing that love within us, who will help defend our nation in the future?
If we are to raise children and grandchildren who believe in and revere the United States as much as Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key, and thousands of others did, that first step must start with us. The color white in our flag, the portion that represents purity and innocence? That’s our children, and their children, and every generation that follows.
You see, when we stand for our American flag and the National Anthem, we do so because we know who’s watching. We rise because we know the incredible weight of our actions, and we hope to inspire anyone watching to embrace the pride of patriotism and live fully into its truths.
Six years after the gruesome 9/11 attacks, on September 10, 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives met to discuss its ongoing health effects and the need for ongoing screening and monitoring for first responders. At that hearing, Thomas McHale, a police detective with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department, took the stand to describe how his crew members, like thousands of others, were still mourning the loss of their fellow emergency personnel, while battling health conditions of their own after inhaling toxic clouds of smoke.
In his statement, McHale delivered perhaps the most poignant example of why we stand for our flag. He said, “If you talk to people that did volunteer, even many of those that become ill, they would tell you they would do it again in that circumstance. There has been a long tradition, I think, of being willing to come forward.”
It’s this long tradition that brings us to our feet, and compels us without question, to come forward ourselves in any small, significant way that we can.
Let the American Flags Wave: We’re Proud to Stand for the National Anthem
At Flagpole Farm, we’re proud to do our part to help you salute and honor the American Flag. Our line of commercial flags features our esteemed “Titan” line of products, which includes the Titan telescoping flagpole and Titan solar light.
We manufacture American flags designed to be used indoors and outdoors, as well as smaller ones for grave markers and handheld celebrations. In addition, we also provide a wide range of state flags, military flags, sports flags and similar products.
We put craftsmanship and care into every flag we create, not only because we care deeply about our customers, but because we also admire and appreciate our country.
Why do we stand for the National Anthem? Because stars and stripes are more than emblems sewn into our products. They’re the very DNA of our country, and they remind us of everything and everyone that came before us to protect it. That’s a truth we simply can’t take sitting down.
If you’re ready to join us, shop our full selection of American flags today.