I did my entire primary and secondary education in the Montgomery Country Public Schools system in Maryland, USA. And every single weekday morning from age 5 to 18, I stood up with my entire class, faced the American flag and a loudspeaker, placed my right hand over my heart, and — accompanied by the rest of the classrooms and students in the school building — followed the lead of our school principal to recite in unison the Pledge of Allegiance.
This wasn’t Nazi Germany, some former Soviet state or North Korea. It was and continues to be the United States of America.
When San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick sparked controversy for refusing to stand for the national anthem, I immediately thought – not about the politics – but how the whole playing and standing for the national anthem thing is – like making children recite a morning pledge — just creepy.
As I get older, travel the world and live abroad, I can see how creepy – insecure even – is this very unique American obsession with constantly reaffirming our patriotism.
I go to an airport in the U.S. and when my flight is ready to board, the ground handler announces that servicemen in uniform get priority boarding. Then people clap and thank the guys in camou for their service. Forget for a second the politics of whether I support the wars they fight on my behalf or believe that those wars actually protect me or my freedoms. The draft is over, these are people who of free volition, in a free market have elected to take a government job working in the U.S. military, like anyone else who freely chooses to become a public school teacher, tax collector, DMV administrator or public defender.
As Bomani Jones writes in relation to Kaepernick,
The NFL takes many of its cues from the military and has encouraged the idea that reverence for the military is a citizen’s requirement, not choice. The draft is gone, but we’ve all been conscripted as unquestioning devotees whose gratitude can be demanded by anyone at any time.
If we live in a country that believes – has convinced itself that it believes – in the free market, in private sector solutions and that anything the government does or controls should be distrusted, then why the cognitive dissonance when it comes to people in a uniform? Why do we have to be unquestioning devotees to the military and the police? Don’t they work for us? Don’t we pay their salaries with our taxes? Isn’t paying taxes then the ultimate sign of support for our military? So why aren’t those wealthy Americans and corporations who do everything in the power to pay lower (0r no) taxes (not to mention, never serving in the military) considered less patriotic?
And why is it that we are told to protest peacefully, but then when we do – as in the case of Kaepernick by sitting and not standing – we suddenly become anti-American heretics? And why does everyone else have to protest peacefully, when the U.S. government, its officials, agents and pundits get to threaten everyone else with war, violence, death and punishment? So, for example, why does John McCain get to propose invading country after country while everyone else has to act like Martin Luther King Jr.?
Of course, it wasn’t a coincidence that in 1954 corporate America together with religious groups lobbied to get the words “under God” incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance. We wanted to brainwash Americans to believe that capitalism was sanctioned by Christian values at a time of heightened fears of communism. But now we act like those two words are the resounding pillars of our society.
So forget for a second the politics of Black Lives Matters or that Black Americans may be uncomfortable with police departments like the one in Ferguson running a shakedown racket, the police towers and constant harassment, mass incarceration or that the police are a greater mortal threat than terrorists. Forget about whether not standing for the anthem is an appropriate act of protest or an offensive public heresy.
Repeat after me, “I love you, father, I love you father, I love you father,” until I am finally comfortable that you love me. At the end of the day, are we a nation of children in need of brainwashing or a nation of insecure, needy parents who require constant affirmation from their flock?
The fact is that the demand for unquestioning devotion in the form of pledges of allegiance or the “Please stand for the National Anthem” is just plain creepy.