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I got a text last week in our family group, asking me to keep my brothers-in-law in my thoughts. Why? They needed to learn a new national anthem.
Some context: one of them is Australian, the other is Scottish.
I responded with an aggressively American meme, thinking the request had something to do with their immigration status. I hadn’t yet heard that Queen Elizabeth II had passed.
Since the death of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of Windsor, news stations have breathlessly covered all aspects of her funeral preparations. To say nothing of the coverage of her son’s ascension to the throne and the public drama between Princes William and Harry and their respective wives.
I love it. And hate it.
On the latter, the very idea of monarchy is offensive. People are granted power and station solely because of their parentage? It is an absurd proposition.
It is distinct from having advantages based on your family. The reality is that one of the best predictors of a child’s success is the presence of a two-parent household. But having an easier road is different than obtaining an office through birthright. Regardless of what you think about Hunter Biden, the odds of him becoming president are effectively zero.
Beau Biden might have had a different story. His dad may have given him a head start, but he would have needed to reach the finish line on his own merits.
Yet, at the same time, the pomp and pageantry surrounding the monarchy has a certain beauty. Knowing that many of the traditions that have been, and will be, broadcast worldwide date back centuries is powerful. Centuries of people saw or heard the rites many will witness today. It is a tangible, real connection to our past.
It speaks to the importance of symbolism. Queen Elizabeth knew that.
One of the most impactful symbols of her reign was ordering her guards to play the Star-Spangled Banner shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. It was a symbolic break with tradition that engendered a very real emotional response from those who witnessed it.
Her passing near the 21st anniversary of the attacks brought much of this coverage together.
Symbolism can awaken many emotions. One of the other powerful symbols following Sept. 11 was the interaction between the USS Churchill and the German destroyer Lutjens.
The two ships had put into port in England in early September. The crews became friendly. And then, after the twin towers fell, the Churchill put to sea and prepared drilling for whatever might come.
The Lutjens departed shortly after. They requested permission to pass alongside the Churchill to say farewell.
As the German ship approached, it became clear to the American crew that the German sailors were “manning the rails,” a symbol of honor. Then, the Germans unveiled a white bedsheet. It wasn’t a surrender. On it, they had written in English: “We Stand By You.”
The playing of the anthem and unveiling of a bedsheet are relatively small acts in their own right, but the meaning is impactful. Less than 60 years prior, Americans were engaged in combat against Germans. The Founders declared Elizabeth’s ancestor King George III a “tyrant” in the Declaration of Independence.
All said, you can appreciate the beauty of the various ceremonies that have occurred and are yet to come in the days ahead as King Charles III begins his reign and lays his late mother to rest. That beauty is separate from the absurdity of the very idea of monarchy.
And, regardless of one’s beliefs about the institution of royalty, you can sympathize with those who now need to learn a new national anthem. They lost a powerful symbol of their nation.