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Mocking the Pledge of Allegiance

| November 25, 2012

pierre tristam pledge of allegiance

If only. (Steven Depolo)

For 31 words cast as a vow to unity, justice and liberty, the Pledge of Allegiance can be mockingly divisive. Here’s the latest episode.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive Tom Casey was a reporter for the Register-Star, a tiny-circulation newspaper in New York’s Hudson Valley. John Friedman is a member of the Hudson Common Council. Sometimes he stands for the Pledge, sometimes he doesn’t, because he has better things to do, and because the liberty to not say it is no less honorable than muttering it. At a meeting this month, he didn’t. Casey didn’t think it was newsworthy. His executive editor did. She told him to mention it next time. A week later, Friedman didn’t stand at the beginning of a budget meeting. Casey didn’t mention it. He was called back into the newsroom and forced to add a paragraph mentioning it, which he did. But he also asked that his by-line be removed. It’s his right. It was.

Two days later, Executive Editor Theresa Hyland fired Casey.

“We just don’t understand why a reporter would want to hide this, seemingly protect a public official or censor the news,” Hyland wrote in an editor’s note co-signed by Roger Coleman, the paper’s publisher. “And to be frank, that is exactly what happened here.”

No, it isn’t. Noting the common councilman’s decision not to stand for the Pledge may or may not be briefly newsworthy. (I find it worthy of a medal.) And it was noted. Nothing was “censored,” other than the editor’s intrusion. That’s beside the point. The firing of a reporter over it, however, underscores the executives’ decision to flavor with spite their bias over a perceived offense to the Pledge. That they did it in the name of journalistic integrity tells you how perverted the notion of integrity has become in an industry whiplashed by returns diminishing in proportion to the industry’s compulsive pandering—to shareholders, to advertisers, to chambers of commerce and, distantly, to readers. Reporters don’t rate. So Casey’s news judgment counted for nothing.

If Casey had been outright insubordinate, maybe Hyland had a case. But she didn’t fire him for not following orders. Casey ultimately did what he was asked. She couldn’t have fired him for having his by-line removed. Another editor approved that request, which is no big deal anyway. No, Casey was fired because he made his newspaper look idiotic and rash as it reacted in direct opposition to the spirit of the Pledge. Malice was done here, not justice. Three members of the newsroom resigned in support of Casey, not at all an easy thing to do in a dying industry with a glut of laid-off reporters. But ethics can still matter, even in an industry that insists on self-destructing. If journalism is going the way of Anna Nicole Smith, it’s in good part as a result of editorial decisions of the sort that have no place in newsrooms. Then again, most editors have no place in newsrooms, either, but rule them all the same.

Then again, it’s not breaking news. “It is this vast and militant ignorance,” H.L. Mencken wrote going on a century ago, “this widespread and fathomless prejudice against intelligence, that makes American journalism so pathetically feeble and vulgar, and so generally disreputable.” The more provincial, the more vulgar.

Let’s not absolve the Pledge, either, or the oppressive public rituals surrounding it. Its recitation in schools and government meetings is no different than a prayer, forcing itself on assemblies where most are more than willing to obediently and distastefully slap hand to heart and hail, if not heil, the flag. It is no small thing that until Franklin Roosevelt ordered the hand gesture closer to the heart, the original salute had been indistinguishable from the Nazi one.

And yet all gestures aside, enough controversies over the Pledge could be erased by a return to origins. The true version of the pledge, as written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy—a socialist minister—was 30 percent shorter and more briskly poetic. Politicians hadn’t yet corrupted it with creed and bombast. Here’s the original:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

“I pledge allegiance to my flag,” the modest, personal, octosyllabic opening, was replaced with the clunkier I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, an unnecessary injection of insecurity for a nation so self-assured. And of course in 1954, at the urging of the uber-nationalist Knights of Columbus, the words “under God” were shoved in between “Nation” and “indivisible,” thus creating divisions—constitutional, sectarian, stylistic—the pledge has since more effectively reflected than tempered.

There are good reasons to refuse to stand for it. There are better reasons to edit it back to its founding words.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him on Twitter.

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24 Responses for “Mocking the Pledge of Allegiance”

  1. Frank Zedar says:

    Pierre – How edgy! How super cool! How über rebellious! It is your right to trash the freedoms that grant you the right to trash the freedoms… I’m OK with it… and I spent 20 years defending your right to be so hip!

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Frank, as is often the case, I don’t know what you’re inventing your points out of–in this case this notion that I’m trashing anything in this piece, other than my own profession’s innumerable dimwits. In case you missed it, I find the original pledge quite graceful. Looking past your patronizing hip movements, I’m not sure how you’ve spent the last 20 years defending my rights any more ably than every teacher I know, or bus driver, or brick mason, or EMTs and firefighters, or (for all the dimwits) most of my colleagues have, or every single mother has, or even the occasional advisory council member manages to do: we’re all doing a job that more or less contributes to the safeguard of what we hope to be about. You don’t have to don a military uniform and lose wars to protect anything. And of course you don’t have to die on a battlefield to do so. The poor dead souls I report on too often on I-95 and elsewhere remind me every time that they, too, were doing their part before they got so idiotically cut down. But if your’re somehow doing that tiresome thing of perhaps equating military service with defending “my” or anyone’s freedoms, particularly in the last 20 years (make that every year since Korea, actually), when our beautifully bloated military has done little more than serve as one of the many instruments of our diminishing freedoms and fast-approaching irrelevance (and maintain an illusion so brilliantly honored by his squeaky eminence and All-In Petraeus), we may have a different argument on our hands, which, true to form given the absence of any military victory of note since 1945 (Grenada doesn’t count and Gulf War I was only the set-up of its disastrous sequel, unless you count protecting Saudi Arabia’s tyranny and Kuwait’s playboy sheikhdom as victories for freedom), neither stars nor stripes can win. Even those made in China.

      • Joe says:

        Pierre, I like how you scoff at one’s duty in the military. It makes me wonder why you didn’t join to serve your country. And while you do have an abnoxious point about this country losing wars and being full of it I still think you need a reality check because while Zedar might have exhausted 20 years of his life in the service we all know that your pansy life writing articles day in and day out can’t even come close to the significance of serving 1 month in the military. You are quick to defecate on one’s selfless contribution to the country that is going to hell in a hand basket but all you do is contribute to society’s IBS. Nice job At making someone feel less of a man on the internet, this world is full of fake tough guys on the web, effn douche. And who brings up Grenada, good grief.

        • Pierre Tristam says:

          Joe, I’m at least relieved, for your sake, that you have a big enough mouth for a foot of any size to fit in. I served my time, thank you very much. I happen to have done it for three years of living through Lebanon’s civil war, which was no Club Med. Whatever Zedar endured in his 20 years, or in his stints in Vietnam (unless he was a buddy of Bill Calley’s or had the misfortune of taking part in Operation Cedar Falls, when the United States military carried out some of its most splendid massacres), I can pretty much guarantee he did not endure as sustained hell as I and my family did, with as little protection as we had from—you guessed it—every man in uniform imaginable, and with as much exposure as we had to kidnappings, beheadings, our wonderfully reliable neighborhood snipers, endless shellings, the occasional food deprivation, and what was basically a daily lottery for survival. I got lucky. Unlike 150,000 other schmucks in a country of 3.5 million (imagine 4 percent of your country’s population obliterated), I survived. But to boast about one’s “service,” military or otherwise, in whatever war, is a damn foul insult to the memory of those who didn’t survive. And to continue to portray “service” as an innate virtue attainable only by the bearing of a gun and the donning of a uniform merely reflects this country’s astoundingly juvenile ignorance about war and its equally juvenile (and offensive) worship of all things military, its complete fantasy about what it imagines war to be and what war actually is. The fact that I didn’t do my war time in uniform (and only because my teens hadn’t yet reached the tender age of 14 for our so-called “Christian” militias to induct me in their bloodthirsty ranks) makes the equally salient point that civilians suffer the madness of wars, get maimed and killed, raped, disturbed for life, far more than men in uniform, who are at least trained for the madness, and by definition better protected against it (until of course you have to deal with the Pentagon’s blind spot for brain injuries or PTSD). Civilians have always borne the brunt of war more than soldiers, always will, but of course that reality doesn’t register here because this nation hasn’t in 150 years known the first thing about civilian casualties in a war (even 9/11’s trauma was limited to Lower Manhattan and one perimeter in Arlington, and within hours people everywhere else were back to shopping and watching Oprah, their flag-waving duty done, while our parody of a president was egging them on to shop more). And so we get comments like yours that not only miss the point but reflect embarrassing conceits about the meaning of war and militarism that in more civilized countries—in countries that know the meaning of these idiocies to their core—people tend to leave behind when they outgrow their toy soldiers. This country hasn’t. You, obviously, haven’t. Not that I blame you. You haven’t known a day of war. You have the luxury to revel in its fetishes, unscathed by its realities. Good for you. I hope things stay that way. But you’ll kindly permit some of us who don’t buy into the fetishism to do what’s in our power—words being mine—to speak of what realities we know to keep it that way. The irony is not lost on me that while you worship the uniform, you refer to writing as a “pansy life.” I hope you weren’t wearing a brown shirt and thinking of 1930s Germany when writing your words. Then again, it’s yet another connective tissue to that whole Heil to the Flag thing.

          • Joe says:

            Hi there again Mr. Pierre, I must say I really struck a nerve with you by my insensitive reply. I finally digested that immense history lesson that you thew my way and I commend you for enduring a lot of life’s hatred, and it is nice to know that you can speak of the horrors like it is a review from one of Christopher Nolan’s films. I am one of those unfortunate souls that has to live everyday with a reminder of my time in the sandbox and I will not compare nor even dare to explain the hell that I lived through because this is not an appendage measuring contest. I believe that this conversation was blown into mega proportions and I do admit I was only commenting on the fact that you spoke very little of Zedar’s choice to do 20 years in the military but you had to take it to a whole other level. I simply retorted to your belittling comment via my iPhone in hopes to make you climb back onto your computer and have at it but instead you really opened up the flood gates, and I must say that you have quite a scarred life for a writer. And please, do not feel offended by the pansy comment it was simply a cheap stab at you and I meant nothing by it, just please do not think that you are the only one who has had it rough and if you still feel that way then have at it. Maybe you should have a movie made after you and hopefully then you will relax and find something else to talk about.
            One more thing, I do not live in this Fetish filled life that you speak of, I am just an unfortunate individual that believed in BS this government fed me and now I am left with road blocks that interfere with my mind everyday, I can’t even go to the grocery store without fearing for my life but then again I guess I am just caught up in the easy life that everyone lives in except for yourself. I choose to press on and make myself better everyday ignoring the ignorance that floods this city, and yes I was here when Palm Coast was “Palm Coast” and not this cess pool we have now. I have lived in multiple countries and several states while I served and while I have not seen it all I have seen enough. And I love it when I come across people like yourself that think for a second they have it all figured out. So Pierre, what is it going to be, will you hop back onto your keyboard and marinade me with your personal hell and try to make me feel like a scumbag? Or will you agree to disagree that some wars are just better off left alone, kind of like this wasteland that I had the pleasure of participating in they call Iraq that leaves me with nightmares and a paranoid mind with the inability to feel, to love, to cry. I ask you this because it seems like you enjoy or should I say partake in the Fetish of crashing one’s world with a barrage of one uppers. Oh and your writing is pretty good, even I am not to big of a man to admit exceptional skills when I see it.
            I hope to meet you one day, I admire a man who stands up to a battle when presented one although I feel I was defeated but still you rose to the occasion. Well Done.


  2. PJ says:

    Ya know Pierre, sometimes people have ego’s in a position of authority. So if his boss had such a super ego that is was easier to fire the reported than to do what her job is that to edit then ego was the answer.

    Self destruction of an industry where people can write stuff at will based on less or more of nothing more than opinion is pretty sad for the industy that has been around for ever.

    So here is my thought on the matter.

    If you don’t know your job you should be fired and if you don’t do your job you should be fire and if you think you now your job you may still be fired.

    Too bad for Reporter Casey that he should lose his job because the editor focused on the public official the seemed they did not want to be patriotic.

    At the end of the day if you do’t like the way the pledge was wriiten or what it stands for here in America you have a right to your opinion and in silent protest you may remain seated.

    Just let me say this simply, if a person does not want to pledge then don’t but do me one favor don’t interrupt my love for county and that beautiful flag of the United States of America as I do pledge the flag…………Thanks PJ

  3. Capt America says:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”……With my hand at salute as I pledged 30 years ago I do today and will continue as long as I live. ………..Journalist like lawyers are the reason America
    is ill . Time for some ANTIBIOTICS !

  4. Trollololo says:

    Beautiful flag that stands for nothing but corruption. Sure go ahead and pledge your allegiance, but dont ever expect anything in return. You can be used and abused, sent to war possibly loosing limbs or your life. But if you return your just another number on the unemployment line. Pledge allegiance is just another way to brainwash our children into thinking that you must love your country and die for it if needed. This country is just as corrupt as the others, they just hide it better, or at least try to. I choose to live here but have no part or love for this country.

  5. Angela Smith says:

    As a child in elementary school, I learned the pledge WITHOUT the “under God”; while we’re at it, how about returning the country’s motto to the original “E Pluribus Unum” –“Out of Many, One”– instead of the McCarthy-era “In God We Trust”?

  6. Impressed says:

    Pierre, as usual, I am impressed with your work. The only magazine I currently subscribe to is the Economist (they perversely refer to themselves as a newspaper but that’s their prerogative) and your articles on FL are more than worthy of inclusion in that fine publication. Their articles are concise yet surprisingly meaty, after one reads them, it’s like enjoying a very satisfying meal. That’s how I feel after reading one of your articles. Anyway, thanks for having the courage to say what you say. Jingoistic panderings by people who wear their “patriotism” (and religious beliefs) on their sleeves get so very tiresome, and anyone who disagrees or has opinions even slightly differing from theirs is labeled as “unpatriotic” or worse. This is particularly rampant in a “red” town such as hours. I happen to respect our flag, our Pledge of Allegience, and our military, but, as you pointed out, many more contribute just as much to the success of our great country. I absolutely respect the right to express views and have contempt for people who suggest differing opinions are anti-American in some way. Keep up the excellent work.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      Impressed, I remember covering an appearance by Terry Anderson, the AP reporter held hostage in Lebanon for seven years, shortly after his release (at the Greenbrier in West Virginia) when he described his reading routines, when he was allowed any material at all. I remember him singling out The Economist as the best news magazine anywhere, and ridiculing Time and the soon-to-be-late Newsweek in comparison. I was already a subscriber back then and never stopped: the “newspaper”‘s combination of analysis and wit and pragmatic mixture of liberalism and conservatism (it’s the only magazine I know that calls out American gun nuts and evangelical fanatics while swooning over the Ryan budget and nursing heart attacks over France’s tax increases) is unparalleled here, not to mention the fullness of its coverage. It takes a week to read one issue. It takes one trip to every home’s universal throne to get through Time, with time to spare. Thanks for the compliment, and the comparison.

  7. Tom Brown says:

    Having grown up in Columbia County and having read the Register-Star many times as a kid, I am not surprised by the editor’s actions but delighted that 3 fellow reporters resigned in protest of Casey’s firing. That degree of support would be unlikely in Volusia and Flagler media. Btw, here’s a fun fact: The pledge ritual originally required school kids to give the Bellamy salute, similar to the Nazi salute. Congress changed that in 1942 to the hand over heart gesture (so often ignored by pro athletes — do newspapers report their lapses?)

  8. tinnyray says:

    No one should say the Pledge of Allegiance because it was the origin of the Nazi salute and Nazi behavior (see the work of the historian Dr. Rex Curry). It continues to inspire Nazi-style behavior, even though the gesture has changed.

  9. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    Mr. Tristam, I don’t know why you even responded to that. War Mongers that drape themselves in a flag of patriotism and nationalism before anything else don’t want to see or understand your point. It’s fights within the supreme court that have allowed freedom of speech (for now) in this country in this country atleast. Did Frank Zidar fight against his own US Army to give rights here? That’s the secret weapon “throw the troops or Military” into it and that’s supposed to shut you up. Didn’t George Bush perfect the “If you choose not to support the Nationalistic and Patriotic policy of the US Government you don’t believe in God? If one is pledging allegiance to any country before all else, Someone else in the world is paying the price for it. You can’t have it any-which way you want. So which is it one has rights through- war and Military or Judicial system which is allowed to be in place?

  10. Clint says:

    I say we start burning and mocking all the other countries flags and allegiances. Hell, if we can do it to America, there should be NO PROBLEMS doing it to other countries. Lets start with Lebanon and then move on to Egypt, Jordan, Russia, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia . Heck, lets make a mockery of all those muslim countries. Your game for that right ? Next we can mock Great Britian, Australia, Ireland,Scotland. Why stop there…Lets just TRASH every freaking countries PRIDE because they are war hungry cowards. Oh what the hell…Lets just NUKE the whole dam* planet and start over !!!!!!!!

    • Hifi says:

      Clint, no other countries pledge allegiance. Even the worst dictatorships know their populace wouldn’t stand for that amount of mind control.

      The Pledge only exists in the U.S. today because it is the last foothold of religion in the public schools. If it weren’t for “under God” the T-party would have had a loyalty oath to the federal government abolished years ago.

    • Anita says:

      I dunno, Clint, I would have thought that if we were interested in disrespecting foreign or anti-American flags, the first choice would be the Confederate Stars and Bars, a symbol of treason, sedition and the dissolution of the United States, altogether. I can’t fathom why the sight of it stuck to pick-ups and flapping in the breeze doesn’t disturb “patriots” like you. You might want to ponder that, a bit, before you start torching other people’s icons.

  11. jack stewart says:

    Too bad the editor of this publication dosnt feel the same way!!!

  12. jespo says:

    A brief history of our pledge: Written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist Socialist minister whose brother Edward wrote several Socialist Utopian novels, the pledge was originally for ALL countries not just America. It was his idea after the Civil War that equality and justice for all people might be in order here. The original 1892 pledge was as follows:

    “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    WW1 ends in 1918. The American Legion is founded in 1919. Four years later in response to growing Nationalism in this country they lobbied to change the pledge to be more representative of this country’s feelings of greatness and thus:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    In 1954, and in response to the feart of Communism and in an effort to distinguish ourselves from the godless ones it was deemed necessary to include the all powerful creator of America as part of our pledge:

    “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    So, what started as a pledge to treat all people equal in any nation on Earth has been transformed through the years into a Nationalistic Seperatist Religious pledge that has been for the most part a hollow ode, a recitation without ever understanding its true original meaning. The additions placed country and God before the individual and in that order as well. We learned to forget that it is the People that are the Nation….not the flag, not ideas…People. All people, and not just the ones who recite words…..

  13. Impressed says:

    Well said jespo! “WE THE PEOPLE” …..all of us, not just the loud, vociferous ones!

  14. Stevie says:

    If the pledge in it’s current form is divisive then so is the the Declaration of Independence and you would have us believe the foundering fathers deceived the rest of us. The difference between rights recognized by man and those granted by our Creator is well understood by those who think this through. Man cease to recognize them any time and the Creator remains steadfast in His promises. If the word “God” is so offensive that some can’t bring themselves to say it, then don’t. No one is going to arrest you for it, so what is the big deal.

    • Concerned says:

      Just to fact check you a tad, Stevie, the State of Kentucky now has a law on the books that folks working for “homeland security” (if that’s not another tip of the hat to the fuehrer, I don’t know what is) must acknowledge a belief in god, in writing, or go to prison for 1year. Since it’s Kentucky, their courts are refusing to hear any cases in regard to the law. Sinclair Lewis said it best, “when fascism comes to America, it will be rapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”

      Thank you, Pierre, again!

    • jespo says:

      The Declaration speaks of divine providence, nature’s god, one’s creator….all pointing to men who knew better than to proclaim that this nation was in any way ‘under god’ in the sense of being unified under one god. They were secularists, deists at best and not theists, and smarter than you’re capable of comprehending it seems if you can seriously attempt to equate adding ‘god’ to a nationalistic creedo out of groveling fear and apprehension in the 50’s era to enlightened men almost 250 years ago stating something out loud in proud defiance of accepted deism and kingship in order to gain freedom for ALL individuals. Your understanding of history is most assuredly lacking, and I believe I know why…..

      As far as “what is the big deal”….there are still seven states with the following in their constitutions…states that still follow your god’s law over civil law.:

      Arkansas, Article 19, Section 1:
      No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court.

      Maryland, Article 37:
      That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.

      Mississippi, Article 14, Section 265:
      No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

      North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8
      The following persons shall be disqualified for office: Any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.

      South Carolina, Article 17, Section 4:
      No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.

      Tennessee, Article 9, Section 2:
      No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.

      Texas, Article 1, Section 4:
      No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.

  15. Jim R. says:

    ” Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
    Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands”

    Manifesto The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

    Wendell Berry

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