Oh, say, can you sing it?

The tone for future relations between the United States and the Soviet Union will be set for some time to come as a result of the nuclear arms talks which are now under way. The success of our relations with any world nation is determined by the image we have of ourselves. Our main problem is, we haven't grasped our main problem.

We have the wrong National Anthem.

Everyone stands up when the Star Spangled Banner is played, but no one sings it. No one even knows the words. Least of all, those opulent stars of stage and screen who are hired to belt it out at the World Series or Bowl games over amplifiers so everyone else can mouth along with it. We start every ball game with two strikes against us.

To have a National Anthem no one can sing is bad enough, but to have one which keeps on asking offhand questions, such as: ''Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light . . . ?'' and ''Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . . ?'' isn't even worthy of Victor Herbert. Anyway, we have enough questions already we can't answer.

And, what is this ''rockets' red glare, bombs bursting in air'' bit? Well, it seems that this is what gives us proof through the night that our flag is still there! Since we never really think about the words, of course we don't consider that if we ever have rockets' red glare from now on, no one in the entire Northern Hemisphere is going to see anything.

We don't mean to imply we can't be proud of the American flag, but do we have to fuzz its identity by calling it a ''star-spangled banner''? Good heavens, it sounds like something a chorus girl might wear, jumping out of a cake at the lodge. In short, we are not singing either about our real selves or the real meaning of the flag.

Deep down we know that the best image of ourselves comes through in ''America , the Beautiful.'' We have beautiful, spacious skies; amber waves of grain; majestic purple mountains and plains abundant with fruit which should remind us how bountiful is the grace God sheds upon us. But best of all, our good is crowned with our unique brotherhood from sea to sea. Such a song would help us understand ourselves better.

Once we get our priorities straight, everything else will fall into line.

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