Staff Editorial: Think Before You Pledge



Southington, Connecticut school children pledge their allegiance to the flag, in May 1942.

Cub Staff

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic, for which it stands…” These words have been uttered by almost every American student at some point or another; as they stop everything they’re doing, stand from their desk, place their hands over their hearts, and recite the Pledge. The Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American life for over half a century, but in recent years, it has stumbled over much controversy.

It seems more and more young people are refusing to say the pledge. Consequently, the older generation and others who faithfully recite it get downright offended by their refusal. People who truly believe in what they are saying should continue to say the Pledge if they wish, and deserve respect — but people who do not believe and so refuse to say it also deserve respect. Doing so is actually very American.

As Americans, it is important to recognize why we actually have a “Pledge of Allegiance” in the first place and consider why we say it, rather than doing so blindly.

The Pledge was written over 100 years ago in 1892 by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy. First appearing in a magazine called the Youth’s Companion, it would not become the 31-word verse we know today until 1954 when “under God” was added by President Eisenhower. During the 50’s, the threat of Communism in the midst of the Cold War prompted Congress to take measures to add “under God”, but the Pledge was already extremely popular across the nation before that time. What most don’t know is that before World War II, people used to salute the flag with their arms raised towards it. However, that was changed, as it resembled the Nazi salute too closely. Ever since, it has been the pledge we know today.

Interestingly, taken in perspective, the “Pledge of Allegiance” has quite an awkward history in the development of our nation. Foreigners might ask, “If America is the worldwide beacon of liberty and freedom, then why do its citizens salute their flag every morning in a military type fashion that resembles the fascist and communist regimes of the early 20th Century?” Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany both had similar types of oaths where every citizen swore their allegiance to the country and to its leader. Even though the Pledge is nowhere near extreme, it is in effect the same principle. When we say the Pledge, we swear our obedience and loyalty to the Republic. How American does that sound?

To provide more perspective, the United States seems to be one of the only countries that still has some sort of oath for its citizens. The only other notable nation that has an oath of loyalty is North Korea.

Another interesting point is that the “Pledge of Allegiance” was written by a socialist minister. Ironically, conservatives and other Americans who are known to support the Pledge constantly treat socialism like they would the plague. And yet, the oath they recite everyday was created by a man who strongly believed in that ideology.

A good portion of issues with the Pledge arise from the fact that the words “under God” are weaved in. People who don’t choose to worship the Christian God, or any God for that matter, are put in an awkward position when it comes to the Pledge. Does this mean the “Pledge of Allegiance” should only be meant for Christians? It is an oath after all.

Furthermore, the Pledge seems rather irrelevant. If we removed its existence from the face of American history, would our way of life and respect for our country would be any different? It is important to note that the “Pledge of Allegiance” was created during a period of American nationalism. Post-Civil War, America was still a rather divided nation. Most of the Reconstruction era focused on bringing back the American spirit of unity, and Francis Bellamy’s famous verse proved to be a helping hand. The late 19th Century was also known for intense nationalism around the world: Germany and Italy both became united during the 1870’s, so it made sense that the U.S. would have its own fits of perceived patriotism. The Pledge in this situation was nothing more than something that caught on in an age where Americans yearned for a truly “united” United States of America.

The Pledge does have its merits, and it has stood the test of time. The words “liberty and justice for all” end the verse, bringing a strong sense of American ideals that our nation was founded on. In reality, this really is the purpose of the Pledge: to make citizens recognize the values that the entire nation holds very dear. Unity, loyalty, and liberty are not bad traits after all. If the “Pledge of Allegiance” was really that horrific, it obviously would not have stuck around for this long.

Another common argument is that there were many men and women who died throughout the course of our history so that we could say the Pledge as Americans in the first place. The fact that we are given a choice whether to say it is also comforting; places like North Korea require their citizens to pledge allegiance to Kim Jong Un. In truth, the Pledge has become somewhat less serious and serves as a daily reminder that we are all Americans.

Despite this, the Pledge itself could prove to be extremely unpatriotic. Everyone has learned how our country came to be; American colonists defied the rule of the British crown, and decided that it was in their best interest to become independent. It is baffling that people who refuse to recite the Pledge are ridiculed as disrespectful, when they are simply exercising one of the most important liberties we enjoy — the freedom of speech. Almost 250 years ago, the people denying allegiance to the authority of the British Empire were the patriots and founding fathers. Now the young people who refuse to pledge allegiance to a flag are being called disrespectful when it was that very same action that created our nation in the first place.

The whole idea of liberty is not to blindly accept authority or pledge obedience, but to question any form of authority in its entirety. It is because of this that saying the Pledge in a rote way is unpatriotic. It has promoted the idea that we must be loyal to the authority and ideals of the Republic, even if somewhere down the line, just like the founding fathers, we figure that it might not be the best way to organize government. As Americans we should not be pledging allegiance to anything or anyone besides ourselves and the people and principles we cherish.

In its entirety, the “Pledge of Allegiance” is an interesting doctrine that has somehow found its way into the daily life of all Americans. It is not that it’s wrong to say the Pledge, but it is important to question why we say it. And it is even more important to question why those who don’t say it seem to be labeled as disrespectful or unpatriotic. Questioning tradition and authority is what makes Americans somewhat unique from the rest of the world. That’s why it is troubling to see millions of people recite this oath mindlessly without really thinking about the reality of what they are saying. Because if it is possible for Americans to be programmed to pledge allegiance to a flag, is it possible that they could evolve to pledge their obedience to something else, or, someone else?