An Iconoclastic Hoosier’s Flag Day Rumination

I wrote this about a year ago.  Nothing’s changed:

The USA flag is a powerful symbol. It’s in outer space, on T-shirts and bumper stickers. Coffins have been draped with it. It even flies in other nations. It’s been burned in protest and praised in song.

When we pledge our allegiance to it, we consciously revere those who have, in one way or another, fought for the constitutional liberty that made this nation special.

You can understand why we have a Flag Day.

It’s that Pledge of Allegiance I want to talk about…

Some claim that the author of our Pledge of Allegiance was a high school student named Frank E. Bellamy, born in Madison, Indiana. His pledge won a contest, got published and famous, while Frank became an injured war vet, a poor artist, and died young.

On the other hand, a fired New York minister named Francis Bellamy, unrelated to Frank, but employed at The Youth’s Companion that published the pledge in 1892, claimed credit for it, and energetically promoted it. An investigation in 1939 concluded that Francis was the author.

This was not a happy conclusion for many, because Francis Bellamy was, unlike the other Bellamy, a zealous global socialist who angrily opposed replacing his words “to my flag” with, “to the flag of the United States of America.” This apostate Bellamy almost certainly would have opposed the addition of “under God” in 1953.

Perhaps the pledge’s origin doesn’t matter. But perhaps its origin explains why we have an oath to a symbol, and not to the constitution.

Until 1892, the only nationalistic oaths in America were oaths sworn by politicians and soldiers to preserve, protect and defend the constitution. Our nation’s founders knew what had happened to the Jews and early Christians who refused to make oaths to idols, or to “Lord Caesar.” They wanted no citizen oaths to a person or abstraction like those demanded by feudal lords, churches, or the King of England. After all, no man is above the law, right?
That’s why the Oath of United States Citizenship clearly replaces oaths to people or abstractions with a dedication to the written contract that binds us as a nation:

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic…”

What a great oath. A person could read the constitution and understand exactly, literally, what this oath entails because, despite what politicians tell us about that leash on their power, the constitution is very clear.

But how does one obey a flag? To what end and degree must we obey it? It certainly seems contrary to the spirit of 1776. And for any Christian or Muslim, can an oath of allegiance to a symbol be anything other than forbidden idolatry? Why pledge to what was officially, until 1923, only a military banner?

Let’s go back 67 years before that first Pledge.

Modern Socialism, including the coining of the word “socialism,” started a generation before Marx and Engels with the Owenites in New Harmony, Indiana. Robert Owen’s children later became very influential in Indiana government. A little later, Terre Haute, Indiana’s Eugene Debs very successfully promoted this socialism through the early 1900s.

Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, et al., slightly tarnished the gleam on this Brave New World Order, but our public schools and government are still far more socialist than founding-fathers libertarian. We are, in other words, more 1984 than 1776.

Let’s be clear on this. Socialism is the ideology responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths in the last century, and it’s not done yet. Consider what you know of the words and symbols of socialism, and consider whether it bothers you that it was ardent supporters of this ideology that published and promoted our Pledge of Allegiance.

We should think hard about what we’re promising; and to whom. And the politicians we choose should keep their oaths of office.

Is it too much to ask that our words mean what they say, and that our actions fit our promises?

How about we dust off that old U.S.Constitution?

I could face the flag and pledge allegiance to that.

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