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Fulton on US History and gun control
Fulton on US History and impeachment

November 9,1999

The Pledge of Allegiance Encourages False Patriotism

by Joe Fulton

As with most legislative grandstanding, HB 2384, which requires [Oregon} schools to offer the Pledge of Allegiance, is having a predictable and reactionary effect: educators and students are questioning each other's patriotism.

Can patriotism be legislated? Is it so important to memorize an old advertising slogan or would we make better use of patriotism by pledging to carry on what is now a 223-year-old struggle toward liberty and justice for all?

HB 2384 is little more than a pompous maneuver by our state legislators to give the impression that they care about education. Unfortunately, they did not do their homework. They deserve an F in History. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Frank Bellamy, a nationalist and member of The Society of Christian Socialists. Bellamy worked for Youth Companion Magazine. The magazine was in the business of selling American flags. Bellamy's pledge was used dramatically to increase sales.

The pledge became part of the Americanization Movement that was a response to the "red scare" following World War I. Americanization was a racist excuse to harass immigrants. Bellamy's original line "I pledge allegiance to my flag" was changed to "the flag of the United States of America" because the Americanization adherents feared immigrants might be thinking of their homeland flag when they recited the pledge! The pledge was originally recited with a stiff, upraised right arm. That practice was stopped during World War II for the obvious reason.

In 1922 the Ku Klux Klan adopted the pledge as part of their ritual.

Only two nations on earth have a pledge to their flags, the USA and the Philippines.

So where is the harm in mindlessly reciting a pledge that most people do not understand? First of all, it promotes false, or at least passive, patriotism by giving citizens the impression that they have done their patriotic duty by simply saluting a flag. Secondly, it promotes ignorance. Why learn the truth about our country when we have already memorized a fallacy? It becomes "unpatriotic" to admit that this country has never lived up to that utopian dream of "liberty and justice for all." Nevertheless, if we do not admit to that, how can we ever make it so?

Does the pledge expect us to forget Native Americans, who were forced from their ancient homelands on a "Trail of Tears" to desolate reservations? Must we forget African Americans who were held in bondage only to be released to second class citizenship? What about female Americans who were denied due process and voting rights for 150 years? Does the pledge ignore Japanese Americans who were interned against their will during World War II? Does it forget the working-class poor, the Chinese railroad workers and the Hispanic farm workers who were brutalized and even massacred for seeking fair wages? What of the immigrants and dissidents terrorized by flag-waving "patriots" who forgot that this nation was founded by immigrants and radical idealists?

I pledge my allegiance to the men and women who have fought for this country and to those who tried to seek a peaceful alternative. I pledge my allegiance to the philosophy of Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams; to the courage of Harriet Tubman and Caesar Chavez; to the compassion of Lucretia Mott and Clarence Darrow; to the bravery of Chief Joseph and Rosa Parks.

We have much to be proud of in our history. We need not waste our time pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth when we should be honoring the multiracial fabric of humanity that has given blood, sweat and tears to that elusive goal of liberty and justice for all.