Thursday, October 24, 2013

I Pledge Allegiance to the Republic...uh, I don't think so :P

Brainwashing through ritual--not especially classy, but effective.

When I was a boy, each day at school until some time during my first grade year, we would face the American flag that hung in our classroom and the principle would say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag over the intercom. We would chant along with him. I didn’t know what the Pledge of Allegiance meant. I didn't know what a pledge was and I didn't know what allegiance was. It was just something that they taught us to do, so I did it.

I knew what the flag was, a symbol of the USA, and something for which we were taught to be proud. I felt proud. I felt the USA was superior to every other country. I was taught this and had no reason to question it at the age of 6. Sometime around that era, they stopped making us say the Pledge of Allegiance. To be honest, I didn't notice. I didn't miss the ritual. I never really paid attention--just rattled it off like the Lord's prayer at the end of a 12-step meeting. 

I honestly wonder how far away from this we truly are.

Some years later, I heard about a kid whose Jehovah’s Witness parents felt it was immoral to pledge allegiance to anyone but Jehovah. I was raised in church to discriminate against Jehovah’s Witnesses because they didn’t interpret the Bible according to the correct theological paradigm, so I took this as a lot of bull hooey. I was in high school, and sad to say, still hadn’t caught on to the implications of living under a propagandist state. 

It wasn't until I was in grad school that I came to understand why any parent--not only Jehovah's Witnesses--might not want their kids mindlessly pledging allegiance in what appears to be a harmless ritual.  In a random moment, while wandering the University of Texas at Arlington campus, it occurred to me that the grammar of the Pledge is a tad stilted, and carefully puts the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the USA in there before getting to what the pledger is really pledging to:  the republic for which it stands

"I pledge allegiance to the republic of the USA, and to the flag that stands for this republic." Stilted grammar cleverly hides the true intent of the Pledge.

It wasn’t until that moment, nearly thirty years after I’d last said the Pledge of Allegiance in school that I understood the point those Jehovah’s Witness parents were making. I wondered to myself, in that moment, why it took some common people from a somewhat spurious and obscure religious group to figure out what every Baby Boomer hippie should have figured out long before.

Lenin's Tomb -- the former Soviet leader's body is preserved for visitors to adore.
When I was in seventh grade, my Geography teacher showed us pictures of his trip to Moscow. Several shots displayed the scene of Linen’s tomb, where countless Russians ("Soviets" in those Cold War days) were lined up to adore his corpse, preserved and visible behind glass. My teacher was incredulous and disdainful of this practice, pondering what would drive people to do such a thing. I ask, "What's the difference between that and having USA kids recite the Pledge?"

They have kids recite the Pledge in schools again, and I've seen my own kids do it in church as well--pledging allegiance to this republic and the flag that stands for this republic. What does that entail? What does that mean? To consider the things this republic--this group of people who call themselves a "democracy"--is doing in the world, I shudder at the implications and I wonder if it is my turn to do as the Jehovah's Witness parents did so long ago, that the hippies should have noticed, but didn't.