Monday, June 20, 2011

the Pledge of Allegiance

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The U.S. television behemoth NBC has apologized for forgetting or editing out the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance leading up to the U.S. Open golf tournament. What conceivable role the Pledge of Allegiance plays at a sporting event beats the socks off me, but in tough times, there is a tendency to seek refuge in virtuous incantations: If you squeeze your eyes tight and cross your fingers, maybe the tornado will spare your land.

The current Pledge of Allegiance goes like this:

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.
I can remember a time when school children would begin their day standing at their desks, facing the flag, and reciting the pledge. I can also remember when the phrase "under God" was added. It was 1954.

At the time, the addition struck me as clunky and mildly abusive, but I was not mindful of the fact that 1954 was a year that was part of the McCarthy era -- a time when Senator Joseph McCarthy built a thriving business out of denigrating his country by holding hearings at which people were accused of being communists. No one dared to challenge him for fear of being called a communist as well. Friend ratted out friend in an effort to escape the lash. People were labeled as pariahs and lost their jobs. It was a despicable time, but it scared the crap out of the nation ... everyone wanted to be gooder than good and perhaps the "under God" phrase was influenced by that fear. Gestapo-inspired virtue.

Before the addition, the pledge seemed to be part of a school day. It made some patriotic sense given the world war so recently passed -- the one that had claimed so many lives and left so many sorrowing. Death requires a propaganda ministry and the pledge may have been a part of that effort to make sense of or justify an insane and brutal time.

Anyway, NBC seems to have bowed its head and done its requisite mea culpa. The U.S. is a Christian country, but a part of its potential greatness lies in its willingness to remember that not everyone is a part of some Christian or Jewish or other God-prone collective. It is one thing to acknowledge that someone is part of a country and has responsibilities within that country. It is quite another to dictate or inject religion into the mix. The founding fathers didn't do it and neither should we.

My idealism is such that I like to think I live in a country where NBC would not apologize and it would be understood that whatever error NBC made was a part of what made the country worth offering a pledge to. But it's hard times out there -- time to cross your fingers and slip slowly, slowly into a Third World abyss.
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