pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it
one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
– Francis Bellamy, 1892
This vow was created to be first used on Columbus Day, 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ first trip to the New World; beginning Europe’s armed invasion of the Western Hemisphere. In 1942, at the 450th anniversary, the US Congress adopted a new version: “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.” This is the pledge I said from kindergarten until fifth grade, when the words “under God” made their way to California from Illinois. I remember knowing that these two new words weren’t or shouldn’t be true but deciding not to further alienate myself from my fellow students.
It is almost inevitable that we should be loyal to a symbol of our conquests. And it is also almost inevitable that this symbol should sooner or later be linked with religious belief. It isn’t, however, completely inevitable; and this gives me some hope that a breach can be made between blind loyalty and a more accurate view of events.
The flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a white sword and letters on a green background which translate, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His prophet,” the Islamic Creed, a message spread by warfare from this desert country through much of the African Continent into Spain and through south Asia all the way to the Philippines. My father had a large Saudi Arabian flag given to him by King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud and proudly displayed in his office. Since it proclaims their religious creed, this flag has both secular and religious symbolism and is considered holy.
Blind loyalty may not be the perfect term. We aren’t completely blind. We see current events; we are eyewitnesses to wars and returning troops. Our blindness is the complete and utter loyalty to our rhetoric, our excuses and our point of view along with total disinterest in the other side’s perspective. Even when the truth is before our eyes, we don’t see it; we can’t see it.
On 11 June, 1963, a Buddhist monk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection to protest persecution by the South Vietnamese government. We saw this suicide on television, but loyalty prevented us from seeing the underlying implications. When we lost the war to empower a succession of unrepresentative dictators in Saigon, the “Red Tide” didn’t advance. Instead, it was blocked by the same government in Hanoi which we had presumed to be part of it. After winning Vietnam’s Civil War, our “enemy” was an immediate and unambiguous ally, fighting the spread of Communism.
This event can only be understood by viewing the Cold War as a series of superpower campaigns against Third World sovereignty and self-sufficiency. All three superpowers carried out numerous invasions and supported various arbitrary factions in a continuation of the imperialism and colonialism of previous centuries but masked in ideology. One might use surrogates or send massive weaponry instead of invading. It was still exploitation of a less-modernized country and the ordinary citizenry of ones own country to gain power and wealth at the expense and suffering of others, an ongoing racket7 that has its roots in ancient history.
On 11 September, 2001, nineteen people gave their lives to send a message to the American electorate, a desperate, urgent, heart-felt message; a message which was drowned out by calls for vengeance and lies about who these men were and why they did this. This is again the blindness I’m talking about. Our hearts have no room for the perpetrators, no sympathy, no understanding, no forgiveness. Christians and non-Christians alike couldn’t turn the other cheek; couldn’t ask what part we had in this tragedy; couldn’t look at or understand the other side.
Blind loyalty isn’t a new thing. Throughout history, it has created great chasms of misunderstanding between people who might otherwise have had vast areas of common interest and mutual benefit.
Inevitably, blind loyalty will come up against civil rights.
At the height of its power, the House Unamerican Activities Committee8 used intimidation and threats of guilt-by-association to pressure the film industry to fire non-compliant employees and to make propagandist films which glorified the United States and its wartime exploits. This wasn’t a flash in the pan but a concerted, long-term effort to force others to present a biased, one-sided picture of events. It used the legal system, the press, and its own bully pulpit to silence anyone who disagreed with a prejudiced view. The American Civil Liberties Union, whose sole mission was to uphold the civil rights of US citizens, was labeled a Communist front organization when it opposed tactics which, in hindsight, were clearly not consonant with the freedoms we purportedly cherish.
During the same period, an otherwise undistinguished Senator from Wisconsin named Joseph McCarthy began a diatribe against communism and socialism which was vitriolic and highly inflammatory. He accused the President and other high-ranking Democrats of treasonable acts of disloyalty and again used his position to intimidate and slander others who disagreed with his narrow perspective.
It is the right of every citizen in the United States to be a socialist or a communist. Many of us, in the privacy of our own homes, practice the basic communist principle: from each according to ability; to each according to need. We don’t charge our children rent. Our communities provide schools, roads, policing and fire protection for everyone. Socialism and communism are all around us. In the early days of the West, barn raisings were common. Neighbors would band together to welcome economic competitors and help them start their businesses. My cousins in Minnesota regularly helped each other harvest crops and used co-ops to package and sell them.
Idealism isn’t the problem. In a short time, both China and Russia morphed into allies without really changing much. What changed is our attitude toward them. The irrational fear went away. The problem isn’t even our love and loyalty. The problem is our blindness in the face of that love and loyalty. It is this inability to think rationally which has been exploited for millennia by those whose love and loyalty has been to wealth and power. Even the children of the wealthy and powerful have been exploited. This blindness precludes us from seeing the spiritual nature of our universe; from embracing our common interests and mutual concerns; and from finding win-win solutions where most needs are met and everyone prospers.
©David N. Dodson, July, 2015, Phoenix, AZ