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Listen: Political Scientist Dominic Tierney Calls "Battle Hymn of the Republic" Country's Second Anthem

Listen: Political Scientist Dominic Tierney Calls "Battle
Hymn of the Republic" Country's Second Anthem

by Alisa Giardinelli

"'The Battle Hymn' is a thread woven into the national public. Its words are kind of carved into the narrative arc of the American story."

In a recent conversation on NPR's All Things Considered, political scientist Dominic Tierney discusses the song's significance and longevity. "It was about the Union cause," he says. "But it was also about much more deeper and profound themes than that." Listen to the complete ATC interview:

Tierney points out that the last words spoken in public by Martin Luther King, Jr. came from the hymn. It was also the last song played at Bobby Kennedy's requiem Mass, and was used prominently following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Battle Hymn of the Republic lyrics
The poem "Battle Hymn of the Republic" by Julia Ward Howe first appeared in an 1862 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.

Tierney also riffs on the hymn in a piece for The Atlantic, describing the "totemic poem" as epitomizing the optimism and moral courage of the nation. "It's a song of agency, of action, a call to sacrifice together for the cause," he says. "The soldiers who march to the 'Battle Hymn' have helped to liberate millions."

But Tierney notes a dark side to the song, and to the American way of war. "The righteous zeal of America's war effort can excuse almost any sins - like killing hundreds of thousands of enemy civilians," he says. "When Americans loose the fateful lightning, they have no moral guilt, for they are the tools of God. And what happens after we crush the serpent with our heel? Smiting tyrants in Afghanistan and Iraq didn't end the war. Instead, we were left trying to put the pieces back together."

Tierney, the author of the newly-released How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War, received a Ph.D. in international relations from Oxford University and has held fellowships at Ohio State University and the Olin Institute and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is the co-author of Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006), which won the International Studies Association best book award and was nominated for the best book of the decade, and FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle that Divided America (2007).