Ruminations on the Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a truly American phenomenon. I do not know of any other nations that have such a thing. Most Americans, should you ask them, think that it was deeply ingrained into the structure of our country and created by the founding fathers.

Far from it. It was first composed by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist (and Baptist minister) in 1892 in an effort to promote the U.S. Flag, at a time when the distribution of the flag was promoted by companies for commercial reasons. They wanted to sell something. Bellamy wrote the pledge to be used in schools. It wasn’t formally adopted by Congress until 1942, and the words “under God” were added only in 1954.

Foreigners that come to America and hear the pledge usually are astounded. They equate it to brainwashing. They compare it to something one would expect in North Korea, but not in the country of “the free.”

I was such a foreigner once, and I clearly remember how it took me some time to get used to it. Pledging allegiance to an object, even if that object is a flag and that flag represents a nation, seemed like a strange thing to do, and trickling this daily into the brains of little school children struck me like a delusion at best.

I have been a U.S. citizen for many decades now, and I participate in the pledge, when I am in an appropriate situation, like a public meeting, but I must admit I don’t do it because I have some allegiance to this object of fabric that represents our nation, but because I don’t want to be different lest I offend someone. I participate with those who grew up with the pledge all their lives – at least since 1946, who don’t know it any other way.

Americans often are prickly about this ritual. “You don’t have to participate, you can remain seated if you want.” But nobody dares. Being “unpatriotic” is not looked upon favorably at this “free” country.

They often say that people died protecting the freedoms we all enjoy today and we should show proper respect for the flag for that reason.

This, of course, is nonsensical. The pledge has nothing at all to do with the fact that people died. Many Americans today do not believe that those people that died in the wars of Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq died for our freedoms. I personally do not believe that the 50,000 Americans that died in Vietnam made any difference in the freedom of our country and what it is today. If the Vietnam war had not happened, and nobody had died, we would be no less free today.

People willing to die for something does not automatically make that something good. People died by the millions defending Nazi Germany. What a terrible waste! Should Germans now show respect to the Swastika because their grandfathers died for it?

So making school children pledge their allegiance to a flag to show respect is a dubious practice. It would be much more practical and effective to educate them about the real reasons we are free now, the enormous risks the revolutionary generation took in the fight against England, the fact that the French (a people we often ridicule now as cowards) came to the aid of the colonials, the fact that the founding fathers separated church and state, and many, many others.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are an acquired taste that we Americans grew up with an cherish. Foreigners don’t get it.

It’s the same with the Pledge of Allegiance.



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