The Pledge

Fourth of July Float, Redwood City parade. Early 1960s.

Fourth of July Float made by the Foresters Lodge. Redwood City, CA late 1940s.

My father helped to build this float, so I got to sit front and center:

If you’re not in your seventies, you may not remember when the Pledge of Allegiance was changed. I was in first grade when I first memorized it, and the word “indivisible” was quite a big one for a first grader. On Flag Day, June 14th, 1954, two new words were introduced into the pledge. When we started school that September, our teacher told us that we would now be saying “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

To this day, when I say the Pledge of Allegiance I have to give some thought to whether the words “under God” come before or after the word “indivisible.” The wonderful thing about putting hand on heart and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is the reminder that we Americans stand for “liberty and justice for all.” For all. 

Fourth of July Float, Redwood City, CA, early 1960s.

The other wonderful thing I learned in first grade was how to read. As I grew older, I read a lot of books and articles that were not part of our normal high school curriculum. I became aware that our behavior as a nation didn’t always match our stated principles. In college I was assigned a speech on the topic of the Vietnam War. My college library had a collection of Department of State bulletins, and what I read there was shocking to me. It turns out that we believed in free elections in other countries — unless they’re not going to turn out the way we want them to turn out. That was pretty disillusioning. Later, I Iearned that the passage of fair housing laws didn’t immediately translate into fair housing practices.  And I learned that that US policy in South America was also occasionally far from the ideals stated in our Pledge of Allegiance. 

That doesn’t mean the ideals have anything wrong with them. It doesn’t mean they are unattainable. The United States is still a work in progress. Maybe I’m still naive, but when I say the words “with liberty and justice for all,” I mean them. I still think that’s a pretty good idea.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
It’s election day. Please, can we all say those words today and mean them?


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2 responses to “The Pledge

  1. chantelmcskimming

    Thank you! Very well thought out and informative. I wonder why we added”under God”? To give it more clout? More gravity? While I like it and am okay with the current edition, to be more inclusive, I would be willing to return to the original version.
    Above all, I appreciate your encouragement to think of “all”.

    • Mccarthyism wasn’t over till 1954. Fears of “Godless Communism” (in my Catholic school, “communism” was always prefixed by the word “godless,” probably to distinguish it from the Christian communism of religious communities like the Sisters who taught us.)

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