At the age of 12, I said the Pledge of Allegiance for the last time. I wasn’t trying to make any grand political statement; I just looked around at my seventh-grade classmates and realized everybody was doing exactly the same thing. Not wanting to be exactly like everyone else, I sat down.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was when I woke up and escaped the mindlessness that so many Americans call patriotism.
I can’t think of anything as meaningless as the string of words recited from memory by millions of students in schools across the country each day. Children are taught to devote themselves to their country before they are even old enough to dress themselves, and are expected to understand what they are saying. No more thought goes into students’ saying of the Pledge the washing of their hands after using the bathroom.
But such is the nature of the American idea of pride. In a country where painting yourself red, white and blue while blindly following those in power is often considered more patriotic than free thought and questioning leaders, I am a fool for expecting anything different.
This Sunday, the sky will be filled with fireworks as people nationwide celebrate in the name of independence. But fireworks have nothing to do with this country’s founding, nor the principles on which it supposedly rests. Nor do flags on car windows, front porches or T-shirts. In fact, the American flag is thrown around far too often with little regard for the ideas it is meant to represent.
Why is so much value placed in a piece of cloth, in a can of body paint or in a case of fireworks? The country, both the individuals comprising it and the government representing it, should place greater emphasis on its actions and less on what it claims its actions to be.
Anyone can say America is the home of “liberty and justice for all,” but who knows what that means? Do liberty and justice mean denying prisoners basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution? Or does it mean invading countries on questionable claims, putting the lives of thousands of Americans oversees — and, even more, domestically — in danger?
The policies guiding this country right now have isolated America, earning it enemies around the globe and damaging long-standing alliances. If the Bush administration is to be believed, there is still a significant threat of attack on our country. Large groups of people hate us. Americans on the other side of the world are being killed, some in brutal, bloody executions broadcast on the Internet. And we are going to take time out to celebrate our nation’s illustriousness?
This is when this nation’s hypocrisy and ignorance becomes clear. We stand behind tired traditions like the Pledge or the launching of fireworks while most of the public ignores the mounting problems and threats we are creating for ourselves.
I am much more fearful than proud right now. I am not afraid of attack, however, nor do I think my life is in significant danger. I am afraid America is losing its meaning. The American flag no longer evokes heartfelt recognition, even among its own people. Rather, it provokes rehearsed, conditioned responses of controlled emotion.
But I won’t allow myself to become a part of it. I’ve promised that much to myself and, silently until now, to my country.
As with any truly strong relationship, I do not need to remind my country of my love for it every time I see it. Such displays of affection are always contrived and forced. Rather, I display my commitment in my own ways: by holding true the values this country was founded on and furthering those values in every aspect of my life.
There have been times when the Stars and Stripes have drawn anger from me. Other times, I am near tears. But at the end of the day, America and I will always be there for each other, even if nobody else is.
Adam Becker is a freshmanmajoring in mass communications and The Oracle’s managing editor.