This past week, America’s favorite pastime, baseball started again. While Americans began playing this patriotic sport in 1845, spectators participate in an even greater tradition at the end of the 7th inning — the singing of “God Bless America.”
Exactly 100 years ago today, the United States entered the First World War. During that conflict in 1918, a soldier named Irving Berlin in the U.S. Army at Camp Upton in Yapshank, New York, was asked to compose a Ziegeld Follies-style revue for the soldiers of the camp. For the finale, he wrote a song entitled “God Bless America.” In 1938, Berlin revived the song, and Kate Smith ultimately debuted the revised version on her radio show on Armistice Day in 1938.
For the next few years, Smith performed “God Bless America” every week on her radio show. As a result of her performances, and the musical masterpiece courtesy of Berlin, the song sold nearly 400,000 pages of sheet music and earned $60 million in war bonds for the American efforts in World War II. Both the Democratic and Republican parties used the song as their 1940 convention themes. And as the United States entered the war, the song became a beacon of hope for soldiers and sailors overseas – and for their families at home. For America, God truly “[stood] beside her and [guided] her” through those hard times.
For many it was more than just a song. Smith told a journalist in 1938, “As I stand before the microphone and sing it with all my heart, I’ll be thinking of our veterans and I’ll be praying with every breath I draw that we shall never have another war.”
Used as a rallying cry in anticipation of the rise of Hitler and the coming of a new world war, Berlin’s lyrics call to mind what our Declaration of Independence termed the“laws of nature and nature’s God” and certain “inalienable rights endowed by our Creator.” America as a nation endured as a symbol of freedom throughout the centuries. It may seem that Americans lost sight of those “inestimable blessings,” but perhaps the meaning of “God Bless America” can reunite us once again. Perhaps the “light from above” that guided the shepherds to the manger of Christ, might perhaps guide our nation to the path of liberty.
“Through the mountain, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam,” America has endured through countless trials and tribulations. The tragic events of recent terror attacks across the United States and Western Europe raised significant concerns that the West can no longer defend itself. Many Americans lost confidence in our country after the tumultuous election of President Donald Trump and the rise of radical, violent protests. Time and time again there seems to be a failure and constant reminder of our inability to make America great again or even just protect the America we have now.
While the failures of contemporary politics may dominate our daily conversations, it is still important to remember the sacrifices our ancestors made for our sake on the battlefield or even in the workforce. Even in a nation that has gone through decades of economic distress and political turmoil, America is certainly a blessed nation. We are certainly “grateful for a land so fair.”
While yet the “storm clouds gather far across the sea,” our expressions of our gratitude will go far to keep our feet grounded in the ideal of freedom. Although it may sound trivial, simply counting our blessings is a step towards a bright future. Whether out at the ballpark or in your home, take a moment out of your day to read this little song in appreciation of our nation and our Creator, and be thankful for America is surely “my home sweet home.”
“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home.
God bless America, my home sweet home.”
Mr. Yiu is a sophomore George Washington Fellow studying politics.