Sing to Me of Your Bloody Standard!

Monday, July 30th, 2018

Here’s a pretty remarkable photo; the setting is the porch-entrance to the Elysée, France’s presidential palace.

It’s a fairly variegated group, at least racially if not sexually. Of course, it’s the victorious French national football team, visiting President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. And they’re all singing something.

In fact, they’re serenading about “the day of glory,” yes, but also about “the roar of those ferocious soldiers,” “cut[ting] the throats of your sons, your women!” – all so that “an impure blood [can] water our [farms’] furrows!”

Yes, they’re singing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem from 1795, and the heyday of France’s revolution. It was relevant back then, with foreign armies streaming into the country to try to extinguish the widespread revolt against the sort of king and aristocracy that prevailed then in the rest of Europe.

But is that sort of thing still suited for 2018? The contrast is striking – at least for me – when national anthems are played at national-team football matches involving France: the downright bloodthirsty words the French players are expected to sing (many do not) versus the more anodyne sentiments sung by the other side:

“God Save the Queen”;

“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”;

“Unity and justice and freedom/For the German fatherland!”;

“William of Nassau am I, of native blood” (from the Dutch; the world’s oldest national anthem, so perhaps we can forgive the fact that it makes less outright sense than most);

“Poland has not yet perished/So long as we still live”;


Or you have the Spanish, luckiest national football players of them all, with a national anthem for which there are officially no lyrics at all!

For France, can this be allowed to last? Is that country really still the sort of revolutionary power for which such an official anthem is appropriate, particularly considering its position for decades at the heart of the EU?

I really would look forward to finding what writer Alain Borer for Le Point has to say about all this, his title even speaks of some sort of “misunderstanding” (malentendu) involved here. But the bulk of this piece is behind their paywall, so I’m not allowed to know. Sorry about that.

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