Whenever and wherever the United States National Anthem, “To the Color,” “Reveille,” or “Hail to the Chief” is played, at the first note, all dismounted personnel in uniform and not in formation face the flag (or the music, if the flag is not in view), stand at Attention, and render the prescribed Salute. Military personnel not in uniform will stand at Attention (remove headdress, if any, with the right hand), and place the right hand over the heart.
When the National Anthem is played indoors, officers and enlisted personnel stand at Attention and face the music, or the flag if one is present.
– U.S. Army, FM (Field Manual) 3-21.5, Drill and Ceremonies, July 2003, p. A-2
The United States Army is the oldest of the U.S. military branches… if anyone knows when to render honors to the nation and the colors (flag) it is the U.S. Army. Being the typical OCD institution that it is, it even goes into great detail on when one salutes… salutes anything:
A salute is rendered –
- When the United States National Anthem, “To the Color,” Hail to the Chief,” or foreign national anthem is played.
- To uncased National Color outdoors.
- On ceremonial occasions as prescribed in Part Two, Ceremonies.
- At reveille and retreat ceremonies, during the raising and lowering of the flag.
- During the sounding of honors.
- When the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag is being recited outdoors.
- When turning over control of formations.
- When rendering reports.
- To officers of friendly foreign countries. – FM 3-21.5, p. A-1
So why does Major League Baseball in general, and the Washington Nationals specifically, request me to rise and remove my hat when “God Bless America” is played during the 7th inning stretch? I feel I know my American patriotic history and after a number of years of military service, I also know when to render honors (hand over heart and removal of cap). The playing of “God Bless America” is not one of those times. This little pseudo-patriotic request is a fairly new phenomenon that begun following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This request, however, is ignorant of facts behind the song “God Bless America.”
Is MLB and the Nationals aware that Irving Berlin wrote the song while serving in the Army in 1918 and that he changed the words “to the right with the light from above” to “through the night with the light from above” because he feared it might be considered a call to the political right? Is MLB and the Nationals aware that Berlin revived this song in 1938 as a peace song… not a call to arms… but a song about praying for peace? The original first verse is:
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 solemn prayer.
It seems we have come to a time and place where nationalism and ideology have crept into our sporting venues. World Cup soccer… Olympics… these are moments when nations’ have their flags prominently displayed… sporting nationalism is usually reserved for the world’s stage… yet MLB has decided to bring it out and wave it around in the 7th inning stretch.
I am not the first nor the last to notice this odd attempt at forcing patriotism, seems a New York man won a law case against the NY Yankees after they kicked him out of Yankee stadium in 2009 for going to the restroom during the playing of “God Bless America.” Nationalism, patriotism, and ideology seemed to get all mixed up when we think about our American Pastime.
I do not and will not stand during the 7th inning during the playing of “God Bless America.” It isn’t that I am not patriotic, it is just that I am educated enough and possess the experience to know that I don’t have to display patriotism at the whim of some profit-driven enterprise that we call “sports” and the MLB. Today it is “God Bless America” and tomorrow it will be “Yankee Doodle Dandy”… and then I will be all sorts of confused and wondering if I should remove my hat that would obviously have a feather in it.