“I Pledge Memorization, To The Class…”


I pledge allegiance, to something I am too young to fully understand...

Saw this status update floating around Facebook today. Nothing special in and of itself, just your garden-variety, “I’m more American than you” drivel meant to denote some form of augmented patriotism by extolling the virtue of reciting a relatively meaningless and antiquated piece of “verbal Americana”:

“I am an UN-APOLOGETIC AMERICAN!! 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!! I grew up reciting this every morning in school. It is a shame we no longer do that for fear of OFFENDING SOMEONE!! Let’s see how many Americans will re-post this and not care about offending someone.”

For some people, hearing the words, “flag”, “freedom” and “patriotism” is the emotional knee-jerk equivalent of saying, “ice cream”, “puppies” and “ponies” to a roomful of children…with similar reactions. I know this was intended as a patriotic message, however if you research the origin of the Pledge, it becomes a little less so.

The pledge was written by a Socialist by the name of Francis Bellamy in 1892 for a magazine that his nephew, James Upham, owned and operated with another liberal businessman named Daniel Ford. The magazine was called “Youth’s Companion” and was a national family magazine published in Boston that had the largest national circulation of the time at around 500,000.

Youth's Companion, magazine

In 1888, the magazine began a campaign to sell American flags to the public schools, which at that time it was rare to see an American flag in a classroom. By 1892, his magazine had sold American flags to about 26,000 schools.

The original pledge – written by Bellamy in 1892 and published in “Youth’s Companion”- also included a salute. Due to its eerie similarity to another “salute” that would later be introduced to the world, FDR had it changed in 1942 to a gesture of placing one’s hand over their heart.

The, “under GOD” was added in 1954 by Congress & Eisenhower as a reaction to the spread and fear of communism and the Cold War, to counteract the ‘godless commies’. Others cite the inclusion in 1954 of, “under GOD” from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address…however in the vernacular of Lincoln’s day, the grammatically correct usage in Lincoln’s famous speech meant, “GOD willing”.

Original Bellamy Salute

I’m not necessarily making a statement or looking for my usual argument (a first for me); I just find the origins of things fascinating in juxtaposition to what people (usually inaccurately) think they mean or how they were started.

My favorite reasons heard, include: “It’s in the Constitution” or “Our Founding Fathers started it”…which the latter is particularly ridiculous / laughable and demonstrates a complete lack of historical knowledge, as we were not called “The United States” at the time of our founding. It still entertains me to listen to people who, while professing to love their country so much, do nothing but prove how little they know about its history. But I digress…

My purpose in writing this is not to denigrate the Pledge by any means, but just to point out that it’s original intention was not as romantic as people want to believe. It was essentially businessmen looking to sell flags, coupled with a pledge that was written in order to help justify their placement and a reaction to the political times and fear of a competing ideology.

Pledging allegiance to the flag and your country is certainly not a bad thing…when done of your own choosing and due to a real and deeply felt sense of patriotism and not the relatively hollow recital of a memorized passage. Repetition does not make you believe something more. My years in Catholic school and the meaningless acts of contrition through confession are a testament to that:

Young Dana: “I had many impure thoughts Father; so I just have to prattle off 3 “Hail Mary’s” and 2 “Our Fathers”, then me and GOD will be square? Sweet, I can bang that out in under 2 minutes and get on with my day”.

Can we hurry this up? Tommy's dad has Playboy's

Pledging allegiance to a free country is almost certainly contrary to what the flag stands for. This includes the freedom to dissent, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom to not participate…this does not make you less American, but I argue more, because you are actually exercising these rights…as opposed to simple obedience.

An interesting passage:

One objection states that a democratic republic built on freedom of dissent should not require its citizens to pledge allegiance to it, and that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking or standing (also a form of speech). Another objection lies in the fact that the people who are most likely to recite the Pledge every day, small children in schools, cannot really give their consent or even completely understand the Pledge they are taking.

People who get all up in arms over the pledge are simply reacting to the idea of what it stands for, yet not embracing what it actually stands for.

Anyway…

I am not criticizing the fact that someone posted an update defending the Pledge – this is certainly their right – as it is mine to comment on it. I criticize the insinuation and implication of the “I dare you” nature of the last line, “Let’s see how many Americans will re-post this and not care about offending someone.“, as if to imply that if you do not re-post it, you are not proud to be American or are in someway afraid to offend others. I venture that maybe some of us just think that it is an infantile, hollow and juvenile expression of patriotism.

Truth be known, I always stand for the National Anthem, even in my own home…and even when I am alone. Friends who have watched a sporting event with me can attest to this. I do it because I choose to, because I respect what the anthem stands for and understand its meaning and the rights afforded to me…including the right to sit down, should I (or others) also choose, yet not diminish my love of country in doing so. I say the Pledge when the situation calls for it too…also my choice.

I am well aware of the perceived irony behind calling myself a patriot, while making an argument as to why the Pledge is not necessary. I mean, it’s the Pledge right?!

But I tend to look beyond the emotional affection I have for something I was required to do as a child and the reality / history of where it came from and that it essentially signifies nothing. It makes you no more patriotic than someone who does not recite it, just as practicing your faith silently at home requires no more or less faith than doing it in a crowded church. It’s why, although I disagree with the likes of Limbaugh and Beck, I would defend their right to free speech…and my right to change the channel.

It is why I find burning a flag deplorable…but think preserving free speech is more important than a symbol and the fact that burning it does not diminish what it stands for or my personal belief in it.

I simply criticize hollow gestures of “patriotism” because they are just that (especially when used to accuse your neighbor of being “less American” than you), and I don’t feel the need to prove my patriotism…instead I exercise it in my own way and in a way that matters to me. For instance, the fact that I have dedicated almost 6 years of my time and money to the show, trying to inform, educate and entertain…while self-professed “patriots” simply put a $0.99 magnet on their car, while claiming the mantle of being a “true American”.

I am sure some idiot will read this and say I am “unpatriotic”. But they would only be helping to prove my point. To those people I offer the following:

If only the puppy was also wrapped in a flag...

Good, now that they are sufficiently distracted, the adults can talk.

– Dana

Bipedal. Podcaster. Blogger. Geek. Browncoat. I Occasionally Pee Sitting Down. Dana is the host and owner of Stimulated Boredom.
  • I love this article. I had a friend of mine post this exact status update the other day. I cannot articulate my feelings on the subject nearly as well as you, so I will probably send her a link to this. But I did have a bit of discussion with her on the addition of the phrase “under God”.

    I never did understand what it was about when I was a kid. It meant nothing to me. The fact that it was ingrained in my memory as a childhood recitation ritual that I was forced to do every morning actually dilutes its meaning in my mind. I think had I NOT been forced to do this every morning by rote memorization, then it might actually have a little bit more meaning to me today.

    Excellent job as usual, my friend.

  • Thanks Brian, I appreciate the feedback. 🙂