Sunday, September 18, 2016

Is There No Respect Left? The Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem

I remember growing up in Florida during the 1960's, attending a public school which was as about as diverse as it could be. I had classmates who were dirt poor and very well to do; they were blacks, whites, Greek, Italian, Irish, Native American, male and female, and so on. While most of my teachers were white, there were black teachers (I had one in the sixth grade). There were Protestants, Catholics, Greek Orthodox, and who knows what else. But despite the diversity, or perhaps because of it, and regardless of all the turmoil happening not just in America, but throughout Vietnam (we all seemed to know someone touched by that war), the Middle East, the Cold War, we seemed to get along quite well. One of the things which seemed to unite us was that despite all of our differences, we were Americans. We were taught American history and an American Worldview (yes, I have no doubt that it was sugarcoated and likely distorted to reinforce the notion of "American Exceptionalism" , but it also gave us a framework of national pride and a foundation for further study).

One of the most important things that we were taught to help instill that sense of national pride and national unity was standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge had only recently been modified by the time we were being taught it. You see, the Pledge of Allegiance had been modified in 1954, on Flag Day, at the behest of President Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower with the inclusion of the two words, "under God". The reason given by President Eisenhower was, as usual, direct and simple. The former World War II General wanted the words inserted in order to acknowledge America's uniqueness among the nations of the world by our belief in freedom, individuality, and belief in a divine power which has blessed our nation in countless ways as opposed to our Cold War enemies who were officially atheist and looked to their leaders as their all omnipotent national saviors.

The Pledge itself was originally written in 1887 by Colonel George Balch. It was later revised in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist and Christian Socialist from New York. Bellamy was a champion of worker's rights and equal (or at least equitable) distribution of economic resources, ending racism, promoting women's equal rights (which included voting), ending child labor and expanding equal education to all genders and races. Ironically, Bellamy favored strong immigration laws to ensure that only those whose social values and work ethics matched ours. Further, but minor changes, were made in 1944 and continued to be made through 1954 ("under God" were first applied to the pledge by the Daughters of the American Revolution and then by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1948, and then by the Knights of Columbus in 1952). The Pledge of Allegiance was, of course, recited in English since that was accepted as our sole national language.

However, and perhaps, sadly, the pledge, which has as served as national bond of the American People, is no longer required; students have the option of not standing, or reciting it. Teachers even have the option to ignore the pledge all together. Some have complained that it's in English, and they don't speak or want to even learn English. Some claim that it "imposed" loyalty where none is intended or deserved. They claim that their loyalty is to another country, or ethnic group, or religion which prohibits duty and responsibility to any nation, even if that nation follows their same faith. In fact, many of the this latter group has tried to go further by "demanding" that the flag as well as copies of the past presidents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights be removed from the classroom. A few have gone as far as to demand that the flag in the school yard be removed too (as few have demanded that the US flag be taken down everywhere---government buildings, private residences, sporting events, and so forth). Atheists want the words "under God" removed.

Recently, there has been a spreading movement in some sporting venues---professional and amateur---who refuse to stand for the National Anthem. Instead of standing and placing their hand over their heart as tradition calls for, they've decided to sit, or kneel. A few foolish ones have decided to stand, but bow their heads and produce the "black power" fist complete with a gloved hand. There seems to be a myriad of reasons, ranging from claims of police racism and violence against blacks (or as they claim, in solidarity with "Black Lives Matter"), US involvement in the Middle East (specifically, against terrorists groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, as well as unintentional deaths of Muslim civilians caught in the combat zones---many used as human shields by terrorists groups), demands for "slave reparations" from a war which ended over 150 years ago and affected them in no way. Some of these protests have been started by recent converts to Islam (and there is none more zealous than a convert) while others are outward magnifications of suppressed racism, though the corporate media won't call it since it creates the wrong image for the minority group involved.

The "fist in the air" image has long been seared in the memory of the of over 50 crowd thanks to two black Olympians, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, during the 1968 Olympics. Smith had won the gold medal while Carlos won the bronze in the 200 meter race. Both athletes raised their black gloved fists during the playing of the National Anthem (both also were shoeless but wore black socks to symbolize black poverty). While both athletes went on to some limited success after the Olympics, they were sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and the US sporting associations. Later, they received some recognition from a smattering of colleges and universities. Both won the 2008 Arthur Ashe Courage Award. A similar protest during the infamous 1972 Olympic Games in Munich by Wayne Collett and Vince Matthews. However, the results were slightly different as both athletes were banned by the IOC; all four athletes were publically scorned by the media for being "disrespectful" to the nation which paid for their training, housing, and sent them to the Olympics all expenses paid.

As for the amateurs, they are primarily high school student athletes. I personally believe that these kids are simply imitating what they're seeing on TV without the slightest understanding of what's going on. As for the coaches and school administration, I fail to understand why they have failed to take action or be replaced. I would imagine that the parents are highly upset and would hope they have the backbone to set their kids down and explain the cold hard realities of what they are seeing on TV and the failures of the corporate media to remain silent or worse, to encourage and/or promote such behavior. For that matter, I'm a bit surprised that the various school boards haven't acted as well. Another failure of academic and professional leadership as well as parental responsibility? Thus far, it would appear so.

Well, there you go. What do you think? As for me, I guess I'm a bit old fashioned. I believe in certain national traditions such as standing up and saying the Pledge of Allegiance---in English. You, as a student, regardless of your gender, race, origin, or religion, have being afforded a very rare privilege of have a "free" education, and even the opportunity to learn job skills for those who don't want to go to college. Now, when I say "free", I don't exactly mean as in nothing paid. That seat you plant your butt in was paid for with the blood; with the loss of limbs; and with the loss of life by the US military so you can have an opportunity to succeed. It was paid for by every first responder out there; every cop, fireman, EMS personnel, as well as by every union member, every professional, and by everyone who gets up and goes to work. Its paid for through money they worked hard for in the form of taxes. The least you can do is show respect for those people by pledging allegiance to this country which made your education possible (and by the way, those teachers aren't there to be your personal butt wipers and babysitters. They are there to teach you what you need to know in order to be a successful productive adult). If you have a problem with the language, too bad. English is what we speak. It's what we will always speak. Learn it, use it, or leave. It's just that simple.

Say you're here just for the "free" education and you have no interest in becoming a US citizen or any loyalty to America. No problem. Note the previous sentence and follow the same directions. Atheist? Don't like "under God"? Not a problem either. Don't say those two little words. Say your religion prohibits a pledge or oath of allegiance? Then why are you here? How do you plan of getting past various forms which require a oath or pledge like a driver's license, an employment application or voting form, from you based on your personal honor? Lie? Refuse? Hide from it? Sorry, but that's not going to work for long. Even those American apologists will want some sign of loyalty.

As for those rich spoiled jocks, I have no patience for their faux-indignation of America and their multi-million dollar annual contracts. Many---though not all---had pampered lives, and as jocks were treated like royalty in high school and college with lots of "perks" when it came their academics among other things. If they have a beef, then get directly involved; spend some of that money. However, I strongly suggest they remember that as foolish as their actions are, they are regarded by some as role models. When they refuse to stand for the National Anthem, they are sending a message to their young fans that disrespect to their nation, the military, teachers, first responders, and to professionals like nurses and doctors is acceptable (which, again, is ironic given the millions these athletes are paid while thumbing their noses at the system which has made that possible).

Naturally, some will want to wag their fingers and claim First Amendment rights. I won't argue that they do have the protection of free speech and free individuals. However, once they put on that uniform, they no longer represent themselves. They represent the team, it's owners, their fellow teammates, and the sports league (or school as the case may be). But more importantly, they represent the fans sitting in those seats who've paid out hundreds of dollars and the millions watching on TV or listening on the radio. So, when they blow off the National Anthem, they are blowing off their teammates, the owners, the league, as well as their fans and the nation itself. It's no different from those who put on a police uniform or a military uniform. While you're in that uniform, your deeds and words reflect on the larger whole. But I can sort of understand the other side too. These jocks are often arrogant and pampered; they are used to getting whatever they want when they want it. So, instead of seeing themselves as part of the whole, they see themselves as the center of their little cosmos; they are the "franchise" itself. Wrong. They are merely one player among many. They may be talented athletes, but no more so than anyone else who has earned a place on the team; each in their own niche. It's all the players, coaches, owners, supporting staff (and even shareholders in some cases) and the fans who are the franchise, not a single individual or even a couple of individuals. As an aside, the media should stop covering these individuals and giving the free publicity they're after.

As for those with the "black power" salute, they should pull their heads out of their butts. There is no "black power" or "white power" or "Hispanic power" or whatever. There is only "people power". We are Americans and we're in this together. We either succeed together or we fail together. There are those who want to divide us into as many pieces as possible. The more we are at each other's throats, the less they have to worry about. They can sit back and pull our strings. While they get richer and control more and more, we get poorer and weaker. As long as we are fighting each other, they have nothing to worry about. What scares them the most is that we refuse to play their game, and focus our energy and efforts on removing this Oligarchy and their proxy political partisans and restoring our Constitutional/democratic republic.

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