As a child growing up in the fifties, every day at school we would put our hands to our hearts and recite the pledge of allegiance. Our teachers taught us what the stars and stripes represented and how a star was added as each state joined the union. We learned about Betsy Ross, and how the flag proudly waved over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
I believed that there was something about the country, my country, that made us special in the world. All races all religions — democracy — the right to speak my mind out — that was America to me.
Things changed a bit in 1954 when “under God” was inserted into the pledge. My mother was furious and I didn’t even dare to mouth those two words when we said the pledge in class for fear she’d know. The pledge came after the Lord’s Prayer. I was seven years old. Even now at some meetings the moderator calls for all to recite the pledge. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I just stand. Usually I put my right hand over my chest and check out my breasts — which is not meant to be disrespectful, but does give me reassurance that after surgery and radiation I am still whole.
Still, it was exciting when as a camper it was my turn to raise and lower the flag at the beginning and end of the day.
My parents hung the flag off our porch for July 4th. Not sure when they stopped. My husband and I brought our son, flag in hand, to the Memorial Day parade in the 80’s.
Yes, it is a symbol, only a symbol, but now it is the flag waved by those who do not believe in all races and religions, who believe that not all have the right to live free, nor the right to speak their mind out. It is a symbol for those who don’t believe that along with rights we all have responsibilities.
When the pickup with the flag defiantly flying in the wind goes by, when the President hugs the flag to convince his public that he cares about their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, when our men in uniform attack our own it does make me shudder.
What have we as a nation become when those, who cannot with any good conscience stand but get down on their knees when the national anthem is sung, are among the most inspired by what our nation is supposed to be. How can they pledge allegiance to a country that is currently in the hands of people who no longer even pretend that we are a nation with liberty and justice for all? As adults we know that it was a myth when we were taught this back in the fifties, but as children we believed it.
What are children taught now? I cannot imagine what parents who wear the flag on their sleeves while walking through the streets with automatic rifles, who wave the flag while refusing to wear a mask to protect others from the virus teach their children. What do the men and women who write the laws that beat down and punish those who need support and help and food and shelter and health care and education — what do they tell their children the flag stands for?