During the War of 1812, the world's primary super-power, England, attacked the United States. England's military and naval forces were free to focus on re-conquering America. In the first verse of the Star Spangled Banner, Frances Scott Key rejoices his country's survival of the attack on Fort McHenry - symbolized by the continued presence of the flag.
At the end of the first verse he asks the question:
"Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?"
We should ask that question again today. Are we still free? Are we still brave enough to stand the test against tyranny? Do we still understand, as Americans of that time did, that we are free because we are brave? Are we willing to fight and make sacrifices to be free?
The second and third verses go on in the same theme - rather less eloquently.
The fourth verse is a concise statement of American hopes and values. Every word and phrase needs careful consideration.
"Oh, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation;"
Here he hopes that free men will always be brave enough and fortunate enough to stand against tyranny. We also learn that Americans love their homes and that war is desolation. There is no hint that war is glorious or desirable - but free men must of necessity chose war over slavery.
"Blessed with vict'ry and peace, may the heaven-rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us as a nation!"
We learn here that peace is a blessing. Again, war is not considered desirable except as the only defense against enslavement, and hence victory is a blessing.
For this and later phrases we need to understand that America was founded by Christians. The Christian God is a God of truth, love, and morality. This is not a God of war, or a God of special preference, or a God of national power or kings. The "Power" is of truth, love, and morality and the effect it has on free peoples. This Power established the country against long historical odds, and is necessary to maintain it in freedom.
The next phrase turns from defense of freedom and home, to the question of conquest.
"Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust""
Conquest is only necessary when it is just. Again the "justice" is that of truth, love, and morality.
Note carefully "In God is our trust". This does not mean that we stand by and expect God to help us. It means that we trust in truth, love, and morality to give us the strength and character to succeed. This also means that we do not trust in rulers or leaders or government. No where is government lauded!
"And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!"
And if we stay true to these hopes and values, we can regain our freedom and remain free.