Monday, May 27, 2013

A Pledge of Allegiance

We live in a world of words.  It seems, for example, that no public figure is able to answer a “yes or no” question with either of those perfectly servicable responses.  Instead they pour out a dump truck load of obfuscations until one is unsure whether the question was answered at all.  Nothing is so straightforward that our politicians cannot hide it in a jumble of words.  So in the context of word economy I’d like to take a look at our  Pledge of Allegiance as it stands today.

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.

Thirty-one words.  Are they all necessary?  Are they all meaningful?

First let’s look at the often controversial 1950's addition, under God.  The culprit here, the real inconsistency, is its association with, one Nation.   In Webster’s New World Dictionary we read: “Nation - A stable, historically developed community of people with a territory, economic life, distinctive culture, and language in common.”  We’re not even close.  We are a group of 'nations' assembled under a single government, but with ethnic and cultural differences as profound as if we were separated by oceans instead of streets.  Our heterogeneity is our strength as a country.  If we were a nation, the controversy over under God wouldn’t exist, it would either be there or not as the common culture saw fit.  So we can eliminate the entire phrase in the quest for meaning and accuracy.

Lets take a look at the next word, indivisible.  Again, we are not.  We are divided: politically, socially, culturally and economically, to name a few current divisions.  We were once even divided into two warring countries.  Read regularly and you cannot avoid divisions we establish in our vocabulary: black/white, Liberal/Conservative, rich/poor, and gay/straight are a few that come to mind.  I'm sure you can think of many more without really trying.  We are not indivisible.

How about with liberty and justice for all?  It should be fairly clear that the degree of liberty and justice available to any individual is a function of that person’s financial status, race, and belief system.  We are able to deny liberty at this point in our history without due process, under the rubrics of patriotism and homeland security, so we can’t claim justice for all in any real sense.  We can aspire to the meaning of the phrase, but we can not claim it as ours.

That leaves us with I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands.  Not bad.  That actually says all that needs to be said.  We are a republic, a group of states united under a single Constitution that establishes our freedoms and their limits.  It is a template that we can lay over our diverse society to both bound and encourage it.  It works.

Perhaps if we limited The Pledge of Allegiance to these twenty concise words we would afford ourselves an opportunity to think about the sentence each time we recite it and appreciate the profound simplicity in its meaning.  We are people of the United States of America, a republic built on diversity, many nations working together to build and sustain the integrity and emotional wealth that we all cherish and have struggled among ourselves to attain.  Though not a nation, we are, in every meaningful sense of the word, a family, supporting each other and arguing with each other within this grand and plentiful land we call the USA.

During my seven years in the Air Force I saluted the flag many times, always with the sense that it was a symbol, that I was really saluting the land behind it.  The most important part of my pledge will always be to the Republic for which it stands.   Why clutter our allegiance up with platitudes that don’t mean anything?           

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