This post will be a little different to my regular fare, because I’m not really looking at something with much bearing on my Christian faith. It’s something that I have been thinking about again recently, though, and I’ve come to realise that I’m still not really all that comfortable with it.
Without further ado, then, my foreigner’s perspective on the Pledge of Allegiance:
Growing up, I would never have suspected that one day my children would be swearing allegiance to any flag, let alone the Stars and Stripes. I was comfortably British, with the expectation that I’d eventually find some nice British girl and settle down in my home country.
That was before I met my lovely American wife and moved to the States.
It wasn’t that I’d never heard of the idea of the Pledge before I came here. But I never expected I’d really have to deal with it on a personal basis.
“What’s there to deal with?” all my American readers are asking. Let me explain.
I first encountered the idea of the Pledge of Allegiance in what for Americans is elementary school, probably at about age 8 or 9. One of my friends who had older brothers had heard about it, and said that in America, every morning in school you had to “Do a Legion” to the flag, and that you got in trouble if you didn’t.
As you can tell, he didn’t always speak very well (his stock phrase was to refer to “my nuvver bruvver”), but he’d grasped the essence of it. You stand in front of the flag with your hand over your heart (I think) and pledge your allegiance to it, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible.
I was, frankly, shocked and disbelieving. No, that can’t be true. America is a free country, not some Nazi state. We don’t do anything so unfree, and wasn’t America supposed to be even more free than Britain?
The only image I had for it was pictures I’d seen of people in the Third Reich saluting the swastika. To any American, the two things aren’t remotely alike, of course. But with that as my baseline image, yeah, the idea of pledging allegiance to the Flag was going to be weird. Starting from there, I’m almost guaranteed to take things the wrong way or at the very least feel uncomfortable.
But my kids now go to school in America, which means they do “Do a Legion”. Which means I’d better come to terms with the idea.
To me, the idea of pledging allegiance to your national flag every morning at school is a weirdly jingoistic thing to make kids do. I’d feel uncomfortable about pledging allegiance to the Union Jack every morning – I’d wonder what sort of jackbooted nationalistic dictatorship my country was turning into. I’d feel uncomfortable about pledging allegiance to the Queen or the Royal Family, even as the staunch monarchist that I am. I’d feel like the government was trying to turn my children into good little soldiers of some kind of revived British Empire. Heaven forbid. Aren’t we past that?
It’s not that I don’t feel that allegiance deeply. The reason I won’t become a US citizen is because there’s a clause in the citizenship oath about “renouncing all other allegiances” and I cannot in good conscience raise my hand before God and make that statement. But to more or less force kids to make a public profession of allegiance every morning seems excessive. Like it’s manipulating something sacred for the sake of national gain, or the old “my country, right or wrong” nonsense that can get you into worlds of trouble. The sort of jingoism that I hope we left behind along with the idea that overseas colonial possessions are a good thing.
And to those of you who are objecting to my use of the word “force”, you tell me how a kindergartener is going to find words to object.
Maybe I’m reading more into it than is there, or taking it the wrong way. I recognise it’s something that has near-sacred status in patriotic American culture. I’m not meaning this as an attack on popular Americana, so much as trying to come to terms with something I have no category for.
Probably very few people have even thought about why they said the pledge of allegiance at school. It’s accepted as a given. This is what we do. This is a Good Thing.
It’s only when a strange foreigner comes along and says “this is weird” that we even think about it.
So, Americans. Why? What’s it all about? How should I, as a non-American with American kids, view all of this?