I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, that the flag was still there” is about defiance. The kind of defiance you need when liberty is paid for with blood. The kind of defiance you need when what you believe is not what the people in charge believe. And then I remembered that the song was originally called “The Defiance of Fort McHenry”.
You know how you can learn facts but not understand the lesson? I’ve been to Fort McHenry a number of times, served my country in the military and am a father. You’d think I would understand. I’ve been alive over 14000 days and just now I feel like I really get that song.
What prompted it was a couple lines from a book “But the lights of an illuminated American flag were still right there in the front window. They were the lights of a Patriot, and they still shown defiantly, just as if he were still here. Mikey would have liked that.”
Something about that made the whole thing click for me.