This year, for the first time, I attended my town’s Fourth of July spectacle. It was typical Independence Day nonsense, with a big picnic on the baseball field, a live band (Why do these things always feature '50s music? If that’s what classic rock 'n' roll was 20 years ago, shouldn’t we at least be up to the '70s by now?), and plenty of Corporate Sponsors. The music was brought to us by the Charlotte lite rock station (which shall remain unnamed on this blog), a fact of which we were reminded at regular intervals, even between patriotic songs during the fireworks show.
Something about these patriotic songs really bothers me. It’s not the Star-Spangled Banner so much (though, as we’ll see in a moment, flag worship definitely does get my goat), it’s all those other ones. God Bless America, of course, is the worst of the bunch. Why not just call it “Hey everyone, let’s throw the principle of separation of church and state in the trash”? And, as my father-in-law likes to point out, what kind of song builds to a crescendo on the word “foam”? How desperate was Irving Berlin when he came up with that one?
The other song that always gets blasted out at these things is Proud to be an American. It’s not such a bad song, if only its words actually represented the truth. The big crescendo line in that song reflects an admirable notion: “Proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” If I knew I was free — and if I knew America was committed to bringing that freedom to others — I would be proud to be an American. Sadly, I don’t, and so I’m not.
Speaking of freedom and separation of church and state, the North Carolina legislature is on the verge of passing a law requiring the daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in every classroom. That’s right, let’s force kids to recite a pledge which simultaneously debunks the notion that they have religious freedom and claims that they live in a nation with “liberty and justice for all.” If you really had liberty, you wouldn’t be forced to recite a pledge proclaiming it every day.
The Pledge is the worst piece of propagandistic claptrap since “God Save the Queen.” First of all, it’s incomprehensible. What allegiance are we pledging, exactly? That of a feudal vassal to his lord? Is the flag a “person,” a “group,” or a “cause”? How many kids are going to know the difference? Or care about it?All they know is that they have to stand and recite this dorky pledge at a flag every day.
The second part of the pledge is no better. In addition to the flag, we’re also pledging allegiance “to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Is it just me, or does the “one nation, under God, indivisible” part not completely undermine the “liberty and justice for all” part? Apparently we only have liberty to the extent to which we acknowledge that we all worship God, and that we stick together no matter what wingnut is in charge.
Our nation does have documents that rise above contradictory jingoism; they’re called the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. What if students recited snippets from these documents every day? Over the course of the school year, and expending no more time, you could probably read both documents in their entirety. Sure, some passages from the Constitution don’t exactly sing (consider this doozy: “No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time: and no person holding any office under the United States, shall be a member of either House during his continuance in office.”), but at least kids would be learning something about what all that liberty and justice entail.
If we must have a memorable bit of propaganda for kids to recite to the flag each day, how about something that actually captures the flavor of the Declaration and Constitution? Here’s my suggestion:
I pledge to honor and defend the flag, our nation, and the principles that make them great: the right to choose our leaders, freedom to worship, freedom of speech, and justice for all.
It comes in at 33 words, just two words longer than the original pledge. I think it’s easier to understand, it contains more of the spirit of the founding documents, and is stripped of bizarre contradictory fealty oaths. What do you think?