Is Blind Patriotism Patriotic?
I remember back in my Toastmasters’ days, we began meetings with the pledge of allegiance. We always said it, but a group of us younger members thought it a bit hokey. It became a topic of discussion for the group.
One of the older members named Nina Tucker scolded us. She said we were spoiled brats who never spent a day wondering if we would be able to say it the next day. She recalled that experience as a younger person during WWII. It was compelling, to say the least.
Three decades later, I cannot say the pledge of allegiance without recalling her and that scolding. However, when I say it these days, I remain silent during the part about "under God."
I could lie to you and make up a story about how the pledge did not contain the words "under God" when Nina wondered if she would be able to say the pledge the next day. I remain silent as a rather unnoticeable personal protest over those words. I could tell you that it is because the reason the words were added was to claim God for our side against our enemies. That would also be a lie.
I don’t say those words because I do not believe in God as the Christian concept portrays Him. The first problem I have is referring to God as Him. It should be so obvious to everyone that if God has gender, She is female, and would properly be referred to as "Her."
If you think I should be proud to say the words, that I am dooming myself to hell, and/or ought to say them or get out of the country, that is your right. It is covered by the first amendment, just as is my right to not say the words. It would appear we are on even ground, but only if you believe your ignorance is either equal to, or greater than, my knowledge.
Beyond that, my actions caused you no harm or injustice; you exercising your first amendment right is (1) telling me that I should not exercise mine, (2) attempting to violate the first amendment through religious beliefs as constitutional justifications, and/or (3) telling me that if I don’t agree with you, that I need to leave, without even considering the possibility that another option is me again exercising my right to speak to tell you to screw off.
I am a veteran, so I have offered my life for the country, and I don’t agree with any argument that includes someone else speaking for dead soldiers, as if any two of them had exactly the same opinions on everything patriotic.
I will go so far to say that my protest is more patriotic than the blind patriotism of anyone who talks negatively about me now that they know that I don’t say "under God," and why I don’t. My protest is using the first amendment as it is intended, and anyone who presents an argument ranging from "I should" to "I must" is demonstrating precisely what the first amendment was designed protect us from.
Remember when I mentioned the inequality between ignorance and knowledge? For your patriotism to be equal to mine, and for it to be applied equally, your action is to say "under God" when reciting the pledge. Whether the reason you say the words is because you believe in the Christian God, you are afraid of going to hell, or because you have always been told it is patriotic to do so, you are exercising your first amendment right equally to me exercising my first amendment right.
The same logic would apply if, say, I were an NFL quarterback who protested by not standing for the national anthem before a preseason game. It violates custom, not law. If I were also black, or half-black (which in this country makes me black), and doing it because I perceive social injustice and inequality, then I would be violating custom knowledgeably. An equally knowledgeable counter-demonstration is standing for the national anthem for whatever reason you want to stand for it.
If, however, you stand for it only because it is customary to do so, and no other reason (and stupid reasons don’t count as reasons), then you do it out of blind patriotism. If it does not go past that, I will concede that blind patriotism to that level is patriotic.
Once it goes beyond that, however, blind patriotism is no longer patriotic. When someone suggests what I should do, where I should go, or where I might shove things, it is truly an exercise of first amendment rights to tell me I should not exercise my first amendment rights. We again reach the point that the protest is more patriotic than the retaliation to the protest, with the primary justification for the retaliation being "my ignorance is equal to your knowledge."
It is both wrong and incorrect. Being wrong and incorrect is not patriotic, although it is arguable that it has been a custom in this country longer than the national anthem or pledge of allegiance has existed.
In the old days, we used to take land from the truly Native Americans and tell them what land they could have. If we had a use for the land we gave them, we took it away, or disregarded that it was their land, and did with it whatever we wanted to do. The first nation people contended that we desecrated the land and exploited resources, and had no regard for any life that got in the way of desecrating the land and exploiting resources.
As I write this, Native Americans from many nations are gathering in protest of an oil pipeline that corporate interests have determined is better use of their land than the preservation they prefer. It has caused a huge standoff, and is now going through the courts to determine whether government issued permits outweigh tribal interests on tribal land.
The thought that "we used to do this" is incorrect; we have never not done this. It is wrong, and always has been.
Similarly, it can be said that we used to deny people of color, particularly black people, civil rights and civil liberties. The fight for equal treatment under the law did not end with the abolition of slavery. It took almost one hundred years from the end of slavery for black people to have the right to vote in all states. It took almost one hundred years from the end of slavery for the due process clause in the Constitution to apply to them in states that allowed lynching.
These changes, despite how long they took, are all great. However, it is statistically inarguable that a person is far better off in American justice if he or she is white and guilty than if he or she is black and innocent. Arguments that justice is often unfair to some innocent, unarmed white people should not make us rest easier, nor does the argument justify mistreatment of any person.
Arguments of this type are examples of blind patriotism, and are nowhere near as patriotic as protests against these types of actions. The protests are in favor of the protections guaranteed in the Constitution; arguments against the protests are exercising first amendment rights to condemn people for exercising their first amendment rights.
It is ignorant hypocrisy.
Those who might condemn me for not uttering the words "under God" when saying the pledge of allegiance, or who might condemn a half-black quarterback for not standing during the national anthem, probably have also not considered the history of these customs.
The pledge of allegiance was not written explicitly for the flag of the United States of America. There is no mention of any one country in the pledge of allegiance as originally written.
The author wanted it to include "liberty, justice, and equality for all," but left out "equality" because he knew that concept was not popular. If truth be told, "liberty" and "justice" were also not concepts honestly embraced by many people in those days, but they were words that many would utter without giving the concepts much thought – much the same as today.
It would be altered and codified for several decades before the words "under God" were added in the 1950s to claim the Supreme Being as ours against those godless commies during the Cold War.
What this means is that anyone who said the original pledge in 1898 would think people were misstating it when it was changed. All those soldiers who died in WWII, if they could somehow come back fifteen years later, would not know to say "under God" when reciting it.
The national anthem also has some relatively unknown history. It was penned as a poem titled Defence of Fort M’Henry by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. We only sing the first verse in our custom, but there are four verses.
One of the tactics the British tried during the war was to attack plantations in the south, and try to get slaves to fight with them. That is the backdrop for the words in the third verse that talks of killing slaves who dared to exploit the opportunity to gain freedom. The fourth verse, then, goes on to mention how "freemen," not all people, have preserved the union and that for which it stands, implicitly including slavery.
What this boils down to is that we recite the pledge of allegiance and stand for the national anthem because of custom deemed as patriotic.
It does not matter that the pledge of allegiance had nothing to do with the United States, nor did it have any mention of God, when it was written. Likewise, it does not matter that the third verse of the national anthem glorifies killing slaves. It does not matter that the music to which it is sung is an old English drinking song.
In fact, it is better if we forget the history because the history might take away much of the pride we feel when we conform to these customs out of blind patriotism.
Besides, if we considered the history of these customs, someone might want us to consider the history of a country that was created by killing its indigenous people and importing black people that were considered property and not human life.
If that were to happen, we might have to take a look at society today in which many indigenous people are protesting further exploitation of its land and resources, and in which black people must fear those people who are hired to protect us and render justice.
That could lead to people thinking that blind patriotism is not really all that patriotic, which could lead directly to someone not saying the words "under God" when reciting the pledge, or an NFL quarterback not standing up during the national anthem at a preseason football game.
It is better, as the polls will clearly show, if we remain blindly patriotic to the star spangled banner. We can then utilize our first amendment rights to tell others they cannot utilize their first amendment rights, and to speak for all the dead soldiers despite that many of them would not agree with us.
Blind patriotism is simply so much popular than true patriotism that we should not even think about it, and not thinking about it is really convenient for those who are blindly patriotic.
Some other things I've written about: