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God Bless America

God Bless America


by Irving Berlin

God Bless America Introduction

In a Nutshell

“God Bless America” is one of America’s favorite patriotic songs. Its melody is stirring, it’s easy to sing, and its words seem readily adaptable to almost every national crisis or occasion. When Irving Berlin wrote it in 1918, the song was meant to be part of a morale-boosting show celebrating American soldiers as they headed off to war. When the song was revived in 1938, it was revised slightly to echo widespread hopes that the United States would steer clear of the war brewing in Europe. And after the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, Congresspersons, singing policemen, and common citizens made the song a symbol of their unity and resolve. Not all Americans celebrate the song so enthusiastically, though. Read on to learn more about one of our country’s most patriotic tunes and the Americans in the last century who have lauded or loathed it.

About the Song

ArtistIrving Berlin Musician(s)
Year1938 (revised from a version written in 1918)
Writer(s)Irving Berlin
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Shmoop Connections

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“God Bless America” is almost 100 years old. Yet during its long life it has been used to express different sentiments in different periods. So in order to understand the song, you need to know something about the periods in which it was most popular.

The song was written in 1918 as Americans marched off to Europe to join the Allies in what would be labeled World War I. Just two years earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had promised that he would keep American boys out of the war, but after German U-boats repeatedly attacked American merchant ships, Wilson had no choice but to take the nation to war. By then, most Americans were ready, but still the government waged an elaborate propaganda campaign to build public support for their cause. Songwriter Irving Berlin was drafted into the army to be part of this campaign, and he wrote “God Bless America” while serving at an army camp in New York.

The song was revived during the 1930s as European nations moved closer to war and American citizens resolved not to be dragged in. These isolationist sentiments were reflected in the Neutrality Acts of 1935-38 and the formation of the America First Committee in 1940. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Americans quickly abandoned isolationism, but in 1938, when the song was revised and released, the vast majority of Americans still clung to hopes that the US would steer clear of the European conflict.

Not everyone loved the song, though. Folk singer Woody Guthrie was infamously opposed to the song’s lyrics, which he felt depicted an unrealistic view of America. In response, he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” in 1940. Guthrie’s song became a patriotic anthem in its own right, despite the fact that its lyrics revealed the singers communist leanings.

On the Charts

While Kate Smith’s version of the song may be the most widely recognized, “God Bless America” has been sung by countless artists and seen varying levels of popularity over the years. Most recently, both Celine Dion and Daniel Rodríguez charted with the song in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

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