I recently posted an article about the Star-Spangled Banner titled "The First Icon of America" in The Deseret News Online for Flag Day. It included a quote from of a British man who upon visiting the birthplace of the flag, Fort McHenry, commented that no other country reveres her flag quiet the way America does.
That comment stirred up considerable controversy from a particular reader who felt I had insulted the rest of the known universe for stating such a politically-prejudiced comment. Never mind that a Briton said it.
Other readers shot up to defend the right to say whatever we want about the flag and it got a bit testy. I was saddened that to some people, the right to even cheer and love the flag was seen as insensitive.
On the other side of the equation, I was equally saddened to see, through one reader's comment, how skewed our view of American history really is. Worse yet? That reader was a teacher.
Fables abound in American history. Some innocently arose due to mythical nature ascribed to these beloved American heroes. Sometimes history was skewed because the most common form of entertainment of the day was dinner conversation, and a guest with ample storytelling skill, and good stories to share, could get invitations to the best parties. Such was the case of Mason Locke Weems, author and disseminator of the "George Washington-cutting-down-the-cherry-tree" story.
Some fables grew because family connections to history, and good timing, could prove financially beneficial. Case in point being the Betsy Ross story, which no historian will touch today. Yes, she sewed flags, and yes, she was acquainted with Robert Morris and possibly George Washington, but no document, no writing of Ross's, and no entry of any of the principles, confirms any part of the tale that she sewed the first flag of the nation. I know that news breaks the hearts of a generation raised on that sweet tale, but the truth is Ross's grandson was in danger of losing the family home around the time of the centennial, and he began spinning that tale just in time to bring guests to his home to see where the flag was made. It saved the home, and tainted history.
The comment made against my article was from a woman who rejected the story about the Star-Spangled Banner being lowered during the Battle of Baltimore when a storm began. Instead of the large banner flying through the wind and rain, which likely would have made the flag too heavy, causing it to possibly snap, the smaller storm flag flew through the night, and the large garrison flag was raised before dawn so the British and the Americans would see that the fort had withstood the 23-hour bombardment.
She also didn't like the idea that the tattered edges of the flag were made by the fort's commander, Major Armistead, who cut pieces off the end and mailed them to friends and patriots who wanted a memento from the valiant banner. Like her, I too was told those tears were sacred battle scars. As a child I had been taken to the Smithsonian to reverently stand and gaze upon the scarred fabric, and I was awed. The true story is less dramatic, but carries its own patriotic charm, about a beleaguered people who rallied around this rectangle of fabric until it became precious--a thing to be treasured. That's no small matter, is it?
A few months ago I came across a You Tube video by a pastor telling the story of the Star-Spangled Banner. His version was dramatic, and likely caused many to shed a tear, but it was terribly flawed and inaccurate. He was called on it, and the person making the comment straightened out the facts in a beautiful, non-judgmental way. In the end, the pastor apologized, re-wrote his presentation, and continues his efforts to spread American patriotism and love of country using solid facts. Bravo to that pastor and the man who corrected him with kindness.
History evolves as documents are uncovered, archaeologists make new finds, and scientific testing improves. Truth should be what we seek. In the end, the real story will be as compelling as a fable, because it tells the true response of a people in their own day. Holding the line on truth in recording history will become more critical. Parents need to take the lead on this and expose their children to America's past. Don't count on textbooks and teachers to do it all.