Below is a letter to the editor from author Paul M. Howey published in the opinion page of our local newspaper this past week. Few know the story of how the Pledge of Allegiance came to be. The “Pledge” was written as an advertising ploy to sell flags, and was written by a “Baptist socialist”. Taking these things into consideration, and the fact that we may be the only nation to pledge allegiance to a flag, should the pledge be replaced or gotten rid of entirely?
Independence Day--a perfect time for some independent thinking. On this all-American day of apple pie, parades and fireworks, what better time to question why we pledge "allegiance" to a flag.
We say the Pledge of Allegiance a lot, mechanically mouthing the words without truly understanding them or their history. Are we deluding ourselves into believing this somehow renders us more patriotic?
At the risk of sounding like Cliff from "Cheers," here are some little-known facts, Norm.
Conservatives are up in arms about presidential candidates wearing flag pins. I'll bet precious few of them, however, are aware the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a left-winger, a socialist even, and that corporate profits were the sole motivating factor behind it.
Francis Bellamy penned the Pledge in 1892. Bellamy was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and an extreme nationalist whose sermons ("Jesus the Socialist," for one) eventually got him booted from the church.
He then landed a job with Youth's Companion, a magazine that also happened to be in the business of selling American flags. The magazine's owners decided they needed to boost flag sales. They came up with a marketing gimmick.
They engineered a deal with the National Education Association to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in the New World. By agreement, all the schools in the country were to have flag ceremonies, and naturally they would all need to have flags. To cement the deal, they had Bellamy write the following pledge that youngsters all over the country would be required to say:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
"One nation indivisible" was a phrase Bellamy used to drive home the fact that states had no inherent right of secession. The Civil War was still fresh on the minds of Americans, and the Northerners wanted to be sure the Southerners understood the new rules.
Socialist that he was, Francis had wanted to include "equality for all" in his Pledge, but he knew the states' superintendents of education--who generally did not support equality for women or for African-Americans -- would object. That could hurt flag sales (the Pledge was, after all, just an advertising ploy meant to peddle more flags), and so he dropped the idea.
The last change to the Pledge came in 1954. In response to the "Red Scare" of the McCarthy era, the words "under God" were added, supposedly to show that we rejected the godless precepts of Communism. Otherwise patriotic atheists and agnostics were not consulted.
Sadly, the Pledge of Allegiance was but an ad campaign created to bolster a corporation's bottom line. Perhaps worse, it was worded to be politically expedient rather than politically correct.
We're about the only nation to "pledge allegiance" to a flag, and we do it without even understanding why we do so. Perhaps it's time to consider retiring this anachronistic practice, or at least finding a meaningful replacement.
Paul M. Howey is an author and photographer, and lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina.