John Wight says Britain’s historical songs and national anthem bear false witness to history, with ongoing diabolical consequences.
By John Wight
in Edinburgh, Scotland
A nation state’s identity is reflected in its national anthem and the songs it sings in celebration of and in tribute to its history. In the case of Britain, those songs bear witness to a regressive and false rendering of a history of mass murder, colonial oppression and super exploitation. It is a false rendering that continues to have diabolical consequences today both at home and abroad.
Brexit is a prime example of those consequences; what with the xenophobia, jingoism and exceptionalism driving it while impervious to reasoned arguments on its likely economic and constitutional impact.
“Rule Britannia,” the subject of recent controversy over the BBC contemplating dropping it from this year’s “Last Night of the Proms” along with “Land of Hope and Glory,” would have no place in a society that had come to terms with its ignoble history of empire and colonialism. The fact that this song still remains extant in British public life is an indictment of the false consciousness that has impeded the country’s development from the semi feudal simulacrum of a democracy it is, into something approximating to the real thing — i.e. a modern republic.
But the regressive buck where Britain’s concerned doesn’t stop at “Rule Britannia” and “Land of Hope and Glory.” The country’s national anthem, “God Save the Queen” also belongs to the dustbin of history.
Consider its notorious sixth verse:
Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the King!
No longer included in any modern rendition, this verse was appended to the 1744 original in 1745 in response to the Jacobite uprising of that year. And on this, history records that though Marshal Wade failed to crush those Rebellious Scots, his replacement of the Duke of Cumberland certainly did and with gusto at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 — and thereafter in a murderous sweeping up operation across the Highlands.
The unvarnished truth is that a ruling establishment which seeks to cohere its citizenry in the third decade of the 21st century around 18th century dirges celebrating war, conquest and domination is one that is suffering a crisis of identity — unfit to meet the challenges of the present and instead trying desperately to glorify an inglorious past.
It is high time that the sordid truth of British history was substituted for the myths that have colonized the school curriculum since time immemorial. For until it does, we shall continue to remain infantilized at the feet of a barbarous Establishment even as it nails us to the cross of austerity with the objective of purifying us with pain.
Ultimately, the working class, acting as a class for itself, needs its own songs. And in this regard, I have a modest proposal. How about we replace “Rule Britannia,” “Land of Hope and Glory” and “God Save the Queen” with “Freedom Come All Ye” by Hamish Henderson; “James Connolly” by Christy Mooore; and “The Internationale” by Eugene Pottier?
At least then we would know that we’ve finally emerged from the cave into the light. The point at which we do is the point at which we’ll understand that not only must “Rule Britannia”be binned in the name of progress and justice, but so must Britain itself.
John Wight is an independent journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
This article is from Medium.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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Let’s not forget that this great and glorious country has been torturing wistleblowers.
The UK is currently torturing a fragile intellektual whose only crime was telling the truth about US war crimes in foreign countries.
I was with you until you recommended a Communist anthem as a replacement, when I seriously wondered if you had crossed over into satire. Actually the words of The Internationale aren’t fanatically communist (although certainly redolent of it), however, as we are all very aware, using such a song for the symbolic representation of a nation is extremely irresponsible. Unless of course, we wish to add a few million more deaths to the over 100 million who died from Communism in the 20th century.
That is a simplistic viewpoint if there ever was one. Just remember there are always two sides to every story. At a minimum you have the “teller” and the “recipient”. Why tell as story if you insist on the interpretation – that ain’t a story; it is dogma, and who needs that. Dogma and hubris go hand-n-hand.
When it comes to killing, Communism certainly has no monopoly, and an argument could easily be made it is second best at most.
I’m finding it quite a challenge to think all this through. I commented only because everyone from the Prime Minister through to The Guardian seemed to think that the jingoism was either ok or did not require comment. We are all who we are and where we are as much by accident as by will and the thinking that we did right and are better is a dangerous and damning illusion. You are right to point out that communist ideology and ideologues caused millions of deaths and so are to be eschewed. La Marseillaise gets pretty scary too, maybe all the anthems too. I kinda like the European one (Ode to Joy without words) and “Knosi sikeleliAfrika” seems like all that anyone could ever need.
Thank you for having the courage, wisdom and common sense to speak the truth…
”Brexit is a prime example of those consequences; what with the xenophobia, jingoism and exceptionalism driving it while impervious to reasoned arguments on its likely economic and constitutional impact.”
Such is the social political neoliberal sore losers who think that the EU is such a great place to live. Tell you what try living in Greece, Latvia, Ireland, Portugal, Bulgaria and you’ll see just how wonderful life is. See how the EU bureaucracy is abolishing the nation state and is ruled by an un-elected cabal of bureaucrats who are not responsible to the electorate of any nation state. See how any new members are recruited into NATO. See whenever a referendum is taken on a particular issue that the result of that referendum will only be legitimate if the electorate vote THE RIGHT WAY. As has been the case in Holland, Ireland where the EU did not recognised the legitimate outcome and told these states to rerun the elections until they got the RIGHT RESULT. This is not a democratic state, it is a bureaucratic monstrosity. The EU parliament is a talking shop where no legislative input is required and the EU is governed by bureaucratic APPOINTMENT, and responsible to no-one except themselves.
As a project the EU is committed to the end of the nation state and total neoliberal economic policy. You know the ones. Freedom of capital movements, freedom of labour movements, freedom of commodities. The whole full-on neoliberal agenda.
Thanks but no thanks
Impossible to disagree with any of this, from a (dis)loyal, rebellious Brit with Scottish, Irish and German ancestors.
Next on the list, of course, is the City of London Corporation, swiftly followed by the entire aristocracy and the landowning classes.
“How about we replace “Rule Britannia”, “Land of Hope and Glory”, and “God Save the Queen”, with “Freedom Come All Ye” by Hamish Henderson; “James Connolly” by Christy Mooore; and “The Internationale” by Eugene Pottier?”
I propose that we should replace these establishment anthems with “On Her Silver Jubilee” by Leon Rosselson, 1977
“The Red Flag” by Jim O’Connell with its original tune “The White Cockade” rather than the turgid German christmas carol that replaced it. There’s a good version of it by Billy Bragg and Dick Gaughan, on which note, Gaughan’s “Both Sides the Tweed” should qualify too. All that being said, since Britain is drifting inexorably towards a break up of its constituent parts, Blake/Parry’s “Jerusalem” should be the new English national anthem, a tune/lyric that has a rightful place at the last night of the proms and the ability to unite broad swathes of people.
I’d replace Rule Brittania and God Save The Queen (trad) with Anarchy In The UK and God Save The Queen (Sex Pistols) but I’m probably in the minority!
God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
There is no future
In England’s dreaming…
We’re the flowers in the dustbin
We’re the poison in your human machine
We’re the future, your future
Johnny Rotten/Sex Pistols
Well stated. And, here in the US, the anthem needs to go away as well, with the same extreme prejudice, and for many of the same reasons, including a now-ignored verse that was a paean to putting down slave rebellions. America the Beautiful is no longer a description, but a very worthy ambition. This Land is Your Land would be great, too.
Excellent article and while we are it, the same should apply to the U.S. Jingoism is endemic here.
Simple question. If Britain,England if you like ,is so awful why do refugees and immigrants from around the world still make it their destination. ? Maybe because it’s one of the last stable democracies in the world , who despite its “ignoble” past has morphed into a country where the rule of law is sacrosanct. A thousand years in the making from Common Law and Magna Carta.
Throwing it “into the dustbin of history “ is as thoughtless and narrow minded reaction from a person who clearly has great animosity toward that entity known as Britain, the United Kingdom or simply that part known as England.
The British people, the English in particular, have long since shed any illusions that they are a great power. It died specifically in 1956 when America told Britain and Israel to leave the Sues canal.
So leave them alone to sing songs of a bygone era if the wish. It is essentially harmless with absolutely no intent to carry on that which brought ,them into being.
That is the reality. If Mr.Wight wishes to indulge in Scottish independence and tribalism , which is clearly the kernel of his grievance .Therefore, be my guest and good luck with that endeavour. But keep your hands off Britains’ or England’s indulgent mythology. It’s all that we have left. If singing “Land of hope and glory “ and in truth , a single verse of “God Save the Queen” as a national anthem is so offensive to you ,then breakaway and sing anything you like to your heart’s content.
In the meantime the immigration keeps coming. Wonder why?
Few so-called simple questions have simple answers, and I’m pretty sure your question was not made in good faith. Anyway… poor people come here for many reasons. Why not ask them? The UK, historically and currently, has made life in their countries close to unlivable for the poor so that we can profitably extract their resources – human and otherwise. Think of the mess we made of Iraq or Libya, for example. The UK uses its superior power in global bodies such as the World Trade Organisation to ensure we do well and the Global South stays poor. Then we refuse to accept the consequent flows of poor people. Most migrating people don’t come to the UK; they stay in the Global South, in countries that accept far more than the UK does. You need to educate yourself on British history and current affairs. I’m a 54yo white Brit living in NE England who, after learning about what my country is really like, has very good reasons to have ‘great animosity’ towards the British establishment. If you don’t, you don’t know, you don’t care or you’re one of the few beneficiaries.
“At least then we would know that we’ve finally emerged from the cave into the light.”
There’s a lot to be said for his point. We should also reconsider the likes of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.
I think 1830 was such a critical year in the history of US. Consider Tejas (as I like to call it) if you want to study some serious messed-up history. No wonder it is such a screwed up place. All of them except maybe Austin were pompous effers.
Anyhow, May 28, 1830 – Indian Removal Act. Signed (and pushed) by that lucky asshole from Tennessee named Jackson. I agree – lets get his freaking profile off the 20 because that heinous act solidified the future history we now live. It could have been different and many argued adamantly that is should have been, but to no avail. I still feel the reverberations of that hateful decision. Maybe I should sell my house cause I wouldn’t be here if not for that horrible act. Makes me feel contaminated. How many sins can be forgiven? I think there is a limit.
Lets change the songs!
Hell yeah. I’m all for it.
First there will be a separate and united Ireland and then at long last Scotland will overcome its insidious hubris and tenancies to be its own country again at long last, but this will entail suffering as it must. Hubris don’t end easily – somebody is going to have to die. The “United Kingdom” is a mirage as is the queen who is fixing to suffer as nobility should certainly understand – they have caused so much and now it is wrapping back. Watch out!
I can’t wait for it to happen even though I will likely be long dead myself before the deed is done.
As for the US, I call out loud and proclaim. It is high time for a Constitutional Convention. If not that, then into the dust bins we go. Can’t you see it………or are you under the influence of mammon?
Not all are and that is where hope lies. The times are fixing to change and it will happen in a heartbeat. Hold onto your hats!