The Pledge of Allegiance

Barack Obama was heckled by a crazy bystander for not beginning a speech with the pledge of allegiance.  He handled the event gracefully (video here along with cogent commentary by Matt Welch.)  As I’ve written before, I think the pledge is creepy.

Cato’s Gene Healy says it well:

From its inception, in 1892, the Pledge has been a slavish
ritual of devotion to the state, wholly inappropriate for a free
people. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist pushed
out of his post as a Baptist minister for delivering pulpit-pounding
sermons on such topics as "Jesus the Socialist." Bellamy was devoted to
the ideas of his more-famous cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the 1888
utopian novel Looking Backward. Looking Backward describes the future
United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has
equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s "industrial army"
at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the
state…Bellamy’s book inspired a movement of "Nationalist Clubs,"
whose members campaigned for a government takeover of the economy. A
few years before he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy
became a founding member of Boston’s first Nationalist Club….

Bellamy’s ritual for honoring the flag was right in step with those other National Socialists.  Here’s a picture illustrating the recommended salute (which later was to became politically incorrect).


The salute may be gone but the message remains.


I unreservedly agree with you.

The pledge of allegiance has long felt fascistic to me; I haven't said it since the day of the Columbine shootings, when I was compelled to do so by the angry, sometime violent teacher who presided over my eighth grade homeroom and insisted something to the effect that, "it's people like them [the victims of the shootings] that we were saying it for." I would've protested that he couldn't legally order us, but I had once seen the teacher in question violently wrench a student from a cafeteria table during a study hall and slam him into lockers successively as they made their way down the hall, purportedly because the student (victim?) had asked a lunchlady, perhaps somewhat petulantly (as junior high school students might) when the table where he was sitting would be dry (she had recently wiped it with a damp cloth). Suffice it to say, I associate the pledge of allegiance with some unpleasant things.

I really detest the power that simplistic, nationalistic symbols such as the pledge and national anthem possess. I doubt that even the most impassioned and best argued protests against them could persuade many people or resist the brutish cries of the kind, "how can he call himself an American if he won't say the pledge/sing the national anthem/rise for national anthem/salute the flag/et cetera." One of the few things I admired about Barack Obama was that he wore no flag pin, but he gave that up, which is a shame, but too politically prudent for me to hold against him.

According to the NY Times it wasn't a crazy heckler, it was a freelance reporter with a bizarre question.
"The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee was beginning a town-hall style meeting at Baldwin-Wallace College when John Quinn, a freelance photographer on assignment for Bloomberg News, interrupted him by calling on him to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Senator Obama went along and led the crowd through the pledge."

The salute in question (or one very like it) had a long and distinguished history before the Nazis ruined it for all time. It was the old Roman salute, and the Boy Scouts used it. You can see it depicted (albeit with arms held somewhat lower) in 'The Oath of the Horatii'.

I think rational people can accept ancient symbols in a modern society for exactly what they are in the abstract. In my youth, saying the pledge was innocuous enough (we also said the lord's prayer, a psalm, and grace before meals - semi parochial). What has always struck me as ironic is that those who refused to say the pledge more often than not, were characteristically those who shared those very values under which it was conceived and meant to embody. They were of course, I'm sure ignorant of this, as was I at the time, and the refusal to say the pledge was born more out of a reactionary rejection of more amorphous, classically liberal values associated with America to knee-jerk leftists (think the two Naomi's). And so, an admittedly equal reactionary response arose in protest ... reciting the pledge became less about fealty to the state, but a statement of separation from those who hated liberalism. And while much of this was cloaked in symbols and seemingly two-dimensional nationalism, beneath the surface was a subconscious understanding of the underlying acrimonious principles.

Of course I agree with you, and I've long hated how they screwed up the pentameter of The Pledge by inserting "under God" in the early 1950s. But Obama came off mocking it rather than sincere. For whatever reason, this will continue to spin as a lack of patriotism on his part, and Dems are extremely sensitive to that kind of criticism. The staffer who scripts these events and didn't think of that should be in a heap of trouble. If he's going to take a principled stand against it, that's fine, and BTW, I agree with that stand. But if he's not going to take a stand, Americans don't want it mocked or have their patriotism treated as a burden. If every baseball game starts with the Star Spangled Banner, there is no reason why a political rally shouldn't give one minute to the Pledge. Cost of doing business in the political arena.

Obama can't be burdened to make a few moments show pledging support to the government he wants to run, but he is okay pushing many hours of compulsory voluntarism on children.

Obama can't be burdened to make a few moments show pledging support to the government he wants to run, but he is okay pushing many hours of compulsory voluntarism on children.

Obama *CAN* be burdened to make a few moments to pledge support for the government, didn't you watch the video?

And by the way, since when did town hall meetings begin with the Pledge of Allegiance? McCain or Bush don't get heckled when they give speeches and town hall meetings without reciting the pledge.

Hitler was a vegetarian, which is why vegans all seem creepy to me. [...] On the other hand, Henry Ford was a dreadful anti-Semite, which is why Fords look creepy to me

Vegetarianism doesn't have anything to do with genocide, and anti-Semitism doesn't have anything to do with automobiles... but nationalist oaths are very very relevant to the discussion of Socialist Nationalism. Both the Pledge and Socialist Nationalism are political, an automobile or dietary restriction is not political.

But, I shouldn't call the guy a nut. Maybe misguided.

And @ Rex,

"And by the way, since when did town hall meetings begin with the Pledge of Allegiance?"

Every town council meeting I have ever attended began with the pledge (and as a real estate developer, I've had the unfortunate experience of attending dozens of them). I was also made to recite the pledge in public elementary school every day (beginning in 1979).


At least you have been pledging allegiance to one's own nation. As a child I remember pledging allegiance to the Queen, which even at six years old struck me as odd. The only queen I knew of was the Wife of the deposed Kabaka (King of Baganda), who would tool around Nairobi in an ageing mercedes, after General, Commander, Field Marshall, His Excellence, Idi Amin Dada thought a different socio-political model was better suited to Uganda's future progress.

Suffice it to say, in my only slightly littler brain of the time, I kept expecting to see her in a newer model mercedes any day soon after our daily pledges. It never happened, well not at least until her husband and her moved to London.

It took several more years to realise that the queen in question resided in Buckingham palace. It took a decade of Pan Africanist revolutionary reading to expunge how that made feel after I caught on. And worse, as my son gleefully points out, I am fully yet to recover from the revolutionary gibberish.

be carefull with impressionable minds.

copyright Patricia M. Shannon 1996

They say that they are patriots because they love to wave the flag,
but they throw their trash along the road, and pour used oil down the drain.
They say that they are patriots because the pledge they love to say,
but they never bother to turn out the lights when they go home for the day.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to protect the earth upon which all our lives depend?
How can we be patriots and not help our fellow men?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots because, they will always choose
to vote to build more prisons, while cutting funding for our schools.
They say that they are patriots, Star Spangled Banner they do sing,
but to their big gas-guzzlers they selfishly do cling.

How can we be patriots and not do all we can
to prevent the earth from turning into barren sands?
How can we be patriots and not lend a helping hand?
What else is a country, but its people and its land?

They say that they are patriots, because it fills them with such glee
to send our young folks overseas to be killed by enemies.
They say that they are patriots, but they would never think
to tutor some poor kids to help them stay out of the clink.

A country's not a piece of cloth, or words we say by rote;
a country's not a song we sing before we watch a sport.
And love's not just a feeling, it's something that we do,
every day, in every way, in everything we choose.

The "Pledge of Allegiance" is not creepy. It is from print world -- not electronic world -- the medium is the message, remember.

In the former print world, nations were one step below God -- in our abstract thinking -- definitely sacred. In TV world, we see nations as physical entities of land and people -- my dog run v. your dog run and you had better stay off my dog run! Definitely lost that sacred -- but not lovin' -- feelin'.

Drop in to a veterans' hall and ask the guys with the Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars, they might have a different perspective that the blogosphere crowd.

(Why do I get the feeling that many of the blogosphere libertarians still live in mom's basement?)

While we have to lay down our lives for our countries, and at best it will be a generation or three before we are let off the hook, we need to focus the emotion that enables us to do it. I never liked the words of the US Pladge of Allegance, but they have served. If we want a better form of words, I suggest these well known lines:

"I vow to thee, my country—all earthly things above—
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love."

Using that pledge would underline the truth that if we each truly put our countries above all else, the only way any of our countries are going to benefit is if we all offer one another some co-operation and tolerance.

"(Why do I get the feeling that many of the blogosphere libertarians still live in mom's basement?)"

Selection bias? Confirmation bias?

Does anyone know when the Democrats will be holding the flag burning ceremony to kick off the DNC convention in Denver? Obama is set to light it I think, or is it Hillary?

'Without realizing how it had come about, the combat men in the squadron discovered themselves dominated by the administrators appointed to serve them. They were bullied, insulted, harassed and shoved about all day long by one after the other. When they voiced objection, Captain Black replied that people who were loyal would not mind signing all the loyalty oaths they had to. To anyone who questioned the effectiveness of the loyalty oaths, he replied that people who really did owe allegiance to their country would be proud to pledge it as often as he forced them to. And to anyone who questioned the morality, he replied that "The Star-Spangled Banner" was the greatest piece of music ever composed. The more loyalty oaths a person signed, the more loyal he was; to Captain Black it was as simple as that, and he had Corporal Kolodny sign hundreds with his name each day so that he could always prove he was more loyal than anyone else.

"The important thing is to keep them pledging," he explained to his cohorts. "It doesn't matter whether they mean it or not. That's why they make little kids pledge allegiance even before they know what 'pledge' and 'allegiance' means."'

You've missed the point, Rex; I'm not surprised that military men have to take some sort of oath, but I'm mocking the idea that the whole population is obliged to - I'd rather it were assumed that The State serves the people, not vice versa.

It's the pledge of allegiance. You say it because you admire your own country and that you like it.

That's it.

I'm agnostic, and I don't mind saying under god, any more then I feel like trashing nativity scenes at christmas.

And adoration of the state? Hell yeah. It's a state that we, a diverse and ethninically unconnected group of people made for ourselves (and by ourselves, etc.)and maintained by our countinued civic duty. If we're so nuerotic that we miss the symbolism and the spirit for the obsessing of the letter, then maybe we all need to take some collective prozac.

You will enjoy the work of the distinguished historian Dr. Rex Curry (author of "Pledge of Allegiance Secrets"). He is the person who showed that the Pledge was the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers Party, and influenced its dogma, symbols and rituals. He also showed that the swastika, although an ancient symbol, was sometimes used by the NSGWP as overlapping S-letters for their "socialism."

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