Everyone who went to public schools in the United States has said the Pledge of Allegiance before. We say it so much, and from such a young age, that none of us really stop to think about it deeply. Many associate patriotic sentiments with the Pledge, and think of the sacrifices soldiers make, in particular, but most people just say it, and don’t really stop to think about what the actual words the Pledge contain are saying. There is even a small minority of people who get personally offended when people criticize the Pledge! Indeed, many do not know the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and history reveals some surprising things about this American ritual…
The Pledge was first created by a man named George Balch, in 1887. Balch wanted to teach school children, especially immigrants, loyalty to the US. This first version read; “We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!” Later on, a man named Francis Bellamy went on to develop today’s current pledge. He believed that Balch’s pledge was “too juvenile, and lacking in dignity”. His pledge was first promoted at a Columbus Day celebration to instill nationalism and sell flags to schools. His read; “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Bellamy was a socialist and wanted to add “liberty” and “fraternity”, but decided against it. Bellamy decided to revise the pledge again, after feeling that the words “to my flag” could be interpreted as one’s own country, rather than the US, hence it now says “to the United States of America…”. The last edition to the pledge we have today is “Under God”. Eisenhower added that in 1954 after much religious influence. During that time, communism was the big threat, and “Under God” set America apart from the communists, who were atheistic. The other most significant change that few know about happened to the salute. Now we put our hands over our heart, but historically, we saluted the flag with our right hand and arm out stretched, much like another salute we all know… Not surprisingly, that salute was promptly phased out after WWII! Overall, here’s the evolution of the famous Pledge:
|Pledge of Allegiance
(changes in bold underline)
|1892 (first version) |
|“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”|
|1892 to 1923|
|“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”|
|1923 to 1954 |
|“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”|
|1954 (current version) |
|“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.”|
It’s interesting to hear the history behind this unquestioned ritual. Many create strong nationalistic feelings around the pledge, and even get personally offended if someone doesn’t do it! Most of those people have not researched the history behind their sacred pledge, yet impose their own feelings for why it was created. One would’ve thought that the pledge would spread in a more reverent fashion than through a marketing ploy to get more flags! The other big thing pertaining to today is what those words actually mean. Many cite being grateful for American soldiers’ sacrifice is the meaning behind the pledge. Mostly, they say that one has to have their particular sentiments about the US, or else they’re insulting the military! When others decide not to say it, a loud minority of people jump to demonize them calling them bad Americans and ungrateful. However, the pledge has no mention about the military at all, that’s just their interpretation. Some may differ, but the words of the pledge seem to mean that you are loyal to the United states and it’s Government, along with the country’s social values. “Liberty” and “Justice” are mentioned outright.
To me, it seems that the pledge is praising our many freedoms we have, and that the person saying it stands for those values, of “Liberty and Justice for all.” To the tiny minority that seeks to guilt-trip others into following their way of patriotism, and bullying their interpretation of how to be a good American, the pledge seems to contradict them! They say that since we have freedoms, such as freedom of thought and speech, then people shouldn’t criticize the country since others in other countries can’t, except for their view of nationalism! The pledge seems to say the opposite, binding the oath-takers to uphold everyone’s right to free speech and ideas, even those whom you disagree with. Americans value a democratic open society that allows different ideas and opinions on everything, even the country itself, which many others don’t allow. The right to free speech and opinion gives everyone the right to criticize the country’s failings, or praise the country’s achievements. One can be fervently patriotic, or not at all, as long as they don’t turn to treason or violence.
So why wouldn’t people want to say the Pledge, or have it in schools? One criticism is that the nature of a pledge, to the state, goes against American values of free thought and democracy. Pledges are often misused by regimes not so open to free thinkers! Swearing a loyalty oath to the country can be binding the person to follow the country, even if it does something unethical, or foolish. Pledges and oaths need to be taken very carefully, as they can easily be misused. Also, some believe that the Pledge in school is indoctrinated into children too young to truly absorb the Pledge’s meaning, and just blindly follow whatever the government tells them to think. Even then, the Pledge of Allegiance’s wording seems pretty benign compared to pledges from dictatorships!, But as the wording pledges loyalty, some do interpret it to mean follow the country’s every whim, even if that person finds it wrong. The nature of loyalty oaths make the need to be very careful in how people will interpret and execute it.
Overall, the Pledge’s words seem to promote upholding the freedoms given to us in a free society. However, the pledge is often misused by people who try to bully and guilt trip others into thinking the way they do by deciding to say the pledge conforms you to their views. Also, many ask, is a pledge appropriate to the values in a country that upholds the freedom to criticize it? All in all, the Pledge of Allegiance continues to make history to this day. I think this phrase sums up the freedom we prize in our country; “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”