Mel Graykin: Why I won’t say the Pledge

For the Monitor
Thursday, April 27, 2017

I’ve attended municipal budget committee meetings because a number of issues I feel strongly about are discussed. A lot of other folks are there, too. That’s a good thing. So many people are obsessed with the national circus that they are oblivious to what is going on in their own backyards.

Ironically, they can do far more good at the regional level than they can on the national level. I’m glad to be in the company of citizens who understand the importance of what’s happening and who’s doing it here in town.

As is customary, the meeting is opened with the Pledge of Allegiance. All rise to face the flag prominently displayed in the front of the room. I rise too, and stand respectfully silent with my hands clasped in front of me while those around me perform the ritual. I know there are others in town who, like me, choose not to participate, and those who recite the Pledge, but don’t speak the “under God” part. Each of us does as our conscience dictates. When it is over, we sit down and discussion of the business of the town begins.

That should be the end of it. But I hear that there’s gossip going around town concerning me and another prominent individual who refuse to say the Pledge. Our choice obviously means we are ungrateful and disrespectful, that we don’t appreciate all we get from this country.

I’ve heard it all before, of course. The angry tirades, how we are spitting on the people who fought and died for this country, how we don’t deserve to live here and enjoy all its privileges.

Heck, I’m not spitting on anyone. I get that others feel very strongly, especially veterans and those of a different generation. The symbolic meaning of the Pledge and its recitation is deeply significant to them. I don’t interfere with them while they face the flag with their hands on their hearts. I don’t mock them; I don’t make a show of my lack of participation. I don’t protest. Those whose eyes are focused on the flag are unlikely to notice what I am doing or not doing. It kind of makes me chuckle, imagining those vindictive few, casting surreptitious glances around the room, looking to catch those who aren’t doing their duty. As if it was any of their business.

A good number of years ago I thought long and hard about it, concluding that the Pledge wasn’t for me. The reasons are many. Topmost is that it makes no sense to me. I am pledging allegiance to a flag. Alright, the flag, by tradition, symbolizes a nation – “the republic for which it stands.” So I’m saying I’ll support this nation in all things, right or wrong, disregarding all other nations.

What if our country declared war for reasons that I thought were utterly wrong and unjustified? Given the appalling lack of judgment and wisdom displayed by the current administration, it is easy to imagine. I could not in good conscience support this action, and might even go over to support the other side against the United States. Some might call that treason. I call it answering to a higher moral standard.

I am a humanist. I feel kinship to all other human beings. National boundaries are arbitrary divisions, based on geography, culture and history, subject to change at any time. I admire the accomplishments of Sweden or Great Britain or India or Ecuador, because they are human accomplishments. The evil done by Syria, China or the United States angers and frustrates me, because these are human actions against other human beings, other creatures on the planet we all share. The flag is irrelevant.

There are other problems with the Pledge.

In our current state, we are hardly “one nation, indivisible.” We are violently divided and actively hostile toward one another. (Never mind the “under God” that got stuck in there during the 1950s for political reasons.) The Pledge was written at a time when we were still recovering from a war that literally divided us. We managed to pull together, at least superficially, but the divides have never really gone away. Factions are still at war with other factions, groups are determined to oppress and dominate other groups. As for “liberty and justice for all,” that is a noble myth. How much liberty and justice any citizen enjoys is largely dependent on race, ethnicity, class and income.

There are certain things I do appreciate about this nation. I have the freedom not to say the Pledge if I don’t want to, and I have the freedom to write about why. And those who disagree with me are equally free to disagree and to criticize me for it. I appreciate the limited socialism we enjoy, which provides a highway system, public education, Social Security and Medicaid. I am glad for government support of libraries, arts and museums. I am grateful for the EPA and other regulatory agencies that protect our environment and ensure that our food is fit to eat and our water fit to drink. I am grateful for national parks and NASA.

You may notice that most of these institutions are presently under siege by an administration determined to underfund, defund and dismantle them in order to pump yet more money into an already insanely bloated military and national security machine. I could not be more opposed. Is this what I am supposed to pledge my allegiance to? I don’t think so.

So you see, I am not just being a rebellious brat. I have thought this over very carefully. I am not the only one. There are many conscientious, hard-working, decent folks who make the same choice I do for their own reasons. We aren’t showing contempt for our country, in fact, many of us are working hard to preserve the values of freedom, including freedom of expression and freedom of choice, that we see being eroded. We aren’t showing contempt for veterans.

In fact, I might suggest that devoting more of our tax dollars into taking care of those veterans we’ve already created instead of creating more would better serve them than any pledge. Yes, veterans deserve our respect. They need our help a whole lot more.

Just as some of the homeless ones living on the street.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)