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Tomarken.com > F. Nick Michaels > Paradox of the Pledge (02-24-02)
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F. Nick Michaels
Allentown, PA - circa 1995

THE PARADOX OF THE PLEDGE

When I think back to the first thing I learned in school, I am surprised to find that it is not a group of twenty-six letters called the alphabet, but rather a group of thirty-one words called the pledge.

Although it took only about a week until I learned to recite this group of words, it took nearly eight years before I began to understand what this group of words meant. The government controlling the school which I attended was so vain that it taught little children this patriotic oath even though it would be years until they knew what they were saying.

Many unforgettable events occurred before I realized what the pledge meant. Chernobyl shook up the globe. Flag burning shook up Washington. Ross Perot shook up the presidential elections. The Los Angeles Police Department shook up Rodney King. The issue of the pledge shook up the Supreme Court. Most of these events were of monumental proportion, and they spanned a fairly long period of time. Nevertheless the only time I learned about the pledge was at age five. I was never taught the meaning.

Quite sometime after I had learned the words to the pledge and had been mindlessly repeating them every morning, The Morning Call (Allentown, PA) printed the pledge and attempted to break down its meaning. My mother cut this small article out and taped it to our pantry door where I read it almost every day. However, I never did quite agree with that writer’s interpretation. Ever since then I had an idea of my own.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. The first twelve words of this statement are absolutely ridiculous. Who in their right mind would promise loyalty to a piece of cloth that has been altered more times than Michael Jackson’s face? By adding “and to the republic for which it stands” at least Benjamin Harrison showed he was using the flag as a symbol. Still, our government, for some reason, finds it necessary to drill patriotism into the minds of five-year-olds who repeat the silly phrase merely because they think it’s a nice way to start off the morning.

Harrison also decreed the United States “indivisible” when he wrote the pledge as a campaign tool in 1892. However, he overlooked one fact that was not too far from the back of history books at that time. This fact was four years of brutal civil war during which neighbor fought against neighbor, and families, not to mention the country, were torn apart over the issue of skin pigmentation, a phenomenon that was not halted by the war’s end.

The United States certainly did not provide “liberty and justice for all” during Harrison’s administration. As commander-in-chief of the army, Harrison himself dispatched troops to slaughter Native Americans who were in the way of the white man’s industrialization. Those troops represented the first cooperation between whites and blacks since the Civil War. Still, we mustn’t be fooled by the silver lining of this cloud: the troops hatred for the Native Americans allowed the long separated races to work together, but the blacks were segregated into units of “buffalo soldiers” and were always commanded by a white man. Even today, although the government ensures everyone his basic freedoms, many Americans remain prejudiced against people of different race, religion, and sex.

Separation of church and state has long been part of government policy. Yet, in 1954 Congress decided that they should add that this nation was “under God.” American citizens have a number of different religious beliefs which, in some cases, are violated by the pledge. Yet until recently, those citizens were once again denied their “liberty and justice” as well as religious freedom as they were forced to recite the pledge in public schools.

The flag of the United States of America, the country it represents, and the pledge that goes along with it all represent a vast paradox. They are supposed to stand for freedom, democracy, and liberty. Nevertheless, almost no one realizes how many of the citizens of this nation are constantly oppressed by the same people that promise them their rights.


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