My first memory of saying the Pledge of Allegiance in a classroom setting is on the third anniversary of 9/11. I remember my teachers telling us it was important that we memorize this pledge, as it was written to honor our country, our soldiers, and the people who have died to protect us. As a kindergartener, this seemed simple enough.
We only recited it on important days, like 9/11 and Flag Day. It wasn't until middle school that I can recall being required to say the Pledge every morning before class was allowed to start.
When I realized that we had to say the pledge every day, I was confused. I understood that it was important to respect soldiers, who were willingly laying down their lives to keep us safe (at least, that's what my teachers were telling me). However, I did not understand how taking 30 seconds away from class to recite something in monotone voice benefited the soldiers at all.
So, why do we do it?
The Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy in 1892. Originally, it read:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all"
He had hoped it would be recited by anyone, in any country, to pay respects to their flag and their Republic. It was published in The Youth's Companion, a children's magazine published in Boston, Massachusetts. Alongside the pledge was set of instructions on how to stand and what gestures to make when reciting it.
Before the Flag Code was created, children were required to give the flag a military salute, and, as they said "to my Flag," were supposed to extend their right hand "gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side."
Yes, like the Nazi salute. In fact, some scholars believe this is where Hitler got the idea for the salute. After WWII, Congress changed the Flag Code so we stand with our hand over our hearts while reciting the pledge.
In 1923, the pledge was tweaked from its original state, so it read:
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all"
The addition of "the United State of America" created a more unified Pledge of Allegiance. At this time, many families from Europe and Asia were coming to the United States, hoping to build a better life for themselves.
This made many people nervous because they were unsure if these new, foreign people were loyal to the United States or if they would abandon the country if a war started. What better way to make sure their young, impressionable children grew to love America than to drill a pledge of allegiance to the country into their head from the moment they started their education?
Soon, children in almost every grade, at almost every school, were reciting the pledge, making the nation seem more put together, more unified, and most importantly, more loyal to their country.
Hitler loved this idea. He saw what the United States was doing, how they were making their young children stand, face the flag, salute it, and chant some lines about how they pledged their lives to their country.
When he began the Hitler Youth programs, he implemented the same brainwashing tactics. He had them recite their own Pledge of Allegiance at school, during sporting events, and at political events. (Youth)
When the Hitler Youth did not want to recite the pledge of allegiance, they were punished by their superiors, forced to run laps or do extra chores or sit in isolation.
Hitler understood how important it was to drill into impressionable children that they must be loyal to the flag, they must be loyal to the country, they must be loyal to him. If they weren't, they would not be willing to fight and die for the cause.
On February 17th, a 6th grader was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor for refusing to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
He stated that the pledge, the national anthem, and the flag were racist symbols and that he did not want to stand for something to be believed to be wrong. The teacher, who was substituting, asked the 11-year-old why he didn't "go live somewhere else" if America was so bad.
In 2017, a senior at Windfern High School in Houston, Texas was expelled for refusing to say the pledge.
These are not the only cases of students being punished by teachers or law enforcement for refusing to say the pledge, and they will not be the last.
The Constitution clearly states, under the First Amendment, that any U.S. citizen has the right to freedom of speech - or freedom not to speak at all. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to force anyone to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
So, why are students still getting in trouble for sitting down for what they believe in? Why do teachers and law enforcement feel the need to punish kids for not wanting to say a 30-second pledge? Why do schools still feel the need to open with the Pledge of Allegiance every morning?
For the same reason Hitler enforced these rules; we're being brainwashed.
Military recruitment is at an all-time low. Our country is becoming more and more divided every day, and the generational gap regarding human rights is becoming more apparent. We are programmed to believe that there is true "liberty and justice for all," but time and time again, our law enforcement and court systems have proven this statement wrong.
Many people are starting to believe that the only way to be a "real American" is by supporting the President in whatever he says or pushing for the right to own deadly weapons or by being a straight white man. These are not things that make us Americans.
So, what does make us "American"? Is it being born on this soil? Having generations of family who have lived here? Respecting our troops, honoring our flag?
When you look at our history, you'll see mass genocide led by the white man. You'll see fighting to reduce taxes on tea. You'll see millions of slaves and only a handful of slave owners. You'll see that racism being implemented into politics that are still in effect today. You'll see prohibition and organized crime and inventions that allowed us to fly or to speak to our loved ones million of miles away.
You'll see a Great Depression and a great war that brought us out of it. You'll see a march on the capital and a brick thrown by a black, transgender sex worker breaking through a glass window. You'll see a moon landing and organized sit-ins and violence. You'll see people fighting back. You'll see minorities saying "enough is enough."
Isn't that what makes us American? Isn't that what makes us human? Seeing something wicked and saying "this needs to end"? Why are we so afraid of change when our country's history is full of it?
Refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance won't bring back the black men who were killed without reason. It won't change who our president is. It won't stop gun violence or make people change their mind about the wall. But, it will start a conversation. It will let people know you think the system we have been forced to comply to is wrong. It might just make people think.