A Few Comments on the Flag and the Pledge

W.J. Astore

When I was young, I kept a pamphlet in my room: “How to Respect and Display Our Flag.”  It was from the U.S. Marine Corps, dated March 1968.  I still have that pamphlet; here’s a photo of it:

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Some of its guidance is now (it saddens me to say) obsolete.  Consider the following: “Do not use the flag as a portion of a costume or athletic uniform.  Do not embroider it upon cushions or handkerchiefs nor print it on paper napkins or boxes.”

Nowadays, flags are everywhere.  They are on football helmets and baseball caps.  They are on bathing suits (!) and shirts, jackets and tops.  I once bought an ice cream cone at a baseball game in a paper wrapper decorated by the American flag.

Fifty years ago, there was a sense our flag was special, meaning you didn’t put one everywhere and on everything.  All these representations of the flag that you see today, especially those flag lapel pins most often seen on sportscasters and politicians, strike me as opportunistic and self-celebratory rather than respectable tributes to Old Glory.

My flag handbook also says, “When carried, the flag should always be aloft and free–never flat or horizontal.”  I suppose they couldn’t imagine in 1968 flags so gigantic that they could only be carried flat or horizontal.

A book of more recent vintage (2001), “United We Stand,” celebrates efforts during World War II to bring the nation together by marking the Fourth of July in 1942 with images of the flag on magazines.  One of my favorites from that time showcased Veronica Lake:

screenland

From this book, I was reminded of the original “Pledge of Allegiance”:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag

and the Republic for which it stands,

one nation indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

The phrase “under God” was only added in 1954 at the height of McCarthyism.

I favor the original pledge.  If it was good enough for the “Greatest Generation” who fought and won World War II, it should be good enough for these times.

I was also reminded of a song that I rarely hear nowadays: “You’re a Grand Old Flag” by George M. Cohan (played, of course, by Jimmy Cagney in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” as mentioned on the cover above).  Remember the opening stanza of that song?

You’re a grand old flag.

You’re a high-flying flag

and forever in Peace may you wave.

“Forever in peace may you wave” — how come we don’t hear that sentiment today?

16 thoughts on “A Few Comments on the Flag and the Pledge

  1. I concur with your statement [flags are everywhere], but what makes symbols important is not scarcity, but inference. As the definition of ‘America’ has changed, been perverted, subjugated and even turned out like a nymphomaniac with money problems, the subjective understanding has largely become one of indulgence, ignorance & rationalization, encouraged by “leaders” chasing power.

    From what I’ve read about Bellamy, the pledge was a marketing ploy and flags were an off-the-shelf item that needed to move. The nationalism that followed youth indoctrination helped the State engage in wars, tax the citizens and limit their options as the majority acquiesced, calling it patriotism.

    I say put a flag on everything, including the flag. Destroy the symbol and let’s see who really has the principles the symbol is thought to represent, rather than carrying it around to justify swinging a large, heavy stick at the other kids on the playground.

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  2. It’s become a token; like we’re celebrating the flag everywhere and on everything, but the reality says that when “everything is special, nothing is.” Our flag and our commitment to helping fellow Americans has been bastardized.

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  3. As the punk band Anti-Flag put it:

    “Don’t fly those stripes, those stars and stripes, for me, for me.
    They stand for greed, they stand for hate, for nothing I believe.”

    Oddly enough, I used to play that out my car stereo after Army PT on base, and nobody ever seemed to mind. Guess ’cause mostly being Iraq veterans, they knew that flags mostly cause trouble.

    “Oooh, I’ve got a piece of fabric stuck to my arm, that makes me so DIFFERENT and BETTER than everyone else!” says the Private just learning what the whole war thing is really all about.

    “Yes,” replies the weary Sergeant, “and everybody wearing a different flag thinks the same thing. And who is right is define by who is left. Forget the flag, focus on keeping yourself and your team alive.”

    Flags make the soldiers who go to the war and produce the corpses that make the green grass grow, to riff on the old Jody call.

    So, me, I’m happily Anti-Flag. If you need a vague symbol to motivate you to fight, you are probably fighting for the wrong thing.

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  4. In early 1972, when I came back to the United States from the now-defunct Republic of South Vietnam (after an extended eighteen month tour as a U.S. Navy adviser/interpreter), I agreed utterly with Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce’s definitions of patriotism and patriot: namely, “combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name,” and “the dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors,” respectively. I had learned a life-lesson in compulsory obedience inculcated by ritual symbol worship and enforced through the threat of prison or exile. Like all Orwellian Newspeak, the term “allegiance,” in truth, meant one thing to the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy (i.e., The Party) and something quite different to the working class (i.e., the proles): something expressed more forthrightly as craven subservience, as in …

    The Boobie Pledge of Subservience
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-linguistic retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    I offer my obedience
    I pledge undying love
    To any symbol formed to serve
    The needs of those above
    Who rightly feel that I deserve
    The fist inside the glove

    I stand and mumble publicly
    With fear upon my brow
    Lest some mistake my silence for
    An insufficient vow
    Let all who see and hear me know
    How easily I cow

    Authority need never fear
    I swear I know my place
    I pledge to take the gauntlet slapped
    Across my beaten face
    The Seizure Class knows I’ll accept
    Chastisement with good grace

    About such things as freedom, I
    Have not the slightest clue
    By birth and class it’s come to THEM
    I know that it’s THEIR due
    To hand me down instructions as
    To just what I must do

    And so I promise faithfully
    To play my scripted part
    Each day I’ll chant Two Minutes’ Hate
    To finish, from the start
    Until I love BIG BROTHER from
    The bottom of my heart

    I swear to do as I am told
    I will not think too deep
    I’ll huddle in conformity
    Just like the other sheep
    To take my whipping like a slave
    And utter not a peep

    I pledge to stand up every day
    Within my schoolroom class
    And mouth my mantras on demand
    Without backtalk or sass
    Until the program makes me a
    Compliant, docile ass

    I swear upon my loyalty
    To stuff my head with fat
    And place my nation “under” “GAWD!”
    Supinely prone and flat
    With me then going “down” “beneath”
    And “lower” “under” that

    I swear to go to Sunday School
    Upon the public dime
    Each morning in my homeroom class
    I’ll mouth my dreary rhyme
    And if I leave out words
    THEY can Indict me for my crime

    I pledge and vow and promise that
    I’ll swear from dusk to dawn
    And never fail to chant or moan;
    To never blink or yawn
    And with each cry of “GAWD IZ GRATE!”
    My own soul I will pawn

    The Papal bulls and fatwas tell
    Me all I need to know
    Which isn’t much because I see
    I’ve nowhere left to go
    I swear to never set my sails
    Against the winds that blow

    The Popes, Imams, and Rabbis tell
    Me what and where and how
    The master’s overseer tells
    Me which row I must plow;
    To toady, genuflect, and crawl;
    To grovel, scrape and bow

    I’ll train to “hurry up and wait”
    And do the Bulgar drills
    To stand at rapt attention dressed
    In military frills
    Just point me and I’ll drop the bomb
    No matter whom it kills

    I pledge and promise on my word
    To do the things I ought
    To work for lower wages
    So my labor comes to naught
    I swear to vote Republicrat
    To prove I can be bought

    The Party keeps us all at war
    Which makes us quake with fear
    And so we give up all those rights
    Our ancestors held dear
    Which saves our enemies the need
    To take them from us here

    But I won’t think of bygone days
    The past I’ll just rewrite
    I’ll call my history “old news”
    To make it pat and trite
    Which sleight of mind will help me keep
    Its lessons out of sight

    With this capitulation I
    Agree to sell my pride
    Before I even own it or
    It grows too big to slide
    Into the shabby, craven cave
    Wherein I must reside

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

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    1. In other words:

      America the Dutiful

      In the Land of the Fleeced and the Home of the Slave
      Where the cowed and the buffaloed moan
      Where seldom we find an inquisitive mind
      And the people pay up with a groan

      While at home on the range when the firing begins
      Not a word of encouragement sounds
      The temp workers leave for their other day jobs
      And the cops and the guards make their rounds

      When the rich ones start wars that the poor have to fight
      And the chickenhawks glare as they cluck
      The recruiters hold raffles and promise the moon
      In the neighborhoods down on their luck

      Where the clouds hang around for the length of the day
      Casting shadows and fear all around
      A lost mother grieves and starts haunting the land
      Having just laid her son in the ground

      As the war against someone somewhere at some time
      Never quite seems to end or conclude
      War itself becomes reason for having this war
      Leaving no room for thought to intrude

      Unreported out west by vacationing scribes
      Seeking rest from Access Mentalpause
      The tombstones in Aspen turn up all at once
      Having roots that connect with their cause

      Now the Fig Leaf Contingent has answered the call
      From a time long ago it’s returned
      Once again to buy time for the guilty to mime
      More excuses for lives that they’ve burned

      So the dead really died so that more dead can die
      Goes the “logic” that once more holds sway
      Understanding, the Fig Leaf Contingent steps up,
      Packs its gear and then marches away

      Late at night out on runway strips hidden and dark
      Where the citizens can’t see what shocks
      The Contingent comes “home” one-by-one, all alone,
      In a wheelchair or flag-covered box

      So the long-promised “victory” ever recedes
      As the Fig Leaf Contingent fights on
      Keeping faith with the faithless who’ve ordered its doom
      Like a poorly schooled chess player’s pawn

      In the dutiful land of the fruitcakes and nuts
      Where the sun shines between the two seas
      The hills in their lavender majesty stand
      Unaffected by men’s howling pleas

      For to go with no reason where no purpose calls
      Leads to nothing but more of the same
      Till the Fig Leaf Contingent’s utility fails
      To deflect any more of the blame

      And since something was lost surely someone has failed
      Only whom could those proud persons be?
      Not the chickenhawks glaring and clucking for war!
      Not the neo-new, know-nothing “we”!

      As the first mate harpooner admonished his crew
      In the mad Captain Ahab’s vast tale
      He would not have along for a ride in his boat
      Any man not afraid of a whale

      For the ocean is great and my ship is so small
      And the winds blow beyond all command
      Only fools and the drowned ever this truth forget
      Which is why they should stay on dry land

      But the day-trippers out for a float on the pond
      Seldom think of the perilous shoals
      So they send off the Fig Leaf Contingent to fight
      Absent only some well-defined goals

      Thus they played on TV what in real life demands
      More than Hobbits, and Wizards, and Elves
      And they taught us our duty much better by far
      Than they put into practice themselves

      So we’ve come back again from our exile abroad
      With our tattered ranks bitter and sore
      Having done what our Maximum Leader would not
      All of that and a hundred times more

      We are here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here `cause we’re here
      And for no other reason on earth
      But for us in the Fig Leaf Contingent, we know
      What our duty and honor are worth

      So we will not abandon to memory’s hole
      Those we loved and who loved us in turn
      Still we go to our graveyards secure in our trust
      That America never will learn

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2005

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Three of my neighbors fly flags from flag poles. Myself? I have a flag but I don’t put it out. I just think it’s unnecessary. The flag that means the most to me is my dad’s casket flag (he was a veteran and a firefighter); it’s in a display case and I gave it to my brother to keep.

    As a symbol of my country, the flag is something I honor. But, as I said above, the proliferation of the flag, and the gigantism of stadium flags, is cheapening what the flag should stand for. My opinion, of course. There are some people who love giant flags and think we can never have too many of them. I don’t agree, but who really cares? It’s small potatoes, as my dad used to say.

    I don’t think I’ve recited the Pledge in forty years. I like the original version because it says “my” flag and has no reference to the USA being a nation “under God.” Let’s face it: that’s a conceit. Americans seem uniquely to believe that God favors us more than any other nation, and even that we’re deserving of God’s beneficence because we’re such good people. In this we succumb to the sin of pride, and from the Good Book we know that pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

    I’m not surprised that many veterans, having experienced the betrayal of our ideals in so many of our needless and wasteful wars, express deep cynicism toward the flag, the pledge, and similar trappings of easy patriotism. Can’t say that I blame them one bit.

    Do we discard the symbols when we so badly fail to live up to them? Or should we instead do better, fight harder, to create a legacy that is indeed honorable and worthy of our ideals — and our symbols?

    As Americans, we need a lot less pride and a lot more humility. Make America Good and Humble Again. Forget about all the “greatness” from self-styled great-headed “geniuses” like Trump.

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    1. I have a hard time telling anyone else that their respect for the flag is wrong, ignorant, or whatever. I share my own personal beliefs, but don’t think everyone else is required to accept them.

      I think the flag should be redesigned to symbolize the new era in American history we’ve entered. Truth be told, the America we have now is really only as old as the end of the Second World War. And the current flag is even younger. Once upon a time, Americans were willing to think about adding or changing states, redefining our internal borders to match up with contemporary demographic and economic reality. The fact that these things have been static for the duration of our lives doesn’t mean they can’t be changed again.

      So I say, make this flag part of the history of what I’d call Third America, assuming America 1 lasted from the War of Independence to the Civil War, and America 2 lasted from then to the Great Depression and World War 2, where it was once again rebooted to form the set of institutions, norms, and assumptions that we all grew up with.

      We’ve got to re-establish a common view of what the Constitution means, or figure out a way to let the different Americas that already exist take it and go their own way – linked but politically separated. To me, that is the best chance we have for defending the essence of the Constitution, and its unspoken but crucial underlying principle that Americans should never, ever go to war with one another.

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  6. In other news, I saw this headline at NBC News today: “New U.S. commander in Afghanistan says we’re going on offense against the Taliban. In his first interview as commander, Gen. Scott Miller says the more aggressive posture was needed because of heavy casualties among Afghan forces.”

    OK, the Afghan forces we support and train, at enormous expense and for the last 15+ years, are taking heavy casualties. This doesn’t suggest that we’re losing, the Taliban are winning, and that we should pull out. No — It means the U.S. must push said Afghan forces into a more aggressive war, thus costing even more casualties, including Americans, in the pursuit of some kind of fuzzy diplomatic settlement, as if the Taliban doesn’t know they have the initiative and can wait U.S forces out.

    The same logic was applied to the Vietnam War. Build ARVN. Make ARVN take the offensive. Convince North Vietnam it can’t win. Negotiate a victory. And we all know how that turned out.

    It’s hard to keep saluting the flag when you’re confronted by such bullshit from our leaders.

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    1. “… the Afghan forces we support and train, at enormous expense and for the last 15+ years, are taking heavy casualties.”

      So, our latest U.S. general (who barely escaped assassination recently) wants to send more American enlisted men out into the boondocks so they can take some more casualties instead of (or in addition to) the “good” Afghans.

      “Vietnamization” — or “Yellowing the Corpses” — didn’t work for either the French or Americans in Southeast Asia. “Browning the Bodies” hasn’t and won’t work in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the Muslim middle East. As Daniel Ellsberg said nine years ago (See From Vietnam to Afghanistan – As President Obama decides what to do in Afghanistan he must learn the lessons of Vietnam (October 25, 2009):

      “Eight more years, 80 more years will not provide foreign troops the motivation to fight offensively against their own countrymen, against the independence of their own country, for a foreign power – and we are a foreign power in Afghanistan. That may seem like a truism, but it’s very hard for Americans to really internalize the meaning of that.”

      As a matter of fact, the U.S. military also tried to intervene in the Chinese Civil War (1945-49) by supporting the corrupt and discredited KMT (GuoMinDang) “army” against the motivated and popular Chinese Communist forces led by Mao Ze Dong. Mao used to jokingly refer to the U.S. military as “my quartermaster” because vast supplies gifted to the favored Nationalist “army” somehow wound up for sale on the black market or outright handed over to the Communist Eighth Route Army and associated guerrilla forces. As historian Barbara Tuchman wrote at the end of her book Stillwell and the American Experience in China (1970): “In the end, China went her own way as if the Americans had never come.”

      The U.S. military has persisted in this losing-to-barely-armed-peasant business since 1945. It cannot fight a major country with a real military and nuclear weapons because that would result in unimaginable death and destruction to U.S. forces, not to mention the North American continent, so it keeps hammering away at geopolitical nobodies in service to a transnational corporate oligarchy who only needs the U.S. military to drain away America’s physical and financial resources into the already stuffed pockets of the global 1%: what Michael Parenti calls “a dreadful success.” George Orwell, of course, explained how all of this works in “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism,” the book-within-a-book from 1984. The U.S. military exists to impoverish the American working class and run the proles into such debt that a handful of banks and hedge funds will own them for generations. America’s military “leaders” may not have ever learned much about fighting and winning wars — principally by staying out of them — but they have learned how to rob the future for the 1% because no one ever heard the future yell; “Stop! Thief!” Or, as former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney put it: “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.” Same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mike: Ah, the irony: “losing to barely armed peasants.” As you say, we end up giving them the arms to fight more effectively. It happened in Vietnam, it happened in Iraq, and of course it’s happening in Afghanistan. Our arms shipments often end up on the black market or captured when “our” Afghans or Iraqis or Vietnamese run away and abandon their weapons. Or “our” native troops simply change side with their weapons, or sell them for money, etc. So we end of arming all sides, which is surely a “dreadful success” for our merchants of death.

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        1. Case in point: ISIS/ISIL/Daesh. Whose equipment did they use to dominate and murder from Aleppo to Mosul? America’s – taken in due course from the last Army we tried to ‘stand up’ to fight our battles. Never thought I’d see Abrams tanks and Humvee trucks being used by a bunch of ‘barely armed peasants’, and it must have left a lot of Air Force and Navy pilots feeling weird to subsequently have to drop bombs on them.

          Of course, IS got its real start in US prison camps in Iraq, y’know, like Abu Ghraib. Small wonder half the middle east thinks IS was actually a US covert operation.

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          1. I was in Iraq for most of 2006-started in al Kisik, then moved into Mosul. On al Kisik, there was a relatively small group of Americans [less than fifty] training Iraqi’s [around 500]. Cases of Ranger Handbooks in Arabic, and not the shitty ones-these had laminated pages and were ring-bound, one for every troop, regardless of religious preference [Shia or Sunni]. This small group was tasked with training former Iraqi Army soldiers who had been stripped of their rank and fired by L Paul Bremer & the CoalitionProvisionalAuthority after the invasion [some of whom linked up with Zarqawi and started an insurgency]. The troops in training were to be reinstated if they completed the abbreviated infantry training course.
            Before I (and the others) moved into Mosul, the trainers had taken possession of two hundred Browning 9mm knock-offs from some former Eastern Bloc country, but didn’t think they would ever issue them as they didn’t trust the former members of Saddam’s army with any guns [the al Kisik “armory” had more AK-47s, AK-74s, and other Russian/Chinese firepower than could even be cataloged.

            After I (and the others) moved into Mosul, I was talking to one of the ‘Orange’ guys [IntelligenceSupportActivity] who stayed at al Kisik. He told me they had to increase the PeshMerga contingent that provided them security, as well as the private military contractor company from SouthAfrica that oversaw the entire installation (and failed to stop at least one suicide bomber from entering the three checkpoints during a recruiting drive) as the Sunni military trainees had conspired to take over the base, but had been blown out by one of their peers. That was 2006.

            Shortly after I was back in the states, I was watching a speech by Noam Chomsky on CSPAN. Someone in the audience asked how to stabilize Iraq and Chomsky says ‘reinstall Saddam’. They audience laughs for about three, maybe five seconds and then no one said anything for about thirty seconds. If Wes Clark was telling the truth about ‘going into seven countries’, what better way than as ‘humanitarians trying to stop a slaughter’ that happened, at least in part, in not directly, because of political/economic destabilization in neighboring countries.

            That’s the rub-the warmongers have taken everyone into these things and to pull out can actually result in them ‘following us home’. Of course, those same puddle-diving psychopaths use the possibility/probability that they have created as a way to recreate the same scenario somewhere else while they wave that flag and beat that drum.

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  7. Speaking of the flag, here’s an interesting story:

    “Even the IRA’s [Internet Research Agency’s] decision to slather its content with American flags might have been a deliberate ploy. A series of experiments in 2008 demonstrated that being in the presence of the flag doesn’t inspire patriotic love of country, as one would expect, but instead reliably summons feelings of nationalism, defined by the scientists as “an ideology of superiority of the ingroup over outgroups and implies the exclusion or even domination of others.” In its secret campaign to sow division in the U.S., Russia may well have tried to weaponize Old Glory.”

    https://www.thedailybeast.com/americans-are-easy-marks-for-russian-trolls-new-data-prove

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    1. I read about semiotics and I work in marketing. Most people want inclusion, for almost ANY reason and are emotionally insecure/underdeveloped. Exclusion of any kind implies the desired goal, as sophomoric as that seems. It’s a fertile market.

      Do the same thing with an ideology (or the symbol of said ideology), rather than pants or coffee or cars or phones, and it isn’t me that gets paid, it’s Uncle G & Profligate Spenders, as well as those interests who work the G like a sock puppet OR any other interest that understand the majority of US citizens/market.

      We are but beasts, laboring under the delusion that we can think. The truth is, most us are capable of little more than an emotional reaction based on past experience and/or present desire. To make things even more interesting, many people don’t realize that they offer ONLY ENOUGH to justify their position and validate themselves.

      To paraphrase Natalie Merchant [yes, Chelsea Clinton’s stated love of 10,000 Maniacs turned me onto their/her music twenty-five years ago], “If lust and hate is the candy, if blood and love taste so sweet, then we, we give ’em what they want”

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      1. Glad you made it out of 2006 Iraq. That was my pre-injury year in uniform, training to deploy south of Baghdad sometime in 2007. A fortunate injury, looking back. Everyone I knew lost someone, and usually a part of themselves too.

        Hearing the stories of people who went over and experienced that hell are vitally important to American society. I don’t know of any other way to end these constant wars than to somehow force all Americans to face the consequences of dumping so much tax revenue into Pentagon coffers year after year. Money that mostly gets funneled on to Lockheed, Raytheon – and their investors, economic (shareholders) and political (politicians).

        I have to believe if people truly knew, actually saw the material impact on their lives and the lives of other people, they’d demand reform. Of course, that doesn’t solve the problem of the connection between what the people want and what the politicians will do, but… one step at a time.

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  8. My wife today noticed a flag wrapped around a tree and nailed to it. Apparently the person who did this sees it as patriotic. Why are you crucifying the flag, sir? 🙂

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