Hundreds of people pledged their allegiance to a piece of fabric and I glanced around the room uncomfortably. I stopped saying "The Pledge" when I was in first grade. I haven't thought about the events that prompted that decision very much since, but for some reason this particular instance brought the memory to the surface of my mind.
Can I get some cheesy 90's blurry screen, mystical music, dream sequence effects here?
A boy in my class came to school one day, very proud to tell everyone in the class that he had valuable knowledge to impart on all of us. "I know what 'I pledge allegiance' means", he boasted. It was then that I realized that I said the words every day, but I hadn't the slightest inkling as to what they actually meant. "Alright", I answered, taking the bait, "What does it mean then?" "It means you would die for the flag.", he replied. I must have looked confused because then he clarified, "It means you would die for your country."
At this point my head was spinning. Were the little flag hanging in the classroom and America the same thing? More importantly, why would my parents and teachers ask me to swear to die for either of them, and under what circumstances would I have to fulfill this promise? I took the whole thing quite literally. I was six years old. I didn't know yet that there were other ways to interpret it. The next time we said The Pledge in class I glanced around to see if the other kids were still saying it even after learning this new information. The teacher caught me turning around and told me that it was offensive to those that died for our freedom to show disrespect to the flag(mind you I was still a little foggy on the whole "the flag is a symbol of America" thing). That night I had a horrible nightmare. *George Washington came back from the dead and made me build monuments for him around the playground because he caught me looking around the room during The Pledge, and he wasn't pleased.
"America:Love it or leave it." That's what they say, but it seems to me that Nationalism has more to do with fear than love. I started saying the pledge because I was afraid of being punished, and I stopped saying it because I was afraid of being asked to deliver on the promise I was making. For a while I mouthed the words along with the class without actually saying them, then as I became older(and more defiant) I gave up that charade and just stood there during The Pledge. By my senior year I had stopped standing up altogether. Most of my teachers didn't care, but some were genuinely offended. A substitute teacher threw her hands up one day and remarked, "If you hate it so much here, why don't you just move to Iraq where they don't have any freedom?!" I just laughed and opened my textbook. How can you argue with that?
Make no mistake, I love America. She's the prettiest, most fucked up, troubled lady I know. That being said, nationalism is dangerous. It tends to hang out with religious fundamentalism because it has the same goal; Take care of those who are like you and hate anyone who isn't. I don't have time for that and quite frankly, America doesn't have time for it either. No one should pledge allegiance to fear and hate. I will not be afraid. I refuse to hate.
*I wish I could tell you I made this up. The symbolism would be a little brilliant if made up intentionally. Alas, it's an actual dream I had when I was six. I was a fucked up kid.
Take care of each other.