Rockets and Bombs and a horrible anthem: Our 4th of July is Nothing but Noise

AJ Calhoun
7 min readJul 3, 2022

Our fair republic has embarked on the celebratory weekend of another Independence Day, aka: 4th of July. Here in a certain suburban small city outside Washington, DC, the plan is always to start the noise on the Saturday nearest the 4th, as today, July 2, when it had to compete with some louder and more impressive fireworks: the weather. This happens on occasion on the 4th, mainly because July is the hottest month here, and also one of the most violent, weather-wise. Nature is merciful tonight, as the third wave of storms douses the celebration. But not to worry, the thing went off, the doves were driven from their evening vespers, the dogs and cats traumatized again, and were it not for this glorious rain, the atmosphere would be unbreathable for some, unhealthy for all the others.

The cost of these extravaganzas is not small, either. I don’t have the figures at hand for the local municipal noisefest, but imagine its tax cost multiplied by fantastic exponents for the national display on the Mall in DC (yet to come) and many large cities all across the country. It mostly comes out of our pockets, you know.

Now then, what is all this fuss about? Our independence…from who exactly? Well, the crown of England, that’s who. Yeah, that little place where all our founders came from and within a generation or less, turned against their King (now a Queen, these things happen), and our Revolutionary War, because we are a revolutionary country by nature and origin.

We overthrew our government.

Born in blood we were.

Not more than 23 years after we’d won our independence from Great Britain we’d declared war on it again — to preserve “free trade and sailor’s rights.” So we declared war on the UK and promptly invaded Canada. That led shortly to the burning of Washington, DC (fortunately long before the erection of the Washington Monument). Ultimately we won that one, too, and it began to look as though Great Britain, colonizer of the planet, was a pushover when it came to us American cousins.

And so it came to pass that a celebration of our Declaration of Independence was established on the 4th of July for every year so long as our giant flag (the one mentioned in our national anthem, that musical atrocity we all venerate, that horrid poem penned by third-rate poet Francis Scott Key, who was in the clink, held by the British during that battle at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the one with the rockets and bombs and that absurdly large flag). Key didn’t believe the fort could withstand the pounding the British were putting on it, but in the morning, when the smoke cleared, the flag was mostly still there, and Key was inspired to write some hideous verses, “The Defence of Fort McHenry”) later to be set to an old British drinking song, The poem was set to the tune of a popular British song written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men’s social club in London. “To Anacreon in Heaven” (or “The Anacreontic Song”). The original version of course had different lyrics, some stuff about Anacreon, I suppose.

That nearly unsingable song, with its wildly soaring dynamics, became our National Anthem, and no doubt one of the worst such devices in the history of the world. Nothing but noise, except perhaps in the hands of Marian Anderson or Whitney Houston. But to each his own…

Oh, and by the way, the battle of Fort McHenry (a battle of attrition, as I will shortly explain) took place in September. Not July. And the casualties fell heavily on the US side (28, including 4 dead) vs. the British losses (1 injured, 0 dead) came down heavily in favor of the British, who merely had to give up and sail away.

Still, we celebrate our breaking away from England in 1776 by blowing up shit and making an incredible big noise and singing about “the rockets’ red glare” and the “bombs bursting in air,” most all of which were launched at McHenry from the British Navy. In a war we started.

Okay, so we also won that war, impressive at least because Dolly Madison saved the china.

Unknown artist’s portrayal of the Battle of Fort McHenry

So our country, born in blood and revolution, declared a second war against its former colonizer in the interest of “free trade” and “sailor’s rights,” and some jailed lawyer and amateur poet wrote about the famed battle of Baltimore (named after Lord Baltimore, one of the most prominent colonizers whose family names dominate the state of Maryland along with various British kings, queens and princes), celebrates its independence (fomented by a bunch of ingrates, at least in the eyes of the British), by trying to duplicate the battle of Fort McHenry, which had nothing to do with our independence nor the month of July, and we do it by spending obscene amounts of money (mostly tax money) to create an hour, more or less, of incredible, disturbing noise, which accompanies sometimes rather lovely aerial displays of light and color (invented by the Chinese, just to keep things in perspective), and countless hillbillies, jackasses and lifelong adolescents help by procuring illegal and dangerous fireworks and just plain firecrackers and, yes, bombs, to chime in, and when the fireworks run out, many of them fire illegal guns into the air (a Mexican tradition we somehow managed to appropriate). In doing so, not only do we rape the treasuries of our nation, cities and towns, but we also (“We” as in the general “we” you understand) terrify domestic animals, traumatize wildlife, drive birds crazy, disorient bees for god’s sake, and pollute the environment in ways that would not be tolerated on any other day (though the Supreme Court of our land may have liberalized that ability to pollute).

The National Anthem? Nothing but noise. The 4th of July celebrations? Nothing but noise. Imagine, gentle reader, fireworks without the explosives. If one were not blind one could hardly not see the displays in the skies. But of course then the “bombs bursting in air” part would be lost to all but the deaf, and many are rendered deaf by the noise, but oh well, it’s all in good fun, just as beer, burgers and Best Buy sales are patriotic good fun.

How often does anyone actually read, out loud, to crowds, the text of our Declaration of Independence? I won’t burden you with it here, as it would only dampen the fun, much like the current wave of thunderstorms, which are far more impressive and celebrate nothing but the planet itself.

So it’s all about Maryland, Baltimore, a silly flag, an affected wannabe poet, an old British drinking song, free trade (whatever that is), and jackassery.

Never mind the number of killed and injured we’ll only learn about after the long weekend of blowing up shit has finally faded on Tuesday next. All in good fun.

As for me, I enjoyed listening to the rain tonight, and the thunder, and I watched “Stormy Weather,” the all-Black musical extravaganza from 1943, featuring the fierce Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Fayard Nicholas, Ada Brown, Dooley Wilson and many more, in a movie that contains more American history than any 4th of July celebration ever could. The “Cakewalk” scene alone tells us more about what we’ve done methodically over the years to Black Americans than most anything else. That scene is at once wildly entertaining and horrifying.

But the rockets’ red glare! The bombs bursting in air! What about them and the fact that they “gave proof through the night that our (ginormous) flag was, indeed, still there.

So it’s all about a flag. And a terrible poem/song. And blowing shit up. Because that’s what we do. That’s our claim to fame and the source of our pride. Not that our forebears won us independence from an oppressive colonial power and set us on a (brief) path to building the New Jerusalem. No, it’s about how we kicked those limey’s asses at Baltimore Harbor (even though four of our combatants died and 24 more were injured and none of the Brits died and only one was injured).

We don’t celebrate the part where the crafty British snuck in via Bladensburg and burned down our young nation’s capital. We listen, rather, to the late Johnny Horton singing about using an alligator as a cannon at the Battle of New Orleans, which we also won.

We are a nation of pyrotechnic perverts.

Might we not at least upgrade the the National Anthem from Keys’ livid lyrics and Anacreon in Heaven, perhaps to something more fitting, like Michael Maybrick’s (aka: Steven Adams’) soaring and meaningful Masonic ballad “The Holy City.”

I’m serious.

Or even Gaudemus Igitur for god’s sake.

And maybe we could shoot (sorry) for clean-burning, non-bombastic fireworks?

And maybe, also, make a reading of the actual Declaration of Independence a requirement on celebrations of the 4th, no matter what day they actually fall on.

Or we could, at the very least, acknowledge we are a nation of hillbillies and jackasses who just love big noise and flash-bang and rockets and bombs.

Those rockets and bombs are still mighty big business.



AJ Calhoun

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.