Op-ed: Compulsory nationalism

Op-ed: Compulsory nationalism October 8, 2018

The BBC reports that a Texas school expelled a black student after she refused to stand for the flag during the idiotic and offensive ceremony imposed on state-funded schools in the US, the “Pledge of Allegiance.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intervened on Tuesday to defend the Houston-area school district in its lawsuit with the student, India Landry.

Ms Landry, 18, filed a lawsuit after she was expelled last year from Windfern High School.

Normal, sane countries, it has always seemed to me, don’t even have such a thing as a “pledge of allegiance,” let alone one that school children are made to recite. It’s all so Maoist Little Red Book, so 1984, so operant conditioning.

But we’re a stupid country in many ways, a deliberately showily determinedly stupid country, that prides itself on laughable demonstrations of this kind.

“The pledge,” as it’s cozily called, was first composed during the Civil War by a Union general, which is fair enough – at that point allegiance was contested at gunpoint, so you can see why recitation of an oath of patriotic loyalty would seem useful. But why go on with it afterwards? Why does every session of Congress begin with it now?

You’d think being elected to Congress would be an oath of patriotic loyalty on its own. And why on earth force it on school children, every stinking day? Only four of the fifty states fail to require daily recitation of the damn thing in state schools, and Texas is not one of those states. India Landry, now 18, was expelled from school last year after she refused to stand for or recite the pledge.

This is odd because the Supreme Court ruled in 1943 –as World War II was raging – that  the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in public school. Excellent; good ruling; but apparently Texas feels entitled to ignore those pesky elitist judges and do what it likes.

The Texas Attorney General’s  explanation for why he is siding with the school is that India Landry didn’t have permission from her parents to sit out the pledge.

“Requiring the pledge to be recited at the start of every school day has the laudable result of fostering respect for our flag and a patriotic love of our country,” Mr Paxton said in the legal brief.

Well, one, that’s debatable; in some people it fosters contempt, and I would guess that in many it fosters at best indifference, because muttering a formula every damn morning is not the best way to inspire genuine respect. But two, and more to the point, schools should not be in the business of “fostering respect” for a flag.

Informed, critical respect for a country or the institutions of a country, maybe, but for a flag, no. Symbols have their uses but it’s not the job of schools to tell us which ones to cherish and which to disdain. Schools especially should not be in the business of promoting nationalism, any more than they should be promoting fascism.

India Landry had reasons for refusing to pay homage to the flag:

Last year, Ms Landry told reporters her opposition to the pledge was political, and that she was inspired by the NFL players kneeling for the US national anthem.

She said a school official told her: “This isn’t the NFL.”

Within days she sued, stating that administrators had been “whipped into a frenzy by the publicity of African-American National Football League players kneeling for the national anthem”.

“I don’t think the flag is for what it says it’s for, liberty and justice and all that,” she told KHOU-TV at the time. “It’s not obviously what’s going on in America today.”

In 1954, by way of telling the godless Commies what’s what, Congress voted to add “under God” to this state-coerced pledge, thus making children swear an oath to both a flag and a deity every school day. We brag a lot about freedom but we don’t really mean it.

Trump made a sinister fool of himself at the United Nations the other day rhapsodizing about the excellence of nationalism and the evil of “globalism,” and in particular by heaping scorn on the International Criminal Court.

…the United States will provide no support in recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near-universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.

America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.

The “doctrine of patriotism” led to two world wars, so let’s think again about embracing it, shall we?

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