By Miles Jaye
“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.” I was just a kid when I first heard these words. I had to recite them in class and in assembly in what I can best recall, was kindergarten. I remember placing my little hand over my heart–that made it serious. In fact, to this day, the only other time I can’t think of placing one’s hand over their heart is during the national anthem. The hand over the heart is a civilian salute versus a military salute where the right hand is placed at the right brow.
Looking back, I can’t help wondering what kindergarteners, first graders or even second graders could have possibly made of such a phrase as “I pledge allegiance.” What meaning could be made of a pledge, an oath, a vow of allegiance, loyalty, fealty to the flag. Is it at all possible that our young minds grasped the significance of the symbolism? I don’t remember a teacher taking time to explain these abstract concepts, but only through repetition did we memorize the words. Some might call it indoctrination, forcing a set of principles or beliefs on someone or a group without explanation or critical discourse. It works best on the young. This is true throughout history. This is true throughout the world.
As the recitation continues with “to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands…” Wait! I know grown folks who have no idea what is meant by a republic. Why pledge to a republic and not to the nation or the democracy or the Constitution for which it stands? A republic is distinctly different than a nation. In fact, there is ongoing scholarly debate concerning the identification of the U.S. as a republic or a Constitutional Democracy. Simply put, the essence of a republic is self-governance, governing by representatives of the people, elected by the people, working for the people no kings, queens, czars or potentates, as seen in monarchs or autocracies. Interestingly, a nation, by definition, presupposes a homogenous population comprised of a commonality of culture, language, history, and descent–the exact opposite of a population as diverse as our own.
There is another flag to which millions of Americans pledge their allegiance, one which does not display 50 white stars on a blue background and 13 red and white stripes, and that’s the Confederate Flag. In spite of the scrutiny and protest surrounding the bitter divisiveness of the Dixie Flag, the rebel flag, there are those would lay down their lives in defense of that Southern Cross. This serves as a reminder, to me, that a flag is no less than a powerful symbol of a people and their deep seated, generational beliefs. It’s worth remembering this when we view the world, its nations and its peoples and their pledges to their beliefs.
Problems arise when one group attempts to impose their beliefs, values, principles, and cultural norms on another. Conflict arises when one group views another with disdain and contempt born out of a sense of superiority and supremacy. The flag in this instance, can be wielded as a weapon as we witnessed on January 6, 2021. The flag always leads the battle. The flag embodies the spirit of battle. As the flag has become a symbol of a history of hate as seen on countless pickup trucks throughout my state of Florida, do I continue to hold dear and in my heart that which I revered not only as a child, but also as a soldier?
As the flag has become a symbol of oppression, do I, can I ever utter those lofty, noble words to the Pledge of Allegiance again? On January 6th we witnessed men, policemen, beaten with flags, American and Confederate, the way men are beaten with Billy Clubs, by policemen. What then of the flag?
Take one guess who said these words:
“It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget; that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American Flag.” –Donald Trump
That’s what’s on my mind!