Many Americans feel the Pledge of Allegiance is still an essential part of our culture. Considering how politics and socioeconomic conditions have changed over the last few decades can it be as American NOT to make the pledge at certain venues like schools, local, state and federal government hearings as those who dutifully do?
How we interpret behavior we feel is un-American can be hurtful to those, especially young children, who weren’t raised in rigid, uber patriotic ways
When I first read the story of the school nurse refusing to service an eighth grade student for refusing to stand while the Pledge of Allegiance was being conducted, my first thought turned to the documentary I had been watching on Netflix recently entitled Hitler and the Nazis. I have always been bewildered by how easily the German people seemed to capitulate with the Nazi leader’s extreme views and hatred of all who didn’t fit the image of a pure Aryan.
Part of his success began in the early 1920’s when the Nazi party formed youth clubs headed by Kurt Gruber, to attract young boys who could be trained to become future members of the SA (Stormtroopers). By the time Hitler rose to power in the 1930’s all boys and girls were compelled to become members in Nazi youth groups with the intent of making them loyal to Hitler and part of a German super race.
I hesitate to inject the Nazi meme because it automatically tends to shut down a dialogue on important issues. Was this nurse really a willing member of some cult that was determined to fashion her young charges to be good Americans along some ideological lines? Or was she simply someone who normally consented to authority and saw a behavior in the child that didn’t reflect her perception of obedience and patriotism?
Most likely it was the latter but I’m still concerned that it was this propensity in the German people who were looking for someone to “take their country back” following its defeat in WWI and the humiliation laid out in the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that led them to blind themselves to, and for some, be active in, the atrocities Hitler and the Nazis would commit?
The Pledge itself was a creation of Francis Bellamy in 1892, a minister with social Christian values. With some slight modifications it was formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. This late entry into the American social fabric removes any sacrosanct notions that often accompany those views about the founding fathers and the Constitution.
The words “under God” were added in 1954, during the heyday of the Red Scare in this country. I recall those days and never gave much thought about how such a pledge would violate anyone’s civil rights. After all, weren’t “real Americans” proud to make such a commitment? Such was the indoctrination we all received back then.
A scene not unlike what my experience was in the 1950’s
How has it come to be that this young adolescent school girl in Carlisle, Pennsylvania had the perceived temerity to balk and waver from the crowd mentality? Who and what were the influences in her life that suggested she could ignore the status quo, at least in this instance and risk the humiliation of the tribe elders and her peers in doing so? There’s very little information currently available to answer to these curiosities.
The pledge alone is rather innocuous. Words in the pre-1954 version that affirm we are “one Nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all” are really something we should take pride in, as long as they remain relatively true. But times have changed. We are not that undivided anymore and “liberty and justice for all” now seems as illusive as it was before civil rights legislation removed many of the barriers for women and minorities. When the words “under God” were added after 1954 we were telling those who were non-believers that their views had no place in American society, something the founding fathers have made clear in their words that they were opposed to.
Perhaps the Carlisle eighth grader found herself unable to pledge to an ideal that no longer reflected the American ethos that valued people equally despite their race, religion, gender, income level or political affiliations. There is also the awareness now that we are no longer a nation among nations respecting sovereignty. George W. Bush pushed this realization into the consciousness of most Americans when he and his neo-conservative cohorts established a policy of preemption to invade Iraq.
But long before this there were the CIA’s involvement in government overthrows around the world to better fit what authority-minded sources thought served our national needs. The imperialism we overthrew centuries ago has now become the model by which we seem to effect foreign policy though hidden under the guise of economic development in the form of trade agreements. For those who don’t go along willingly there is the threat of military intervention or support of a American-friendly coup, which Iraq and Ukraine are examples of.
Neo-liberals contributed to this aspect of our global image demise as they designed and supported international trade agreements that sent American jobs over to cheaper foreign labor markets to exploit the resources of those countries for profit motives. Agreements that allowed oligarchs to get rich while labor rights were kept in check have now undermined many economies, including our own, to stave off austerity programs that keep workers wages low as the wealthiest 1% will soon have more wealth than half of the world’s population. This concentration of wealth has allowed a handful of people to literally write policy that ensures the rich remain rich with fewer opportunities for others on the bottom half of income earners to climb out of their income strata.
Here at home the poor remain victims of a system where the deck is stacked against them. While Wall Street got bailed out for their malfeasance in 2008, Main Street saw their jobs and homes disappear. A new movement funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch drove a further wedge between the haves and have-nots with their financial support of the Tea Party and its emphasis on free-market, laissez-faire principles. Inherent in these principles are the formation of policies that focus on cutting funding to social safety net programs while removing essential government regulations that were designed to keep financial excesses in check following the stock market crash of 1929.
The poor fill our jails and prisons, mainly from drug use, while major pharmaceuticals avoid prosecution for distributing FDA-approved drugs that have often been poorly designed and tested. A testament to the revolving door, crony capitalism that keeps unelected people in control of federal agencies established to regulate and oversee industries they once received a large paycheck from and will ultimately return to when they are through doing what they came to do in Washington. Many prisons too are run by for-profit corporations that have contracts with the states that ensure prisoner quotas are met in order for them to remain profitable.
Blacks and Muslims are too often the victims of white, christian sensitivities that express unfounded fears like that which claims Obama is trying to rewrite the U.S. Constitution and that Muslims have taken over American cities. Many minorities and working poor have also been inhibited to vote with new legislation by conservative legislatures that impose extreme voter ID laws, cut back early voting periods and ending same-day registration.
Women and young girls who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy are finding it more difficult to have an abortion as the religious right helps get more and more of their persuasion elected to state legislatures. Education is also under attack from the religious right as they take over school boards and commissions that rewrite history to reflect an America that fits their orthodox religious views and support a false equivalent to evolution called creationism.
Teen suicides remain high especially amongst those who are biologically predisposed towards an LGBT lifestyle. So-called traditional christian values have attacked these lifestyles and possessed many to write laws that restrict any and all behavior that doesn’t conform to their strict biblical views. Christians who claim their values are under attack are themselves persecuting non-christians and gays in various ways by excluding them where they can from public venues or refusing to serve them in the private sector.
On top of all of this we are all subject now to have having our privacy invaded in the name of national security, regardless if you have any connections with foreign persons of interests or not. FISA courts that are supposed to keep zealous eaves-dropping agencies from exceeding reasonable limits that are protected under the 14th amendment have simply become a rubber stamp process for the FBI and the NSA.
The nations motto, E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one – was originally designed to reflect a bouquet of flowers, “where unity and individuality coexisted – not a ‘melting pot’ that blended everyone together.” Especially in a fashion dictated solely by white Christian fundamentalists and zealots of free market principles.
It is this absence of unity and equality that perhaps drove our Carlisle, Pa. teenager to consider sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance at her high school. Rather than punishing or demeaning her actions perhaps we would all be better served if we looked at why someone is no longer willing to proclaim an oath that has not only come to offend non-theists but insults the intelligence of those who see that liberty and justice for all remains only for the privileged wealthy few who have slowly disassembled our democracy and slowly began to replace it with a plutocracy.