The ENGINE OF CAPITALISM - GREED Backing Up To Run Over Freedom Again.


Wednesday, July 04, 2018


I hate to disappoint you, but Betsy Ross did not create the American flag. The creator was the lawyer, songwriter and New Jersey author Frances Hopkinson, who, a year earlier, had signed the Declaration of Independence. We know it was Hopkinson because he actually submitted two bills for his design work – the first one for about $18. But the stingy Continental Congress balked at paying that. So he lowered his price to “A quarter cask of Public Wine”; meaning, the cheap stuff. I think he was trying to make a point but even then he didn’t get paid. The bureaucrats argued that Frances was already on salary, which meant they had already paid him for the design. He failed to pursue his case because he died in early May of 1791, during an epileptic seizure. But then, I don’t want to write a treatise on the vexillology of the American flag. I want to talk about the pledge of allegiance to it.
You see, the pledge was written as a sales gimmick to sell flags. This is pretty big business today, considering about 100 million American flags are currently sold every year. That’s enough profit to justify the formation of the “Flag Makers Association of America”, a lobby group required because American-made American flags are 30% more expensive than Chinese-made American flags. But I digress again because my point is that faith in capitalism requires a certain amount of rationalization , and profiting from the symbol of our nation is just another one of those. And it was that particular rationalization that was part of the job description for another Frances.
In 1892 Frances Bellamy (above), who was a fired Baptist minister, was working as the publicity director for a Boston magazine called “The Youth’s Companion”, He was also responsible for planning the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s “discovery” of America,  for the National Education Association. And since the magazine had a nice side business going,  selling American flags to schools (their goal was to have one in every classroom),  Frances thought that a pledge for this special occasion would be an inexpensive way to increase the sale of flags. After all, you can’t pledge allegiance to the flag unless you have a flag.
His pledge, published in the 8 September, 1892 issue of the magazine (above), was just 23 words long and could be recited in less than 15 seconds - about the attention span of the average eight year old child - then. Today it is about half again that long.  It originally went just like this -  “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  On 29 October that pledge was first recited in American classrooms,  and at the opening of the Chicago Columbia Exposition. Like the Gettysburg address, Bellamy’s pledge was eloquent in its simplicity. But even Frances could not resist tampering with perfection. He added an unfortunate salute.
Well, it was called the Bellamy Salute, but he did not invent it. It was the brainstorm of  James Upham, junior editor of "The Youth’s Companion".  But it was Frances who laid out instructions for what I would call "a salute too far".  They read. “…At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation.” Forty years later the extended arm salute would be preempted by Adolf Hitler, and thereafter tactfully dropped from the American pledge.
Not that people ever stopped trying to improve upon the pledge. In 1923 the America Legion, then made up mostly of veterans of World War One, the Spanish American War, and the Philippines Insurrection, decided that the phrase “my flag” was too open to interpretation. So they added an entire phrase, so there would be no confusion about what country we were talking about. The pledge now began, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.” I guess calling it "my country" was too ambiguous.  In 1940, with a World War once again looming, the Supreme Court ruled that even Jehova’s Witnesses could be required to stand at attention and recite the pledge in school, which the Witnesses had argued violated their faith.  On 22 June, 1943 Congress made the pledge the official pledge of allegiance to America - by law.  Because of the new law, the Supreme Court reversed itself, and the "official" pledge was no longer compulsory for Jehovah Witnesses.
Then in 1951 the Knights of Columbus decided the words “Under God” were desperately needed in the pledge, and on “Flag Day”, 14  June, 1954, Congress made that addition official, as well.  The oath now officially reads “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”. The pledge was now 31 words long. And to be honest with you, I don’t think the longer version is any clearer. As a kid I always thought it was God that was indivisible, not the country. The pledge became something closer to the old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee.
Consider the oath, just as a piece of language. If the oath were to stop after the word “stands” we would have a simple sentence (“I pledge allegiance to the flag) with two modifying phrases (“of the United States of America”, and, “and to the Republic for which it stands”.) In this case the Republic is the modifier of the flag, which makes sense because the original intent was to sell flags; remember? Not the republic.
But that was not good enough for all those who honestly wanted to improve on the oath, to make it clearer, and avoid confusion and misunderstandings. I'm not sure how many misunderstandings there were, but you know what they say about cooks and broths - the more the better. Right? And this  kind of thinking produced four modifying prepositional phrases on top of the two we already had – making six in all.  How is that clearer?
Besides, is love of country really that complicated? Does the detail actually make things clearer, or more confusing? It sounds as if those seeking more detail, are looking for an iron clad contract they can sue somebody over. Isn’t it enough if your lover says “I love you”?  Does adding a pre-nup increase or decrease your odds of ending up in divorce court?
I guess the basic question is, are you looking for an affirmation of love, or an affirmation of suspicion, giving your heart, or getting protection against having your heart broken? Because, you can’t have both, particularly when you are talking about love of a democracy.  You can't force people into heaven. And you can't force them to love the same country you do. Somethings you just have to take on faith. Sometimes that's the whole point.
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