Years ago, we began every day of grade school by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Today, at my son’s school, they begin every day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Every Scout meeting begins the same way. We say the pledge thousands of times, but rarely stop to think about what we’re saying—and almost never do we question whether we ought to be saying it.
I suggest the thinking behind the Pledge—or rather, the lack of thinking—is downright dangerous and can undermine what our Founding Fathers wanted to accomplish.
Our Founding Fathers understood that power corrupts and bad people often get into positions of power. So they built a system of government that distributes power in an effort to protect us against tyranny. And what better way to protect ourselves against tyranny than to raise thoughtful, informed children who pay attention to what our leaders are doing–and question whether they ought to be doing those things?
Who ever thought it was a good idea to teach our children to pledge allegiance to a flag? It’s just a piece of cloth. Any idiot, any two-bit crook, any manipulator, any warmonger can buy–or steal—one. When they wave it in our faces, we are obligated to follow them wherever they lead—if we have been taught to follow the flag, instead of following our principles and our conscience and using our brains.
Over the years, people following the flag have sometimes found themselves doing some downright ugly things.
Soldiers followed the flag to Wounded Knee, where they shot down 300 mostly unarmed Lakotas: men women and children alike, as part of the campaign of genocide that practically wiped out the Native Americans.
Men of the South followed the Confederate flag to Gettysburg and Antietam, waging a bloody, ghastly war against their own countrymen. And the reason the war started was to protect Simon Legree’s right to whip, rape, and even kill the human beings he considered to be his property.
More recently, we have followed the flag to Hiroshima and Nagasaki where we needlessly unleashed nuclear horror on a nation that was already on the point of surrender.
We’ve followed it to Vietnam and dropped napalm on children…to Iraq where destroyed a nation for reasons our President never saw fit to share with us—at least not the real reasons… and to the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib, where we disgusted the world with our cruelty and brazen disregard for treaties and international law.
Teaching children about the principles of our Founding Fathers Shouldn’t we instead be doing deep teaching with our children about the principles upon which this nation was founded and have them pledge allegiance to those?
- All men are created equal and they have inalienable, God given rights—maybe even if they live in the Middle East.
- They should be well versed in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment and understand how it is designed to protect us from the excesses of government.
- They should know that our Founding Fathers did not intend for this nation to be a Christian nation or an atheistic one, but rather, a place in which we are all free to worship—or not—in whatever way we see fit.
- Our Founding Fathers wanted the United States to be a land of opportunity, not a state lorded over by an oppressive aristocracy. They most certainly did not believe that “corporations are people, my friend.” They did recognize the threat corporate power poses to the government they were trying to create—and tried to keep corporations on a short leash.
- They should know that our Founding Fathers were appalled by the constant war the European powers engaged in and they wanted America to be different. Thomas Jefferson said our nation should have “peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” James Madison felt so strongly about this that he didn’t even want a standing army.
How far the other way my country’s gone.
The Duty to Dissent Having taught our children those principles, shouldn’t we also teach them that when those principles are violated, not only do they have a right to dissent, but it is a duty to dissent?
When the NSA spits on the Bill of Rights by spying on all of us with no search warrants and no probable cause, and our president believes he has the right to assassinate people without even a trial, do you want your children to be pledging allegiance—or do you want them to be screaming, “I dissent!”?
When the military-industrial complex gets a blank check year after year after year, while millions are suffering from unemployment, hunger, and homelessness; our infrastructure is crumbling; our schools are an international embarrassment; and our health care system is failing most of us—do you want your children to be pledging allegiance to that—or do you want them screaming, “I dissent!”?
Government at all levels is going broke while many Fortune 500 companies pay zero income tax and Warren Buffett’s cleaning lady pays a higher tax rate than he does. I Dissent!
Massive campaign contributions from the oppressive American aristocracy has so corrupted our political system that our elected officials don’t even pretend to give a damn about the rest of us any more. I dissent!
Hundreds of thousands of Americans are rotting in prison on minor drug charges, while the Wall Street bankers, who stole billions and destabilized our economy, aren’t even prosecuted. I dissent!
Corporate lackeys on the US Supreme Court have yanked we the people from the drivers’ seat, locked us in the trunk, and given the keys to the executives said Halliburton, Goldman Sachs, and Exxon. I dissent!
The nation the world once looked upon as a beacon of freedom has become an international bully, overthrowing democratically-elected leaders and installing murderous puppets of the multinational corporations. I dissent!
Back when the pledge was first introduced, Americans didn’t hold their hands over their hearts like we do today, but rather, saluted the flag by doing this:
We stopped this salute when a certain German dictator with a funny mustache decided to adopt that same salute in his country. We all know what happened when people decided to follow the Nazi flag instead of following their principles, their consciences, and using their brains. We should have learned an important lesson from Nazi Germany about the dangers of confusing love of country with blind patriotism, yet here we are, still teaching our kids to pledge allegiance to a flag. Plus, since the time of Hitler, we’ve even added the words, “one nation under God,” to not so subtly suggest to the kids that God Almighty approves of whatever it is our leaders are up to.
Let’s stop teaching blind allegiance to what America has become, and instead, teach them to thoughtfully pledge allegiance to the way it was supposed to be. And let’s be sure to teach them to scream I dissent!