The Pledge perpetuates toxic patriotism

Adah McMillan, Copy and Design Editor

A lot of people have a problem not standing for the Pledge because they think it’s the same thing as disrespecting veterans. They say stuff like, “Our soldiers go into danger and even die for our country to protect our freedom, and by disrespecting the flag and America, you disrespect our veterans and their legacy.” I beg to differ. 

First of all, not every war we’ve fought has been in defense of our freedom. Some wars are because we want somebody’s oil or like sticking our noses in other countries’ business. An example of the latter is the Vietnam War: we fought to keep South Vietnam from joining with the communist North Vietnam, and though there is a lot of controversy on this, we really shouldn’t be telling countries an ocean away how to run their government. And communism ended up not being too bad for Vietnam, which today has a robust, growing economy. I think we should just keep in mind that America isn’t the perfect standard of liberty we often make it out to be. 

Secondly, making people Pledge blindly to their country isn’t honoring veterans and their legacy. By making people think a certain way, even if it‘s honoring our country, we’re telling veterans that their efforts were fruitless, that even though they sought to defend our essential rights and liberties, we’re still going to violate them by taking away students’ rights to form their own unswayed opinions about their country. If we really want to respect our veterans, we should encourage free thinking, not force kids into a ‘Murica mindset. 

It’s good to appreciate the joys of living under a democracy, but this overzealous love of country can soon turn to hating and looking down on other countries. Patriotism can become a dangerous and toxic thing. Patriotism can become nationalism and even xenophobia, which I think we can all agree are terrible things.

When we use patriotism as an excuse to force ideas onto people or to do things that can hurt others physically or emotionally, we aren’t really being patriotic. We’re just being jerks. 

You might be thinking, “The Pledge isn’t really that hurtful; it’s a good kind of patriotism.” Well, someone that thinks that may not know about the origin of the Pledge. It’s a little spiel written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival in America of Christopher Columbus, an Italian man who brought on the enslavement, raping, and eventual annihilation of most Native Americans. Francis Bellamy felt like America was being sullied by all of the European immigrants coming in at the time, so he wrote the Pledge as a way to get America’s school children to be more patriotic amidst “evil foreign influences”.

So no, the Pledge isn’t necessarily a good kind of patriotism. Like the Confederate flag is a relic of a time of extreme racism, the Pledge is a relic of a time of extreme xenophobia. Maybe the Pledge doesn’t sound like that when you recite it every day at school, but there’s no denying its original sentiments. When we let the Pledge become a part of our lives, we are saying that we are willing to tolerate the xenophobic behavior it is rooted in. Tolerating something wrong is the first step in doing something wrong. 

It probably sounds like I hate my country, and well, there are a few things I hate about my country’s actions. I hate xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other things that you should probably hate too, and when my country tolerates, enables, or even protects these things, I hate what my country does. 

But you know what I do love about my country? I love my country’s foundational beliefs. I love my country’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and ideological diversity. I love my country’s system of democracy. I love my country’s stories of inspirational people overcoming their circumstances to do great things. I love my country’s beautiful and varietous landscapes. I also love my country’s high density of fast food joints because French fries are delicious. But what I love most about my country is that, in theory, we are always striving to become better. 

Our founding fathers wanted “to form a more perfect union”, and do you know what they did to fulfill that goal? They examined what was wrong with their current system, told the people in charge all about it, and when the people in charge didn’t do anything to help, they stood up and changed their country for the better (note that “country” and “government” are different entities). They didn’t say, “I really hate this tea tax, but I’ll put up with it because I’m a patriotic British citizen.” What they said was, “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [protecting citizens’ liberties], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…” 

Now, I’m not saying we should overthrow the government because the Pledge is wrong. The point is that criticizing your country does not mean you hate your country. It is exactly because I love my country that I put time and effort into correcting its flaws instead of moving to Canada. Being able to love America while also expressing my criticisms of it makes my love more sincere. You could say that one of the most patriotic things you can do is to be unpatriotic.

It is essential that we do what our founding fathers did and fix every wrong within our power to fix. To this end, the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools should be abolished. This routine is an unconstitutional establishment of religion that scorns our country’s most sacred values. 

Instead of the Pledge, it would be more appropriate for schools to have a daily moment of silence, which would allow kids to reflect on any opinion they want, and the kids who really want to could still say the Pledge in their heads. This alternative would avoid glorifying our country’s downfalls and instead celebrate what we strive for: “liberty and justice for all”.


Final Editorial Message:

Thank you for taking the time to read two opinions on this hotly debated topic. If you have not already, we encourage you to read the companion pieces both here and here. One of our goals is to draw connections and share diverse perspectives. We want our readers to know we have spent a large amount of time vetting these articles and considering the words of our opinion writers. Both writers worked together and in conjunction with one another to present their sides, almost like a conversation. We hope our readers will participate in this conversation and let us know your thoughts! You can email our Editor in Chief Marina Goter and even submit a letter to the editor to react to our student publication ([email protected]). 

Once again, all opinions are those of the writers themselves and do not represent any official view or stance by our publication, Mead High School, or Saint Vrain Valley Schools.