A Brief History of the U-S-A Chant, From Reagan to Osama

What accounts for the ubiquitous cheer following bin Laden's death? The Olympics, war, pro wrestling, and Jerry Springer.

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Osama Bin Laden Osama bin Laden is dead, but the U-S-A chant lives on. One of the strangest things about the Al-Qaeda leader's death has been the patriotic and at least a little absurd celebrations that have taken place from last night's Phillies-Mets game at Citizens Bank Park to the campus of Iowa State University and beyond, and especially at the White House, where my colleague Alexis Madrigal captured an atmosphere of "aimless celebrating" in which Washington Capitals hockey fans formed a mob alongside college kids and other onlookers. And perhaps stranger still is that all of these scenes gave rise to cheers of "U-S-A! U-S-A!".

How did this utterance, with its odd mix of sporting-event fervor and borderline nativist patriotism, make its way to the mouths of countless Americans last night? Here at The Atlantic, we've pieced together the story of the U-S-A chant, a cultural saga spanning three decades and encompassing everything from professional hockey to Jerry Springer to 9/11.


Main image: Jason DeCrow/AP

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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