Sunday, July 03, 2005

To Pledge Allegiance

Allegiance:
Noun

1. S: (n) commitment, allegiance, loyalty, dedication (the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action) "his long commitment to public service"; "they felt no loyalty to a losing team"
2. S: (n) allegiance, fealty (the loyalty that citizens owe to their country (or subjects to their sovereign))

The WaPo's Outlook section has an article in it today that engaged in the exercise of talking about the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance - what the words are and how they've changed - and then contacted numerous people to ask how they'd re-write the Pledge today. Based upon the results listed, I'm forced to conclude that most of the respondents didn't take it seriously. The rewordings nearly invariably sought to replace the broader language of the Pledge to something far narrower, explicitly dealing with specific gripes and interests of the person writing. With few exceptions, the authors wrote a personal pledge, not a Pledge for Americans.

I wouldn't have expected otherwise from an article that passed editorial muster at the Washington Post.

As I read through the various submissions I began to consider the meaning of the words "Allegiance", "Pledge", and the state of things today. For a significant chunk of the American public today, there is no such thing as pledging allegiance. Oh, sure, they'll say the words. Maybe. But they don't mean them. Allegiance, as defined, is a loyalty or a dedication to something. In the Pledge, that something is the United States - the Republic for which it [the flag] stands - which, of course, begs the question of what that Republic is. The United States is a nation of citizens who practice democracy and garner benefits from membership in that nation. This nation was formed not from a tribe or a royal bloodline but by the decision of free men to form a union and bind themselves to it. They dedicated themselves to that union; to work to improve it not just for themselves but for everyone who was counted a citizen. Even in that summer of 1787 there was disagreement and not everyone who signed their names to the document were happy about everything that was in it. But they had, literally, pledged their allegiance to this new nation and would support it even when it wasn't doing everything they liked. There was a sense of the greater good and a loyalty to the concept of democracy along with an understanding that sometimes one's position isn't shared by the bulk of the group. Decisions had to be made in 1787 just like today, and just like today they voted because that's how a democracy works. When all the arguments had been made and all the pleadings done, the questions were asked and the votes counted. The majority decision carried the day and that was the decision made. Completely happy they weren't - read some of James Madison's letters and Thomas Jefferson's to see what I mean - but they supported the decision of the whole. They had pledged their allegiance and would support what the nation had decided.

The exercise of attempting to rewrite the Pledge today would be largely doomed not because of the insertion of special interests into it (although that would certainly happen) but because of that significant portion of the public who do not subscribe to the notion of pledging allegiance at all. Their allegiance is conditional and retractable without notice and for the smallest of offenses. There is no commitment to this Nation as a whole or for doing the hard work of actually convincing their fellow citizens of the rightness of their views. They cannot support any organization at all - even one they claim membership in - that does not adhere to their stance on any number of given issues and the second the Nation decides to step outside of their acceptable courses of action, they drop any pretense of support. This is not allegiance to the Republic. They will not pledge allegiance to a Republic that might decide to do other than what they would. Wording of that pledge is immaterial in the absence of such a commitment.

Even more damning is the current tactic of simply stating that when the Nation makes a decision that falls outside the parameters of what this segment of the populace will support then the Nation isn't really the Republic to which they had pledged allegiance. Such a mercurial definition is what makes pledging allegiance to the Republic worthless for those who hold that definition as the truth.

On this 4th of July weekend, I am remembering the warriors in the field who have been sent to defend us and our way of life. I wish each of them well and I pause to recognize the sacrifice they are making for the rest of us. Them, and their families. As the various milbloggers have said, I will not be saddened or angered over the events that got us here, not today. Today, I will celebrate membership in this Republic and recall the brave men who made it possible back then. To them and to the others who work on this Nation's behalf, I will be hoisting a cold one and counting the blessings of liberty. May you all have a pleasant 4th.