Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I Pledge Allegiance... the big-box retailer that sold me my American Flag.

The Pledge of Allegiance was in the news yet again today. More wrangling over the use of the phrase "under God". This is nothing new, is it? We've been going round and round over this for some time. So what I want to, what I need to know is:

If the wording of the pledge is so vitally important that the changing of it might threaten everything our nation stands for, then, uh, why don't more people say it?

Why is recitation of the pledge only compulsory for school children?* Sure, there are probably other groups out there who recite the pledge as a matter of course, but by and large, the average adult American probably hasn't said it since their school days. Do you recite the pledge every day upon waking? Is it said throughout your workplace at the start of each shift? No?

I've always felt that this obsession with the pledge was a little silly, partly because it's really no measure of a person's patriotism and because it isn't universally spoken (which renders it an ineffective tool for creating national unity). The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 for "The Youth's Companion" magazine in Boston. It was intended to be part of a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America. I simply can't believe that at the time of its writing, it was ever intended to be a nationally recognized declaration of patriotism or love of country. Not that there's anything wrong with that; we already had one in the form of our national anthem. It's also worth pointing out that as children in grade school, my classmates and I didn't even have a firm understanding of what the words in the pledge meant, and were simply repeating, as opposed to speaking from the heart. We dutifully stood up every morning and said what we had been told to say, without any deeper understanding of how those words applied to us. I'll even go so far as to suggest that less fortunate children may have been silently contemplating how it didn't apply to them.

So maybe it's time to reconsider whether two words in a statement recited by only a fraction of Americans will really destroy the fabric of our society. The things that do destroy us are poverty, greed, inequality and above all, indifference. We all know that we'd rather be shopping the sale at Best Buy this weekend, anyway. And please, if someone refuses to recite the pledge, it doesn't make them any less of a patriot. As far as I'm concerned, the best way to show patriotism and love of country is still by voting.

* While it is no longer compulsory by law, I would argue that peer pressure, social stigmas and the generally accepted authority of teachers and parents over children makes it compulsory in effect.

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