The Pledge of Allegiance and Militant Nationalism

David Niose of the American Humanist Association has a report on the findings of their Don’t Say the Pledge campaign so far. Having invited students to tell their stories of what happens when they refuse to say the pledge, there are some pretty obvious — and predictable — trends so far.

What we’ve discovered is that attempts to opt out of the pledge are frequently met with great hostility from teachers who take offense to nonparticipation.

This would be bad enough, but it gets worse. Not only are kids too often berated for simply choosing to not pledge allegiance, but we are also finding that the badgering almost always follows the same script: In almost every disapproving exchange between teachers and students reported to us, the teacher accuses the nonparticipating student of insulting America’s troops. Thus, the student is suddenly cast, in front of classmates, as unsupportive of America’s fighting men and women.

Thankfully, not every child who opts out reports being confronted by his or her teacher, but far too many are, and it is revealing that almost every child who is harassed reports being accused of not supporting the troops. This is the go-to argument of teachers who admonish nonparticipants, and its ramifications are distressing. Although patriotism and militarism have long been close relatives, we find that today’s America has become a nation seemingly unable to distinguish the two. The simple choice of a child to sit out the pledge is now widely criticized with not-so-subtle allusions to military disloyalty–not just by ignorant folk, but by educated teachers. One could reasonably ask what this says about contemporary American society and where it is heading.

Bear in mind that America has also become a population convinced of its own exceptionalism at levels that border on overcharged nationalism. High-level politicians are now required to mention that we are “the greatest nation on earth,” and any suggestion of national humility is interpreted as weakness. Never mind that our rates of violence and rates of teen pregnancy are both embarrassingly high when compared to other developed countries, and never mind that our population rejects evolution and other scientific facts at rates far exceeding the rest of the developed world—we nevertheless see ourselves as vastly superior. This chasm between self-image and reality is stupefying.

But very predictable. This is hardly a new development, it’s been ingrained in our culture almost from the start (certainly since WWI). This doesn’t “border on overcharged nationalism,” it’s a full-blown national delusion. And being coupled with a messianic complex to be the world’s policeman and an insecure, macho belief in militant nationalism, it’s a particularly dangerous one.

And think about how this behavior by teachers affects those students. It’s bad enough that students will often attack anyone who separates themselves from others by not going along with the class, but it’s far worse when a teacher all but tells the other students that this kid who is refusing to say the pledge lacks patriotism. Any teacher who does this should be strongly disciplined. And every single teacher and school administrator in this country should be required to take a continuing education course that teaches them what students — and themselves — can and cannon do legally.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    And every single teacher and school administrator in this country should be required to take a continuing education course that teaches them what students — and themselves — can and cannon do legally.

    Yes, an innocent typo. But it certainly points towards the “Second Amendment Fundamentalism” that all too often ties into the ritual jingoism Ed describes.

  • http://Reallyawakeguy.blogspot.com somnus

    Who knew? Dunning-Kruger can affect national psyches as well as individual ones.

  • Akira MacKenzie

    Although patriotism and militarism have long been close relatives…

    Close relatives? They’re practically incestuous twin siblings.

  • ianeymeaney

    Of course we are the greatest nation in the world. At imprisoning people for nonviolent drug offenses, starting useless wars and scientific illiteracy. What is the problem?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Our troops are powered by kid’s pledges. They literally support the troops.

  • steve84

    This is text book fascism. And this isn’t some Godwinesque exaggeration. Military worship, state worship, worship of symbols representing the two and forced loyalty pledges are hallmarks of totalitarian societies.

  • steve84

    Though thinking about it, this kind of military worship predates fascism. In the early 20th century, Prussia was widely criticized for its militarism, the extreme respect for military officers (see the Captain of Köpenick) and for the military being a state with a state. It’s something that contributed a great deal to WWI.

    Yet, the US today is in the *exact* same place. People practically worship the ground soldiers walk on. Everyone is called a “hero” no matter what they did and receives constant praise. Noncompliance with that worship leads to being punished socially. Being a veteran is an automatic sign of expertise and deference, independent of someone’s other qualifications and personality (notice how many news stories mention someone being a vet for no reason whatsoever). The military is often presented as the solution to all problems (immigration control or White House security recently). Civilian control of the military is very tenuous, with generals being afforded the most extraordinary deference and latitude. The military doesn’t have to follow many basic laws even in things not actually related to its core mission (for example the Feres doctrine also applies to routine medical procedures in state-side hospitals. Laws affecting the military are almost granted a presumption of constitutionality (see DADT)).

    Don’t get me wrong, soldiers deserve some basic respect of course. How some soldiers were treated after Vietnam was not ok, but the country completely overcompensated – especially after 9/11 – and went entirely into the other extreme.

  • Sastra

    In almost every disapproving exchange between teachers and students reported to us, the teacher accuses the nonparticipating student of insulting America’s troops. Thus, the student is suddenly cast, in front of classmates, as unsupportive of America’s fighting men and women.

    I’m going to make a guess that there’s another factor working here (beyond the obvious one of patriotism = militarism.) In most cases the easiest way to shame someone into stopping a behavior is to point out that they’re causing actual harm. They are hurting people, making them feel bad, preventing them from doing what they want, failing to give them what they need. Invoke the Golden Rule.

    And what is the most obvious go-to example of a poor, vulnerable patriot who is going to be cut to the core by the heedless teenager’s neglect? Teachers have probably figured out “you’ll make your mother cry” won’t work. So it’s a fighting soldier, one who needs to feel appreciated for their courage and commitment in battle. They need to be thanked. You’re showing ingratitude towards them.

    When you fail to say the pledge, you’re being mean to people. In fighting for some esoteric principle, you hurt others.

    That’s an accusation which often has some real teeth among high school students, most of whom are not bullies and/or don’t want to be thought to be. It’s possible that at least part of the explanation for bringing up the troops is not so much to push on pro-military, but to play on pro-courtesy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    I hate to say this, but it seems like this has only gotten worse since we abolished the draft and went to an all volunteer armed forces. Soldiers are no longer a part of the general population as they were before. Dad was very anti-war after being drafted and fighting in Korea. No way would my dad become a soldier now.

  • laurentweppe

    Who knew? Dunning-Kruger can affect national psyches as well as individual ones.

    Nations not only have hive minds, they also have collective personalities, and many among them are quite nasty.

  • dingojack

    If a corporation is considered a person….

    :( Dingo

  • flyv65

    Since we’ve moved to a volunteer military, I find it harder to fawn over servicemen and women: they consciously chose this career or service because they felt it was worthy/necessary/a way out of trouble/profitable, etc. I believe the average serviceperson is underpaid, but I believe the average teacher is underpaid: I don’t see teachers getting this level of appreciation and respect…

  • Nick Gotts

    Teachers have probably figured out “you’ll make your mother cry” won’t work. So it’s a fighting soldier – Sastra@8

    So they’re saying “You’ll make America’s troops cry”? :-p

    We’ve seen a concerted attempt in the UK to inculcate the same kind of unthinking deference to soldiers and veterans; for example in the recent institution of an “Armed Forces Day”, and setting up a charity for veterans under the title “Help for Heroes”. This is part of a wider campaign to reverse the widespread public reluctance for the UK to take part in wars, which led to the failure to convince Parliament to vote for bombing Syria last year. With regard to Islamic State, this campaign appears to have had a lot of success, as opinion polls suggest strong support for the UK joining in the bombing campaign in Iraq. As part of the propaganda for this, we’ve been told by David Cameron that IS is planning terrorist attacks in Britain, although no evidence at all for this has been produced. IS has helped the propaganda campaign along by executing British hostages. It almost makes you wonder… but no, I’m sure they’ve quite stupid enough to do this off their own bat.

  • kantalope

    I don’t recall in my 4 years of service anyone crying over anyone saying or not saying the pledge…I don’t think it ever came up.

  • otrame

    More than 20 years ago my son, who was in middle school at the time, had a substitute teacher. She noticed that though he stood when the others did, he was not mouthing the words and did not have his hand over his heart. She asked him about it and he said, “I am an atheist and I don’t believe the US is under God. Besides I am not going to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth.”

    Naturally, this being Texas, she had a screaming fit. She accused him of all sorts of disloyalties and so forth. She screamed “Why don’t you go live in Russia?” (the USSR still existed at the time) He said, “In Russia they would make me say it. Here, you can’t.” She sent him to the principal.

    Now, understand, though I never made any bones about my atheism, I had never made a big deal about it. Most of his friends were Christians and they often invited him to church. I even asked several times if he would like to go to church, I would take him with no complaints. I also know I never mentioned anything about the pledge. At that time, I just skipped the under God without making a fuss about it. As far as I know, he became an atheist as a result of a trip to a relative’s Christmas pageant. As we were turning into the parking lot, I saw the Assemblies of God sign, and cringed. I’d have warned him that they take an unusual approach to the whole religion thing, but it was too late. The pageant was canned, and rather boring but otherwise unexceptional. But the preacher came on afterward and preached a little sermon. When we were alone later I asked him what he thought and he said, “That guy was treating me like I am stupid”.

    Out of the mouths of 9-year-olds.

    Anyway, I heard about the pledge incident because the vice-principal called to reassure me that the teacher had been wrong and my son had done nothing wrong, he had been respectful and had never made a big deal out of it in the past and it was the teacher who had screwed up and she would have the law explained to her. See, there are sensible people even in Texas.

    It takes guts to do what these kids are doing. I am proud of them, just as I was proud of my son.

  • Michael Heath

    otrame, your post is much appreciated. The people around me here in meat-world all got a big laugh when I read the portion of your post regarding your son and the teacher.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Michael Heath “otrame, your post is much appreciated. The people around me here in meat-world…”

    Note: Meat World is the worst theme park ever. Except for the, ironically, Meat Mountain. Its bacon flume is really quite something.

  • John Pieret

    You want to support the troops? … vote for politicians who will divert a few percentage points of the military budget away from the military contractors’ big ticket items (and their lobbyists) and increase military pay in order that oh so very many of our troops don’t have to apply for food stamps.

  • dugglebogey

    The last line of the pledge says “liberty and justice for all.”

    What the fuck do these teachers think the word “liberty” means? They want you to recite it, but they don’t want you to perform it?

    The cognitive dissonance is maddening.