Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Pledging and Spangling

I had not heard of this objection to the Pledge of Allegiance.

She objects to the phrase "with liberty and justice for all," saying that she doesn't believe that this country provides liberty and justice for all.

The results have been predictable.

Naturally, she's taken a lot of heat for her stand, mostly from people who can't vote for her. Commentators called her unpatriotic. I personally don't believe that patriotism has much to do with reciting rote words in a public setting. The meanest traitor could do that, and it would not improve his character one bit.

I'm reminded of an episode of M*A*S*H in which Dr. Sidney Freedman is accused of being a communist because he didn't sign a loyalty oath. He replied by asking, "If I were a communist, do you think I would have hesitated for a second to sign a loyalty oath?"

Jon Carroll makes an interesting point from this.

Like most Americans, I learned the Pledge in elementary school. I don't recall anyone trying to attach meaning to the words; I just recall having the words drilled into me.

Really, pledging allegiance to a flag sounds rather silly. I know, it's part of a larger loyalty oath to the country. But that larger loyalty is directly expressed in the pledge. So a separate reference to the flag seems a bit odd.

Jon also raises a different-than-usual objection to the words "under God".

Surely everything in the universe is under God, and therefore our nation being under him should merit no specific mention. I learned later that the "under God" line was just a late-arriving tin-eared attempt to hurl monotheistic religiosity into the Pledge, something that its original author, Francis Bellamy, had not thought necessary. Bellamy was a Baptist minister.

Jon also discusses other flag references.

The other obvious symbol of patriotism is the national anthem, which is also very heavily invested in the flag. (Not all national anthems are so flag-heavy.) The national anthem is another thing I learned by rote, and I really was clueless about what it meant for a long time. Turned out, it meant: "Rejoice! Fort McHenry has stood stalwart against the vile British jackboot!" Darned odd when you think about it.

My biggest problem with The Star-Spangled Banner (Spangled? When and how else have you ever heard that word used?) has always been musical. It's hard to sing, and it's truly awful when not done well. Still....

I like the national anthem better than the dreary "God Bless America" - and there's God again, looking down from his heavenly throne, from which he is supposed to both stand beside us and guide us. Well, he's God; he can do that.

I think "America the Beautiful" has better lyrics overall, with references to the country itself rather than to one specific event, although God makes an early appearance in that song as well. You need to get to the fourth verse (yes, there are four) of The Star-Spangled Banner before God shows up.

Perhaps it would be fun to have a contest to write a new national anthem, just to see what people could create. Handle it like American Idol, with regional applications and audience voting. I know the odds are pretty good that it would turn to garbage, and that actually getting a new song approved would likely never happen. (What exactly would the process be? Congressional approval? Something similar to that for Constitutional amendments? The mind boggles.) But it could be entertaining.


caheidelberger said...

Interesting! The Pledge makes me queasy, too, in no small part because no one says it (or phrases it) meaningfully. But I still dig the Anthem, best done in subdued, reverent country-western style, no vocal pyrotechnics.

Mike said...

I quite agree,caheidelberger. In an odd way it is better suited to casual singers who won't try to hit the high notes than to the ones who are talented enough to try but not to succeed at it.