We in the U.S. have a very odd and juvenile concept of patriotism. It seems to involve flying flags from a pickup truck and berating others for not saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Or posting memes that let everyone know how much one hates flag burners. That is not patriotism. That is mindless adherence to a simplistic idiom: America, love it or leave it.
If you want to show me real patriotism, talk to me about the Constitution. If you want to show me real patriotism, spend at least as much time on the Fourth of July reading the Declaration of Independence as blowing stuff up.
I don’t say the pledge, but I have read both those documents. I have carried a copy of the Constitution since my first trip to the National Archives in the 1980s. And yet, I am accused of being unpatriotic nearly every single time I attend an event and refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with my right hand placed meaningfully over my left lung.
I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance for several reasons. First, I’m not ever going to pledge allegiance to an object. If you were asking me to pledge allegiance to the Constitution, I would at least consider it. But a flag? Come on. We are a nation of people who care more about a symbol than anything that symbol represents?
Many people rail against anyone burning the flag. Why? If you care more about the flag than the right of citizens to burn that flag in peaceful protest, you are the opposite of a patriot. You can feel bad about it, you can disagree at the top of your voice with whatever the protesters are saying, but the moment you tell them they can’t burn that flag, you are the worst that America has to offer.
In fact, if that is how you feel, you belong in North Korea.
Which brings me to the second reason I don’t say the pledge. Pledges of allegiance are for lesser nations than ours. They are for governments that know they will lose the support of their citizens if the curtain is ever pulled back. It is mindless repetition to guarantee no protests. No flag burnings. It is brainwashing children to love something for no other reason than they are told to do so.
Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up so close to the Korean demilitarized zone, but the sight of rooms full of children in synchronization pledging their allegiance to anything gives me chills. It is creepy and weird.
The United States of America doesn’t need a pledge. There are too many reasons to love this country. In the end, the Pledge of Allegiance creates a far less patriotic citizenry. If we removed the pledge entirely from our society, and instead used all that culminated time to spend a few hours each year teaching, and more importantly, truly studying the Constitution, we would be so much closer to living up to what our Founding Fathers expected of us. What we should and can be.
We have the greatest system of governance in the world. We have the oldest and the best Constitution the world has ever known. Teach our kids what it says, and what it means.
Admit to them that we have never reached what we should be. Admit we have been, at times, a terrible country with terrible policies. Admit we committed near genocide to take this land. It was dirty, and ugly, and so, so shameful. And we created the greatest country in the world on the land we viciously and grotesquely stole.
Slavery, internment camps, the Trail of Tears, government sponsored racism. We have been that horrible, and worse. Don’t whitewash any of it. We didn’t do any of those things because of the Constitution. We did those things in spite of the Constitution.
Teach our children to face every horrific thing this country has done and challenge them to do better. Show them the reality of the country today and make sure they understand how far we have to go. Stop trying to explain the ugliness away.
Teach them what the flag really is. A symbol not only of our greatness, but of our ugliness as well. We need to be ashamed of the awful and proud of the good. We need to be able to understand things aren’t black and white. We need to know why we are patriotic, and we need to defend the rights of citizens that hate everything we stand for and espouse everything we hate.
Otherwise, we’re just North Korea with better haircuts.