Pledge of allegiance

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"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 Bellamy salute started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up.

The pledge of allegiance, written in August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy,[1] is a non-binding oath that the government has schoolchildren recite for purposes that are unclear. Perhaps the reason is that there were few other captive audiences of the size of the government school population that could be compelled to participate, or maybe the government wanted to make sure it got people to promise allegiance early in life, before they had the opportunity to do much of significance. The pledge is in seeming contradiction to the government's usual philosophy concerning children, which assumes they are not ready for weighty responsibilities.

On the one hand, the government's policies send the message, "You children are too ignorant, silly and susceptible to undue influence to cast a judicious vote in elections; too emotionally immature to be trusted with weapons that could be used to defend life, liberty and property; too small, weak, fragile and mentally unprepared for the workplace to hold a job; and too foolish and short-sighted to make decisions concerning your own body, finances, education, and so on. We want you to spend the next decade or two learning and being playful before you embrace adult responsibilities, because that's what it means to be a kid." With the pledge, however, the government sends the message, "We need you to swear allegiance right now, without delaying till adulthood, because we value your support and because taking part in this adult activity will help prepare you for the tasks of adulthood."

If safe and easy adult activities are suitable preparation for adulthood, then why are children not allowed to, say, operate a cash register or fetch coffee and photocopies in an office? These are the types of tasks people do anyway at the start of their careers in order to learn appropriate workplace behavior and to prove their ability to conform to workplace expectations. Apparently, the government deems kids ready for propaganda and symbolic gestures, but not to do anything actually useful, as though usefulness were more harmful than boredom and coercion.

Actually, the opposite is the case; a liberated child might find a sense of confidence and self-worth, producing greater happiness, in being productive and voluntarily accepted by employers in the workplace. He might feel better about having his rights be respected as a sovereign consumer and producer who can choose what to buy from and sell to other consenting persons in the marketplace, than he feels about being treated as a mere object, a political and economic pawn to be used and moved around as others see fit. Experiencing the tedium of entry-level jobs might also provide children more inspiration to pursue their education, and better teach them the relevance of that education to the real world, than being asked to accept on faith that obedience will somehow produce "liberty and justice for all" despite the fact that in government-run educational systems, there is anything but liberty and justice.

It is also unclear why children need to say the pledge every school day. Even if its purpose is to impart a civics lesson, one would think that the same lesson would not need to be drilled into them on a daily basis. Normally an oath or contract only needs to be sworn once, not repeatedly.

The contradictions and wishful thinking of the pledge[edit]

Children are aware that school is miserable, a waste of time, and a place where they are exposed to aggression from peers and authority figures. If the government's claims to look out for their well-being in that setting have been proven false, then why believe that the government is any more sincere in its dedication to the lofty ideals set out in the pledge? The very fact that it is mandatory that children be present for the pledge (and sometimes to actually stand and recite it) is proof that the government would not be able to get them to participate if it were voluntary. Under what sort of government does the expression of love of country have to coerced rather than rising to citizens' lips spontaneously and irrepressibly out of the depths of their boundless gratitude and joy? The government does not even trust the students to creatively compose their own paeans, lest they deviate from the prescribed ideology, but mandates that they conform exactly to the wording and body language dictated by regulation.

The contradictions between the stated and observed realities are so glaring that no reasonably intelligent child can fail to observe that he is being lied to. One is reminded of Augusten Burrough's statement, "Affirmations are the psychological equivalent of sprinkling baby powder on top of the turd your puppy has left on the carpet. This does not result in a cleaner carpet. It coats the underlying issue with futility." Affirming that our country offers freedom and fairness to all while failing to actually bring about this state of affairs accomplishes nothing, aside from producing frustration and despair that may impel people to give in to tyranny simply because rebellion seem hopeless in light of the state's seemingly firm grip on power, as demonstrated every day in its ability to get people to comply with even the most pointless, hackneyed and empty of patriotic rituals. The government inculcates bad mental habits in children by teaching them to describes things inaccurately while tying their hands from doing much to bring their vision of a better world closer to realization.

In Florida, an incident occurred in 2013 in which a teacher told one of her students, "In my classroom, everyone will do the pledge; no religion says that you can't do the pledge. If you can't put your hand on your heart, then you need to move out of the country." This is nonsensical since children are not allowed to move out of the country on their own; their parents are in charge of determining what country they are to live in.[2] Also, the mandatory recital of what amounts to an oath, led by government employees in public schools, is a form of compulsory speech that is the antithesis of the liberty the flag itself supposedly represents.

Comparisons to other contracts and oaths[edit]

Student loan contracts and oaths of citizenship[edit]

The pledge is different than the contracts students sign prior to entering college, in which they promise to pay back their student loan debt upon graduating. To have children swear allegiance in exchange for the benefits they receive from living in this country would be contradictory to the government's belief that children are incompetent to enter into such agreements. Normally, pledges are made after training is complete, rather than before; for example, the oath of citizenship is taken after prospective citizens have passed the English and civics tests.[3] Children are asked to say the pledge of allegiance long before they have passed any civics class. Moreover, citizenship is granted children born in the United States, and denied to children who were not born in the United States are have not yet been naturalized, but are here provisionally; and yet they both say the pledge in U.S. schools.

Military oaths of enlistment[edit]

The pledge is also governed by different principles than the Oath of Enlistment[4] that new military recruits take as the final step at the Military Entrance Processing Station before shipping out for basic training. One might hypothesize that the children are promising to be loyal to the United States even during the course of their education, and to remain loyal afterward (the pledge specifies no time limit). However, even the Oath of Enlistment is taken after prospective soldiers have gone through prescreening, a computerized ASVAB test, medical evaluations, job selection, and a pre-enlistment interview to determine whether they are qualified to serve; children have not passed any such tests that would determine their qualifications to serve their country in any capacity. Also, prospective military personnel take the oath only after they have signed an enlistment contract that warns them of some of the laws, regulations and military customs that will govern their conduct and cautions them that Congress can change those rules at any time.[5] Children who pledge allegiance have not been given such disclosures and have not signed any such contract; nor are children considered competent to sign such a contract to enter the military.

Civil War- and Communist-era oaths of allegiance and penal oaths[edit]

One is reminded of the Civil War- or Communist-era loyalty oaths administered to those who had served in rebel armies or belonged to allegedly subversive organizations. The daily repetition of the pledge is also reminiscent of the experiences of those who served in the Chinese Laogai: "Every day, twice a day, he was asked three questions that are now written on the black and red walls of the museum: 'Who are you? What is this place? Why are you here?' The required answers: 'I am a criminal. This is the Laogai. I am here to reform through labor.'"[6]

Criticisms[edit]

The mandated reciting of the pledge of allegiance has been criticized as an example of a situation in which teachers become bullies, compelling children to submit to the will of a more powerful entity.[2][7] James Perry writes, "For a sovereign citizen to pledge allegiance to the Republic is exactly backwards. The Republic exists for us as individuals. We do not pledge to it; pledges are for subservient subjects of kings or National Socialist governments – not American citizens."[8] In 2013, a case was brought in Massachusetts challenging the pledge on the grounds that it discriminates against non-believing students.[9] A Rasmussen poll found 68% of American adults believe students should be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school. One-in-four (25%) do not think children should be required to say the daily pledge.[10] Nicholas von Hoffman argues that "standing at attention and unthinkingly reciting words whenever one is told to do so is either ridiculous or imbecilic or an obedience drill for a people already susceptible to group think."

References[edit]

  1. "The Pledge of Allegiance". U.S. History. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Suhay, Lisa (7 November 2013). "Pledge of allegiance controversy: When a teacher becomes the bully". The Christian Science Monitor. 
  3. "Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America". "I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God." 
  4. "Oaths of Enlistment and Oaths of Office". Center of Military History. "I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God." 
  5. "Enlistment/Reenlistment Document". Armed Forces of the United States. 
  6. Roso, Larissa (27 June 2011). "Laogai Museum in D.C. focuses on human rights abuses in China". The Washington Post. 
  7. Williams, Mary Elizabeth (8 November 2013). "Forcing Kids to Say the Pledge of Allegiance is Bullying and Pointless". Salon. 
  8. Perry, James (21 March 2003). "What I Expect My Child To Learn From Not Saying the Pledge of Allegiance". LewRockwell.com. 
  9. Lipka, Michael (4 September 2013). "5 facts about the Pledge of Allegiance". Pew Research Center. 
  10. "68% Think School Children Should Say Pledge of Allegiance Every Morning". Rasmussen Reports. 3 September 2013.