the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance

To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance


For over one hundred years, it has been deeply ingrained in American culture. Saluting the flag in public schools began as part of a national effort to Americanize immigrants, its final six words imbuing it with universal hope and breathtaking power. Now Richard Ellis unfurls the fascinating history of the Pledge of Allegiance and of the debates and controversies that have sometimes surrounded it. For anyone who has ever recited those thirty-one words, To the Flag provides an unprecedented hi…

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The Whitest Kids fucking nailed it.(r/politics)

I’ve posted this comment before:

Historically, the Pledge of Allegiance goes with all the worst shit about America. Read the book To the Flag, by Williamette professor Richard J. Ellis.

Here’s what happened. Civil War veterans in the North upset about the post-war decline of patriotic nationalism started getting flags into schools, and so there started to be military-style flag ceremonies for the kids to participate in. Some ceremonies involved flag oaths, and so when Francis Bellamy was working on a Columbus anniversary thing in 1892 for a kid’s catalog/magazine, he wrote up a pledge. Bellamy was a Christian socialist and saw the nation as a big family or as a big military unit, with an emphasis on loyalty and unity and obedience to one’s country. He also worried about the influx of inferior blood coming from the Mediterranean and from Eastern Europe, and sought to Americanize the immigrants’ children.

Over the next twenty years or so, more and more Northern schools adopted Bellamy’s pledge as part of their flag ceremonies. The pledge was standardized in the ’20s at the behest of patriots and veterans organizations, as part of the rise of war nationalism and the abhorrent anti-‘subversive’ despotism of the Wilson administration. They added “to the United States of America” to make sure that the children of foreigners weren’t secretly pledging allegiance to their country of origin.

As many people know, students are not required to say the Pledge, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling defending the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses. But what few know is that three years before this important decision, in 1940, the very same SCOTUS lineup decided against Jehovah’s Witnesses in the case Minersville School District v. Gobitis. In the wake of this decision, a rash of mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses broke out: rounding and roping JWs like cattle, pouring castor oil down their throats (in one case a JW urinated blood), dousing their cars in castor oil and painting swastikas and Nazi-related epithets, draping a flag on a car and taking anyone who refused to salute or kiss the flag and smashing their heads into the car for up to nearly thirty minutes, destroying their cars with stones and bats, and in one case castration. The violence was overseen and assisted by local police officers, and about one-fifth of the 843 vigilante incidents involved members of the American Legion (currently clamoring for a anti-flag burning amendment).

And of course when “under God” was added to the pledge, this was done in response to a sermon by Eisenhower’s minister George Docherty, in which Docherty claims that the important difference between the United States and the USSR is not our commitment to human rights and democracy as opposed to totalitarianism, nor our commitment to free enterprise as opposed to a command economy. No, it’s the fact that we are a God-fearing nation as opposed to “modern, secularized, godless humanity”. He goes on to call atheists “spiritual parasites”.

When people from other countries find out about the Pledge of Allegiance, especially when they grew up under Soviet communism, they are little bit shocked and even embarrassed. What the fuck is the United States doing, having its schoolchildren recite a loyalty oath? What is this stupid, stupid shit?

I recognize that it’s not all that important an issue, but the Pledge of Allegiance is just disgusting. It appeals to the most hateful, nationalistic, xenophobic, mean-spirited, bullying, authoritarian elements of American political culture, and no free nation should have anything like it in its schools.

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Book Author

Richard J. Ellis

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Univ Pr of Kansas

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To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance

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The Whitest Kids fucking nailed it.

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